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A Tasty Meat Pie:
Tourtiere



Tourtiere is a French Canadian specialty, a delicious meat pie that's usually served around Christmas. In our house, we had it for our Christmas Eve dinner, and for brunch on Christmas Day.

Tourtiere - Cooked Meat PieOf course, I've moved away now and I live in the USA, but I've kept up the tradition. And no matter who I make it for, it's always a big hit.

There are lots of different ways of making tourtiere out there. You can use different meats, different cuts, even different spices. Quebec is a huge place, and each region has its own traditional recipe — which means there's more than one right way to make it.

In this article, I'll talk about how to make a tourtiere. First, I'll go over the different types of tourtière out there. Then, I'll go over the ingredients you'll need. Finally I'll talk about different ways to make a tourtière.





Different Types Of Tourtière


If you take twenty different people who eat tourtiere every year for Christmas, and ask them what the correct, traditional way of making it is, you'll probably get twenty different answers.

And the truth is, they'll probably all be right. There are lots of different regions in Quebec, and each has its own traditions and its own way of making tourtiere.

And there are even places outside Quebec that have their own traditions — French speaking areas of Canada, and some of the north-eastern regions of the United States.

There's no way I could list all the different recipes and types of meat pie. But most pies do fall into one of two categories: a simple pork or beef round pie, the simple tourtière, or the more elaborate tourtière du Lac St-Jean, a huge pie that includes lots of different types of cubed meats.


Simple Tourtiere

This is the Christmas meat pie that I grew up with. Which I guess is lucky for me, because it's a whole lot easier to make!

So what are the features of a simple tourtiere?

  • Tourtiere - Filled Meat PieIt's a standard round pie. It can be deep-dish or not, depending on whether you prefer a meatier pie or not, but it's still got a good crust-to-pie ratio.

  • It's usually made up of ground meat or finely chopped meat.

  • It's usually made from pork. It can also be made with beef, or a combination of the two.

  • It can include potatoes, either mashed to thicken the filling, or cubed to add a little texture.


Generally, you make this pie by cooking the meat and potatoes in some water, wine or stock, and add a few special spices. You can either use the mixture right away to fill the pie, or let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.


Tourtiere du Lac St-Jean

A tourtiere du Lac St-Jean (which gets its name from the Lac St-Jean region in Quebec) is a more elaborate dish. I got to enjoy it every few Christmases when we got together with my Aunt on my mom's side.

How is different from the simple tourtiere?

  • It's made with cubes of meat instead of ground meat. The cubes can be big or small, but they should be big enough to give some texture, and small enough that you can fit a few in one mouthful.

  • Often, it'll have lots of different types of meat. Pork is usually an ingredient, but you'll likely find several other types of meat. It could be beef or chicken, or game meats like rabbits or venison.

  • You can make this meat pie with potatoes, too, but they're almost always cubed - not mashed.

  • Because you have so many ingredients, this is often a much bigger pie. You might line a whole roasting pan with pastry dough, then fill it with layers of meat and potatoes, and then top with another pastry crust.

  • It takes a lot longer to cook this meat pie! A simple tourtiere might only need 45 minutes in the oven, but this one will take more like 6 hours. Of course, that means six hours of awesome smells in the house!


The meat can be cooked beforehand, or it can cook while the pie is baking. Both methods work well. But it's a good idea to let the meat and spices sit together overnight, so that the flavors really have time to blend.


Notes

  • Lac St-Jean actually means St-John's Lake, if you're curious for a translation.

  • In case you're wondering, tourtière is pronounced "TOURT-YAIR"

    • "Tourt" is like "tour" in "tour bus" but with a "t" at the end.

    • "Yair" is like the air we breathe, but starting with a "y".

  • The most common way to eat a tourtiere is with ketchup. Some people like a homemade salsa-like sweet-and-sour ketchup, but others like the commercial kind. My dad and I like it with gravy. We always teased that it was because we're both English-speaking heathens, whereas my mom and brother are more French-speaking - and they like it the traditional way.



Ingredients


When I say tourtiere is a meat pie, I'm not kidding. The ingredient list is pretty simple, and it's mostly meat! So what do you need?


Meat

I think it goes without saying, meat is the main ingredient in this meat pie.

  • For a simple tourtiere, you'd use ground pork, or possibly ground beef or a combination of both.

    • For one deep dish pie, you need about a pound and a half of meat.

  • If you want to make a tourtiere du Lac St-Jean, you'll need a lot more meat.

    • Depending on how big you want the pie to be, you'll need anywhere from 4 to 8 pounds of different meats, raw or cooked.

    • Cut the meat up into little cubes, and you're ready to go. The cubes should be about half an inch to an inch in size.


Potatoes

A tourtiere usually has potatoes in it, too.

  • No matter what type of meat pie you make, you can include cubed potatoes. They should be about half an inch cubes.

    • Tourtiere - Adding PotatoesFor the simple pie, you'll probably want to cook them beforehand. In the Lac St-Jean pie, they'll have plenty of time to cook while the meat is cooking.

  • A simple tourtiere should include some mashed potatoes, too. It'll help the meat hold together better, so that the pie won't be so crumbly.

    • One or two large potatoes per pie is plenty.


Liquid

You'll also need some liquid for the meat pie.

  • For a Lac St-Jean tourtiere, the liquid is absolutely essential. It braises the meat, keeping it moist and helping it get tender while it cooks.

    • The meat doesn't need to be completely covered, but you do need enough moisture in there to keep it moist all throughout the cooking time. Try 1/4 to 1/2 a cup per pound of meat.

  • For a simple pie, the liquid keeps the meat moist while it simmers with the spices, and it helps the flavor of the spices penetrate the meat.

    • 1/2 a cup for a whole pie should be plenty. You can always add more if you need to.

  • Stock is a great choice for a liquid, but you can also use water. You can also use some wine or cognac for part of the liquid.


Aromatics

For extra flavor, you'll want to add some aromatics to the mix.

  • Tourtiere - Onions and GarlicOnion is the most important aromatic. You need about 1 onion per pound or two of meat. You can adjust that depending on how much you like onions.

  • A little bit of garlic is never a bad thing. I add a clove or two to a simple tourtiere.

  • If you're making a tourtiere du Lac St-Jean, you can add some chopped celery or carrots. The little pieces will be good with the meat cubes.

    • You can use a cup or two per 2 or 3 pounds of meat, or however much you like.


Seasonings

Tourtiere - SeasoningsTo me, the seasonings are super important. They're what give tourtiere its unique taste. And they're a testimony to just how old a tradition this meat pie is.

Some spices like cinnamon and cloves might seem a little odd in meat, but they were very typical in the Middle-Ages, and people have probably been making tourtiere since then!

Here are the seasonings you'll usually find in a tourtiere:

  • Some pies really on the natural flavors of the meat and only use salt and pepper.

  • Some pies use a combination of cloves, allspice and cinnamon. Usually these are simple tourtieres, but you could spice either of the pies this way.

    • 1/4 of a teaspoon of each per pound and a half of meat is a good start.

  • Some pies use herbs like thyme and savory. These seasonings are more common for a tourtiere du Lac- St-Jean, but can be in either.


Pastry Crust

The last ingredient that you'll need for your meat pie is the pastry crust. It's just an ordinary pie crust.

For some people, it's absolutely essential that the crust be homemade, with lard instead of shortening. And you'll probably get tastier results that way. But if you don't have time, or you just don't like making pie crusts, you can always buy a premade crust.

  • For a simple tourtiere, a recipe for a double-crust deep dish pie is all you need.

  • A tourtiere du Lac St-Jean needs a whole lot more pie crust. You'll need anywhere from 2 to 4 double crust pie recipes, depending on how big your roasting pan is.

    • You may need to roll the crust a bit thicker so that it's not as fragile.


And that's what you need to make this delicious meat pie. Now let's find out how to make it!



How To Make Tourtière


The way you make a tourtiere is pretty different depending on which type you're making. So I've split this section into two parts — the simple tourtière, and the tourtière du Lac St-Jean.


How To Make A Simple Tourtiere

Here's how you make a simple meat pie.

  1. First, gather all your ingredients.

  2. In large pan over medium heat, saute your aromatics for a few minutes.

  3. Add the meat, liquid, and spices, and mix well, breaking up the ground meat. Let the mixture simmer for an hour, until it's starting to get thick.

  4. Meanwhile, bake the potato.

    • You can bake it in an oven set to 400F for 45 minutes or so, or you can bake it in the microwave for 6 to 8 minutes, turning it over half-way.

  5. Mash the potato, and add it to the meat, blending it in well until the meat is thick and isn't crumbly.

    • You may not need the whole potato. Just add a bit at a time until it feels right — where right means the pie won't crumble apart.

  6. Tourtiere - Uncooked Meat PieFill a pie crust with the meat mixture. Cover with a second pie crust, seal the edges and cut slits in the top crust to vent steam.

  7. Bake in an oven preheated to 375F for about 45 mins, or until the crust is golden brown.

    • Remember, the filling is cooked, so you're just cooking the crust here. Take the pie out when it has the right color.

    • To get the crust to brown more nicely, you can brush it with an egg wash or a bit of milk.

  8. Let the pie sit for about 10 minutes before cutting it. The filling needs time to set and cool down.

It might seem like this takes a while to make. But actually it doesn't involve a whole lot of work. The longest part is just waiting for it to cook.


Tourtiere Du Lac St-Jean

This meat pie is a little more work- and time-intensive than the simple pie. But it really does give outstanding results, and the whole house will smell good for hours. And once this becomes a family tradition, that smell will mean Christmas to you.

Here's how you do it.

  1. Gather all your ingredients.

  2. Cut all the meat into little cubes.

    • The cubes can be bigger or smaller, but somewhere between half an inch and an inch is a good size.

  3. Add the spices to the meat and mix well.

    • For extra flavor, try refrigerating the mixture for at least 4 hours, overnight if possible. It'll give the flavors time to blend.

  4. Cut up the potatoes into little cubes, about the same size as the meat.

    • When you cook the meat pie, the potatoes will absorb some of the liquid. You can minimize how much by soaking the potatoes in water for a few hours or overnight.

  5. Chop the aromatics, and mix them in the meat.

  6. Line a roasting pan with pastry dough.

  7. Add the meat and potatoes.

    • You can blend them all together, or you can make several layers of meats and potatoes. It's entirely up to you.

  8. Add the liquids, and cover the whole thing with more pastry dough. Cut slits in the top crust to vent steam.

  9. Cover the roasting pan, and bake the pie in a oven preheated to 250F for about 6 hours.

    • This long, slow, covered cooking braises the meat. It turns tougher cuts into lovely, tender pieces.

    • If you're starting with cooked meat already, you can reduce the cooking time by a lot. You really only need to cook the potatoes, so an hour or two should do it.

  10. If the crust isn't browned by the last half hour, remove the cover and increase the heat to 400F and cook until the crust is a beautiful golden brown.

    • At this point, the meat is cooked, so you'll know to take it out when the crust is done.

  11. Let the pie set for at least 10 to 20 minutes before cutting and serving.


As you can see, this meat pie takes a lot longer to cook. And cutting 4 to 8 pounds of meat into cubes means a lot of work, too, unless you can find a butcher to do it for you. But it's all a part of the Christmas tradition, and the smell in the house will make up for it all.


Notes

  • A simple tourtiere is super easy to make. You can even make it ahead of time. Before cooking it, wrap it well and store it in the freezer. Then just take it out a few hours before you need it and let it defrost. Cook as indicated in the instructions.

  • A tourtiere du Lac St-Jean is a lot more work. If it's your first time making it, be sure to plan ahead very carefully, so that you don't end up stressed out on the holidays!Tourtiere - Meat Pie Slice

  • This is an old, traditional dish — and traditionally it wasn't made with lean meats at all. If you have lean meats but you want to make it the way it used to be, you can add a bit of lard to the mix to fatten it up. No, it's not really meant as a healthy dish!


And that's how you make a delicious tourtiere! I hope you like this Christmas tradition as much as I do.


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