Having family over for Christmas has prompted me to tackle this classic québécois and French Canadian dish.
When the word “tourtière” comes up in conversations, a debate is sure to ensue. Everyone will argue that they have the real deal and that others are simply “pâtés à la viande” (meat pies). The discussion will more than likely turn into a very territorial one. The ingredients, their texture, and the size of the pie are the elements at the heart of the debate. For instance, some say that for a tourtière to be legit, it must contain game meat while others debate on whether or not the meat should be in cubes or ground and if the pie should contain potatoes. In other words, the combinations and regional variants are endless.
If you’re curious about the history and debates surrounding the tourtière, check out this article from Le Devoir (it’s in French, but it’s worth using Google Translate). It provides a bit insight on this dish that has survived the tests of time.
For this dish, I followed two recipes: my paternal grandmother’s for the filling and my friend Véronique’s for the dough.
All my previous attempts at making pie dough have been a struggle. It was sometimes too dry, other times too soft. No way would I buy frozen pie shells (well not for this project, at least). My friend Véronique had recently spoken to me about a foolproof recipe that had worked wonders. I thought I’d give it a try.
Makes 5 large pie shells and covers
- 5 ½ cups of flour
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 4 teaspoons of baking powder
- 1 pound (454 g) of cold lard or butter (I respected my friend’s recipe and used lard)
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon of white vinegar
- 1 can (355 mL) of cold 7Up or any clear fizzy pop (yes, you’ve read correctly)
- In a medium sized bowl, beat the egg with the vinegar. Add in 7-Up, and place in the fridge.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder.
- Cut the lard in small chunks (about pea sized). And combine into the flour mix with a fork.
- Create a well in the middle of the flour and pour the egg, vinegar and 7-Up blend into the bowl. Mix together until dough holds together.
- Place dough in to a large ball at the centre of the bowl, make sure it is covered and refrigerate it for at least an hour.
- The dough can be rolled out for pie shells, make sure you generously flour your rolling surface to make sure the dough doesn’t stick.
The filling and a bit of intergenerational banter
Even if all the ingredients and quantities were carefully listed on a recipe card, I still needed to defer directly from grand-maman for some additional insight. Our phone conversation went something like this.
Me: “I’ve got your tourtière recipe. Other than what is written, do you have any additional advice?”
Grand-maman: “Well you can add a bit of garlic. Your grand father didn’t like garlic so I never put some, but you can if you like.”
Me: “Anything else?”
Grand-maman: “Just make sure the meat doesn’t dry up.”
Me: “One last thing… You know how everyone debates the issue of tourtières versus meat pies… Are these tourtières or meat pies?”
Grand-maman: “They’re tourtières! Don’t be mistaken. I learned how to make them in my culinary arts class when I was young. The nuns were teaching us how to cook back then. They taught us how to cook tourtières!”
With that being said… I got to work.
- A total of 5 pounds of ground pork, veal and beef
- 4 medium sized onions finely chopped
- 2 to 3 large branches of celery
- 3 cloves of garlic
- Savory, cloves, allspice, salt and pepper to taste
- 2 to three cups of water
- 1 cup of breadcrumbs
- In large skillet, melt a bit of butter and brown the onions and celery.
- Add in the ground veal, pork and beef making sure to break up any chunks. Season to taste with savoury, cloves, allspice, salt and pepper. Cook well at medium heat.
- Add in a bit of water. Mix in a bit of breadcrumbs. (I didn’t really follow the exact recipe when it came to the breadcrumbs and water. The meat mixture wasn’t too dry from the get go. I added less than half a cup of breadcrumbs. Again, the texture seemed appropriate.)
Then comes the fun part: the making of the tourtières.
The rolling of the dough to make the pie shells proved to be a bit of a challenge for me. There were flour and excess pieces of dough a little everywhere in the kitchen. I flattened the dough with a rolling pin and cussed like a sailor, but was able to roll out five pie shells that were filled with the meat mixture and covered with more pie crust. As seen per the photos, the pies are somewhat unequal in appearance, but hopefully on Christmas Eve, everyone will agree that despite their appearance, they taste great!
To serve: preheat oven at 375 ° F and cook tourtière for about 30 to 35 minutes or until crust is golden.
Got any holiday cooking anecdotes and tips? Feel free to share them!