Traditional Tourtière & All Butter Pastry

Ahh, this thing was a masterpiece! I was inspired to make tourtière (pronounced tort-ee-AIR) for the first time this year in honour of Canada Day. My family on my paternal grandmother’s side is French Canadian, having arrived in Quebec in the 1690s. French Canadian cooking is the ultimate comfort food, I think—Quebec winters are bloody cold and it seems that even summer doesn’t last very long. Traditional dishes like split pea soup, maple syrup pie, tourtière, sugar pie, butter tarts, and all manner of other pastries and stick-to-your-bones baked goods and meats are actually pretty easy to cook, and I have plans on attempting a few other newer French Canadian treats too—croissants and bagels. Mm.

At its heart though, tourtière is a simple mince meat (usually pork) pie with some unique spicing; cinnamon and cloves. I grew up thinking this combination was absolutely normal, since that’s how dad always made hamburgers—turns out it’s a throwback to his Montreal upbringing.

The Australians to whom I served this thought it was fantastic, so I guess it goes to show that a delicious meat pie is going to be appreciated in any culture.

Also take note that I’ve used a new recipe for pastry—an all-butter one from Smitten Kitchen. I do quite love my basic pastry recipe, but it requires a few more ingredients and requires a careful hand. This all-butter pastry is very quick, ever-so-flaky, and hard to screw up! (And got compliments from boys who could care less about these things. Just sayin’.)


 

Traditional French Canadian Tourtière & All Butter Pastry

Tourtière recipe from Canadian Living: Cooks Step By Step, p. 76 (see below)
Pastry from Smitten Kitchen

Makes: 1 pie
Cooking time: 30 minutes hands-on, not including pastry
Difficulty: Moderate

Ingredients:

For the pastry:

  • 2.5 cups plain or pastry flour
  • 1 cup cold butter
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • a few tbsp very cold water

For the pie:

  • 900 g ground pork (2 lbs)
  • 2-3 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms (4 large white mushrooms; or 4 large handfuls of button mushrooms)
  • 1 cup chopped celery (about 3 medium stalks)
  • 1.5 cups prepared beef stock
  • 1/2 tsp each cinnamon and sage/savory
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley or 2 tbsp dried
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • salt, pepper, olive oil, and an egg for glaze if desired

Start by making your pastry. Toss together the flour, sugar, and salt until well combined. Chop your cold butter into small pieces (or as small as you can bother with) and add to the flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter, fork, or your hands, crumble the butter until it’s about the size of peas. When I use my hands, I end up ‘massaging’ the butter into the flour and the heat from my hands melts it a bit—technically I don’t think you’re supposed to do this, but it results in less water being used to hold the dough together, which means a lighter pastry. Once the butter is crumbed in, sprinkle 1 tbsp at a time of water over the dough and use your hands to slowly toss it together—it’s ready just when the dough holds together in a large ball. Divide in half and refrigerate.

The cooked pork with onions added.

Heat a very large saucepan (I used my wok) and add the pork. Stir and break it up into smaller chunks as it browns. Drain off any fat if needed. Meanwhile, start chopping your onions and garlic, and add to the pork once you can see no more pink. Chop and add mushrooms and celery, stirring through each ingredient thoroughly. Add spices (including dried parsley, if using) and beef stock and bring to the simmer; leave for 35-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until liquid has been reduced to 2-3 tbsp.

Stir in bread crumbs and chopped fresh parsley (if you’re not using dried). Cover and let cool slightly; about 15-20 minutes if using straight away, otherwise pop it into the fridge for use later.

Roll out one half of your pastry and press it gently into the pie plate, prick it all over with a fork or sharp knife. Add meat mixture and cover with the other rolled out half of the pastry, and press the edges together (I fluted mine—check out this video for a how-to).

 

I used a cookie cutter to make little tree decorations with some pastry scraps. Cut three steam vents in the top of the pie. If desired, beat 1 egg with 1 tsp cold water and brush it lightly over the pie to give it a nice shiny, golden appearance once baked. Milk used in the same fashion also achieves a similar result but is not quite impressive. You can save the leftover egg for baking with later.

Bake in a preheated oven at 375 F / 190 C for 40-45 minutes, or until a lovely golden brown on top. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

This pie will sure disappear quickly!

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Posted: July 10th, 2011 under Baking, Basics, Cook Books, Joni's Blog, Mains, Moderate, Recipes.
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Comments

Comment from William Linington
September 25, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Hi there, what kind of breadcrumbs? Fresh, or dried?

Comment from Joni
September 27, 2011 at 12:09 am

Either would work, you might have to use a little more fresh though, as I used dried.

Comment from Carolyn
December 15, 2011 at 8:28 am

Sounds good however as someone who grew up on this every year, there is NO celery, NO mushrooms and NO breadcrumbs and the meat is half beef-half pork, not all pork, and you don’t drain off any fat you add a Tbsp or 2 of flour and allow that to blend with the fat making almost a roux to thicken it

Comment from Sue
December 17, 2011 at 11:42 am

I grew up in Quebec & have been making Tortiere all my adult life, every year at Christmas. My recipe has developed over the years & is a combination of a few Tortiere’s I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. Firstly, I use 1lb of pork; 1 lb of beef & 1lb of veal. Then rather than bread crumbs, you can grate a raw potato into the mixture OR add mashed potatoes OR dehydrated potato flakes until the mixture is thick enough-I don’t drain off the fat but do buy lean ground beef. This mixture with your onions, herbs & spices will make about 4 pies. Enjoy-I’m off to start baking mine right now!

Comment from lagatta à montréal
December 18, 2011 at 5:36 am

Carolyn, you are right about the traditional tourtière (though I’ve also had the Lac-St-Jean one made with game, and the meats can also include veal). I do prefer adding some mushrooms and celery though; I’ve certainly seen it done in recent years here in Montréal. It has also become fashionable to make them from game: bison, deer, duck etc. making it a more “special” dish for the holidays.

And of course people who don’t eat pork could substitute lamb or a mix of lamb and veal. All of these are easily to be found at Marché Jean-Talon and other public markets if one does not feel like cooking, though I prefer to make my own.

Comment from Joni
December 18, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Great feedback from all, thanks! I agree that mine is a bit far from the “traditional” recipe that would have been used ages ago, so perhaps I should rename the recipe… but from what I’ve read as well, tourtiere is specific to whomever makes it, so every one is a bit different with no one “right” recipe. My dad grew up in Montreal and spent Christmases in St Jerome with his French-Canadian family, and the tourtiere that he loves tastes a lot like the one I’ve made here. The original tourtiere was made with whatever meat was available—so it may have been pork, or moose, or deer, etc. I love the idea of blending meats and am thinking about trying it with kangaroo some time (as I live in Australia and it’s readily available as a game meat). Not traditional, but yummy!

I do love the idea of grating in potato instead of breadcrumbs in this though, I’ll have to try that next!

Comment from Jim Woolfrey
December 20, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Thanks for the recipe! I grew up in Minneapolis (originally established by French Canadians) and remember enjoying a tourtière meal every year. My mother bought a few every year from Our Lady of Lourdes church at their annual holiday craft sale, and we enjoyed them a week or two before Christmas. I haven’t really thought about that in 20+ years, but when brainstorming about an entree’ to serve our guests for an annual holiday party (our turn to host and server the entree’) –something made me remember the tourtière. So, I Googled the church and found their web site… and sure enough, they still sell them. But, I live on the West Coast now, and after a quick inquiry to see if I could have some shipped, I decided to look for a recipe. I found yours and decided to use it. Note that at 40-something years old, I have never made a pie crust in my life, and the only pie I ever made was pouring chocolate pudding into a ready-made crust. So… I was a little nervous.

Based on a quick (too quick) calculation based on the number of guests coming, I thought we needed 6 of them, so I multiplied your ingredients by 6 and picked up the ingredients the day before the party (although went with 1/2 beef and 1/2 pork). The night before the party I made enough dough balls for four of them, thinking I’d sneak out of work early the next day to finish the project with time to spare… that they’d be baking in the oven when our guests arrived. Best laid plans… I didn’t get home from work until two hours before the guests were to arrive. I prepared the rest of the dough, then started making the filling. Twelve pounds of ground meat took up most of the room in the two largest of our pots. I was still only halfway through cooking the filling at a half hour before the guests were to arrive. My wife was livid. I couldn’t figure out how to drain the meat… so I left it un-drained, and never got to adding the beef stock… and when I added the breadcrumbs in the end, I think I used a little less than the recipe called for, because I just couldn’t add any more *anything* to the pots without overflowing. (I also couldn’t find the cinnamon… so I threw in a couple of shakes of nutmeg… perhaps not enough to be noticed.)

So, at 6:30 PM — official party start-time — I hadn’t even started rolling out the pie dough. Realizing that my wife would kill me if I was cooking in (messing up) the kitchen of our open floor plan house when the guests arrived, I quickly grabbed an old vinyl table cloth and shuttled the ingredients out to the ping pong table in the garage and got to work… pausing every now-and-then to run back into the house to greet our guests and pour them a stiff drink.

Well, that butter-rich dough was rock-hard when I tried to roll it out. I had to press it between two huge cutting boards using all of my weight to get it started flattening. Our guests were curious, and soon enough about a third of them joined me in the garage to form at tourtière assembly line — one person rolling out the dough… another running rock-hard dough-balls back to the kitchen to zap them for a few seconds in the ‘wave… another (me) putting the dough into the pie pans and fork-pricking them… and another scooping in the filler… then back to me for the top layer and the fluting-of-the-edges… then off to another to paint on the egg and slice vents in the top. Several others were around to cheer us on and keep our glasses full.

When we had three of the six assembled, someone started putting them into the oven… and we had five into the oven around 8:00 — two on the top rack, two on the middle and one on the bottom. After 1/2 hour, I realized that the one on the bottom rack had started to burn, so I pulled that out of the oven and set it aside (fresh dough on top and charred on the bottom). I rotated the others — middle-rack to top-rack and vice versa.

Dinner finally served around 9:00 — about two hours later than planned. I put the last of the tourtière into the oven then, too, thinking that if we really ran short — at least there would be more.

The Tourtier were very well received. Lots of rave reviews — perhaps because everyone was ravenously hungry and most were on their third or fifth drink… and maybe just being polite. One guest who is pencil thin and usually eats like a bird asked for a second slice.

I posted a few photos of the finished product here:

http://beerwinebooze.posterous.com/tourtiere#

I hope to make it again sometime, but for a smaller crowd, or have them prepared the day before… something like that.

Thanks again for sharing the recipe!

Jim

Comment from Brendan in Australia
January 14, 2012 at 1:45 am

Thanks for sharing your recipe. I am also in Australia and made one on a “cold” (21C) day to revisit my Canadian tradition.

Can I freeze the leftovers? There’s just too much!

Comment from Randal Oulton
July 23, 2012 at 9:47 am

This turned out great!!! What a change from the “traditional family” recipes I’ve tried over the years, that even though they’re beloved, turn out so dry that you have to drown them with ketchup to be able to swallow them down. It’s a make again; people can make whatever variations they want — mixed meats, grated potato instead of the fresh breadcrumb, etc.

Comment from Peter in Auckland NZ
September 7, 2012 at 12:33 am

What a wonderful recipe. It worked with minced lamb & LOTS of mushrooms. It worked with minced beef, LOTS of mushrooms and, this time,WITH the celery.Thickened with rolled oats…less work than potatoes.A mix of our local sherry with water instead of the stock…also I doubled the herbs & spices…adding 1 tsp allspice. It just seemed to need it! C’est une recette formidable pour un plat merveilleux!

Comment from Steve Harris
November 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm

I am on a low carb diet, but this looks and sounds so good, I think a few carbs wouldn’t hurt!

Comment from Peter
November 1, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Me again! Tourtière wins encore une fois…this time with half pork mince, half chicken mince and grated raw potato. Doubled the herbs & spices, included 1 tsp allspice, served with the local apricot chutney. A certain local méthode champenoise to drink! A WINNER once again!!!

Comment from Joni
November 5, 2013 at 2:22 am

That’s fantastic Peter! It’s just such a good dish, and very versatile so I’m glad you’re making it your own. :)

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