Happy holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa! And of course, Happy Boxing Day! Today, we’re sharing our experience with French-Canadian food as part of December’s Ethnic Exploration. It’s usually interesting how we end up choosing our new country, region or national group that ends up as a feature, and this time was no different. The exhausting busy body effect of the holiday season was setting in for me, and the idea of coming up with an experimental recipe felt like one more thing to add to the list. We bounced around a few idea, but it was Amir’s mention of the French-Canadian tourtière that stuck. We would avoid adding another sweet dessert to the season’s line-up, the savory meat pie was holiday appropriate, and above all, it had a delicious appeal. Sold!
Truth be told, there’s nothing particularly difficult about a tourtière. The hardest part for some may be pronouncing it correctly, but if you watch this cute Pillsbury commercial, you can get the hang of it quickly. In fact, if you take a peek at different recipes, you may find yourself feeling quite ho hum about it. Generally, ground meat is cooked with a few spices and onions, scooped into pie dough and baked until golden brown. The ground meat is often pork, although it could also be a singular or mixed variety of ground game, beef, lamb or veal. We found no authentic recipes with chicken or turkey, but we’re positive it cannot be a completely foreign option. Should you feel inclined to make one, feel free to be a rebel. The usual vegetables are onions, celery and potatoes. Occasionally mushrooms will pop up as well. You have room to toss in veggies as you please. Of course, it is the mix of holiday spices with the meat and vegetables that make a tourtière the masterpiece. Savory, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg are common culprits, which add a beautiful aromatic flair to the pie. For those who want to put on their fancy pants, they will make a tourtière du Lac St-Jean, which is much bigger and uses a wide variety of cubed meat. Although the tourtière is well-known as a Québec delicacy, you will find it served on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve across the entire country of Canada and also here in the States where Canadian ancestors settled long ago. It just may be the epitome of holiday dishes for many Canadians.
There’s something about looking forward to a specific holiday dish that makes the holidays so special. Although we could easily have many dishes all year long, it’s tradition to take part in them on certain occasions. Those occasions come once a year such as birthdays, anniversaries, secular and religious holidays. When we eat these foods, we relieve memories of yesteryear’s cooking fiascos and successes. We sit around tables with friend and family laughing and joking about whose recipe is the best. We spend the evenings huddled around the microwave or oven reheating a second helping because it was so good the first time. That’s what’s so great about foods that are tied to holidays. That was what was so great about the famed tourtière. Everyone seems to look forward to it, and almost everyone has a recipe, whether it is traditional or their own take on a classic.
There are many people, including Canadians, who will admit that the country has never been known for an outstanding cuisine. What it is known for are hearty, rib-hugging dishes that keep you warm during their blistering cold winters or sugar desserts that have been passed down for generations. Poutine, nanaimo bars, butter tarts, maple tarts and Canadian bacon are familiar to many of us. Why has the tourtière been such a mystery? It is not as cold here in Los Angeles as it is in Canada, but it is cold enough for a super savory meat pie. We peeked through several recipes to get the gist and decided to go our own route for this one. Of course, we kept many of the traditional elements but decided to add a couple of other touches to make it our own.
Most tourtière recipes were packed with pork, and the slices appeared very compact and sturdy. To thicken our pie’s slurry, we used a little butter and cream in combination with beef broth and flour to create a sauce that enveloped the meat and vegetables. Carrots and cubed red potatoes added texture, along with the onions and celery. Our spice mix added smokey, earthy, rich notes to the mix. The last two touches of lemon zest and sugar added a bit of levity to what is inevitably a dense, meaty bite. We were more than pleased with the filling. Typically, we make our own pie crusts, but due to a busy day of cooking, we went with one of our favorite producer’s variety when in a pinch–Trader Joe’s. If only Amir had little maple leaves in his collection of cookie cutters! We decided to go for the round edged star for decorative overlay.
Tourtière is not tourtière unless it is served with a special condiment. Many people eat their’s with green ketchup made from green tomatoes. It is December in L.A., and green tomatoes are hard to find. We knew that eating this pie on its own would be fine, but why not add our own version of a tomato topping to plop on each plate. Instead of making our own ketchup–again, time was of the essence–we made a tomato jam of sorts with red peppers, onions and green apples. It most likely borders along the lines of jam and chutney, but we’ll call it a jam today. For fun, we thought we’d put together a video to show you just how easy it is to whip it up.
Once the pie had a few minutes to cool, we plated big slices and paired each one with our warm, sweet and tangy jam. The flavors were right on. You could immediately smell the holiday appeal that came from the tourtière, and of course, you could taste it as well. It is a classic for a reason, and perhaps that is characteristic of many pies–savory or sweet. A homemade pie feels rustic. It feels like a nurturing force. It reminds you of your family. It reminds you of home. It signifies the holidays. Enjoy your holiday season, and be sure to eat a lot of pie. You owe it to yourself and whomever showed enough love to make it for you.
Tourtière (French-Canadian Meat Pie) – Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus extra to grease the pie dish
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 medium red potatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons flour
1 pound ground pork
1 1/2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon heavy cream, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground savory
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon whole caraway seed
1/8 teaspoon whole celery seed
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 double pie crust, thawed or your favorite pie crust recipe
1. Heat olive oil and butter in a wide, deep pan over medium high heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery and red potatoes. Toss to coat everything with the oil and butter. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until the onions and potatoes turn translucent.
2. Stir the garlic, bay leaf and flour into the vegetables, then add the pork. Break up the meat with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 3-5 minutes or until most of the meat is no longer pink.
3. Add the beef broth and 2 tablespoons cream, stirring to combine. Season the mixture with the black pepper, salt, allspice, savory, cloves, caraway seed, celery seed and cinnamon. Reduce the heat to low and cook for another 8-10 minutes, allowing the filling to thicken. Stir in the sugar and lemon zest. Remove from heat, pick out the bay leaf, transfer to a separate container and set aside to cool for about 30 minutes. Cover and chill until completely cool.*
4. Butter a 9″ pie dish. Roll out the pie crust to fill the bottom of the dish. Spoon the filling onto the crust, then top with the second pie crust. Trim or decoratively crimp the edges of the crust as desired.
5. Whisk together the egg and remaining 1 teaspoon of cream. Brush the top and edges of the pie, then cut small slits in the top to allow any steam to escape. Set on a baking sheet and slide into a preheated oven at 400 degrees. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool for at least 15-20 minutes before serving.
*The filling can be made 1-2 days ahead of time. Just cover and chill until ready to use.
Tomato and Red Pepper Jam – Makes 2 cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large vine tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 red peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup dry sherry
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon sriracha
1 teaspoon salt
1. In a heavy bottom sauce pan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over a medium high flame. Once hot, add the tomatoes, peppers and apples. Toss to coat with the olive oil, then cook for 5-7 minutes or until the peppers begin to soften. Mash the vegetables and fruit as they cook.
2. Add the brown sugar, stirring to cover everything with the sweetener. Next, add the white vinegar, water, dry sherry and lemon zest and juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes. Stir and mash the mixture occasionally to break up the pieces.
3. Finally, add the maple syrup, sriracha and salt. Cook for another 40-45 minutes or until the jam has thickened significantly. Remove from heat. Serve warm or chill and serve cold if desired.*
*If you prefer a thinner jam, allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes, then use an immersion blender or food processor to purée the jam to your preferred consistency.
Click HERE for printable recipes.