Tourtière

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is all of the traditions surrounding food. I love the anticipation I feel when stepping into my mom’s house and knowing that smells of turkey gravy on the stove, sweet potato pie coming out of the oven, and gumbo bubbling away will soon hit my nose. The kitchen is slightly-ordered chaos full of transient helpers who’ve been co-opted into pausing their game of tag or general merry-making to help Gammy (my mom) chop celery or crumble the cornbread for dressing. I believe this is one of the reasons I first fell in love with cooking. It fills me up to see everyone come together to make these food memories. These connections have bonded my brothers and me in a way that other traditions do not.

This is why family food traditions are one of my favorite conversation topics around the holidays. What you eat when you celebrate gives such a fascinating insight into a person. My husband’s favorite food is a dish his family eats on holidays called tourtière. It is a delicious meat pie with filling that simmers on the stove for hours, wafting mouthing-watering smells throughout the house.

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Tourtière is an Acadian meat pie that my husband grew up eating on special occasions.  Please see the insightful addendum following this recipe that my mother-in-law graciously agreed to provide for this post. It gives a personal history of this dish.

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After several years of dating my husband, we married and I was invited to his mother’s house for Thanksgiving. At first, I was shocked that we were not having turkey and dressing, and I had a hard time letting go of not having all of my food memories and traditions. However, tourtière was like salve to the wound. It is meaty, flaky, and all around comforting. I have come to associate this dish with my marriage and how wonderful merging two families can be. We are crafting our own traditions from the best of what we were raised on, and loving every minute of it.

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This meal is great for gatherings, as the filling can be made ahead of time or the whole pie can be frozen in advance. If you are looking for something new to add to a holiday party menu, or just a warm, comforting Sunday dinner, tourtière has grown near and dear to my heart.

I did a lattice top here, because my gluten/dairy free crust was only available in the pan, not as a sheet, so it didn’t cover the whole thing. If you can find it as a roll out sheet, I recommend covering the top completely. My husband is a fan of having as much flaky crust as possible. Look forward to a future blog post with a homemade gluten/dairy free pie crust! With a newborn, a pre-made crust was about all I could handle at the moment.

This recipe was shared with me by my mother-in-law and husband, for which, I am grateful.

Tourtière

Ingredients

1 small onion, diced

3 stalks celery, diced

1 pound lean ground beef

1 pound ground pork

1/2 T cinnamon

1/2 t nutmeg

1/4 t ginger

Salt and pepper to taste

1 T avocado oil

Instructions

  1. Add onion and celery to large skillet with oil. Sauté on medium low until translucent and aromatic.
  2. Add ground pork and ground beef to skillet and brown on medium high.
  3. Add spices to a small bowl. Add half of spices to meat mixture. Turn heat down to low and cover.
  4. Cook on low for at least 90 minutes, up to 2 hours. Stir periodically, gradually adding the rest of the spice mixture. Add a small amount of water, if needed, to keep meat moist.
  5. Let meat cool. Add mixture to gluten free, dairy free pie crust. Cover with second crust. Crimp edges and slit to allow steam to escape.
  6. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes, until crust is slightly browned.
  7. Cool 15 minutes and serve.

A brief history of TOURTIÉRE

If one does an Internet search of the term tourtière, many (most) sites define the
term as a French Canadian meat pie associated most closely with French Canadian
Christmas celebrations. That is accurate enough on the second count, but I take
issue with the first.
To my mind, tourtière is an Acadian meat pie whose roots are likely from northern
France, a culinary testament to a hardy people (including my ancestors) who
arrived on North American shores early in the seventeenth century. (According to
family research, the first Cormier came to what is now Nova Scotia, then l’Acadie, as
an indentured servant in 1624, joining a colony where young men lived and in some
cases, intermarried with native peoples.) This distinction I make, that tourtière is
Acadian rather than French Canadian, is one that may not be important to most but
is vital to the identity I have as both a descendant of French ship builders/farmers,
les Acadiens, while also being an American, a designation formalized by the terms of
the Webster-Ashburton treaty of 1842, the document that officially designated the
St. John River as the border between the United States (Maine) and Canada (New
Brunswick/Québec).
Like Acadians on both side of the border, I ate tourtière to celebrate Christmas or
New Year’s, usually at one or the other of my Mémères’ (grandmothers’) homes or at
my Matantes’. Sadly, I rarely ate tourtière at my own kitchen table because my
father, in a rare display of finicky appetite, wasn’t big on it. The few times my
mother quietly ignored his opinion of the dish and made it to suit herself and us
children, he typically disparaged the effort, complaining that the meat was “too dry!”
(Not at all my recollection.)
While I adored my Dad, his opinion held no sway when it came time for me to
establish my own family traditions. I incorporated tourtière into holiday
celebrations and so loved the savory pies, that I’ve baked them every year of my
thirty-six year marriage, eventually turning my husband, both sons, extended family,
and friends into fans. I predict that I’ll continue to bake and share tourtière until the
day I can no longer drag myself into a working kitchen. (Even then, I’m pretty sure
I’ll “request” that my sons, their wives, or their children indulge me!)
All this said, I admit my father’s grievance, vis-à-vis tourtière, does still ring in my
memory every year as I prepare to bake tourtière, and as a result, I craft my version
carefully. Experience has taught me that the trick to keeping the tourtière filling
moist is to combine a SLOW SIMMER with FAITHFUL MONITORING and the
JUDICIOUS ADDITION OF WATER/BROTH as it bubbles gently on the stove top for
a minimum of two to three hours before I cool and spoon it into a perfectly browned
crust.
In terms of what can be added to the tourtière filling: I’m a bit of a purist. I sauté
mounds of onion and celery (mushrooms, if I’m in the mood) in butter all are soft,
seasoning well. I then combine two parts ground beef to one part ground pork
(adding a little ground turkey, if feeling particularly virtuous), browning the meats
with the onion/celery mixture and adding another layer of spice.

I recommend being generous with the cinnamon, disciplined with ginger and
nutmeg, and never shy about sprinkling salt and pepper to taste. I’ve generally
found it very hard to over-season this dish.
Finally, there are versions of tourtière whose recipes call for mashed potato and/or
gamier meats. Some cooks add bits of carrot. To my way of thinking, all are
acceptable customizations, IF your family is likely to enjoy or at least appreciate
them.
Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!

 

 

 

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