Our 2012 Christmas Tourtiere
A Family Tradition
The first time I shared Christmas with my new husband's family, I was introduced to a family dish; the tourtiere. These meat pies are a French Canadian tradition, and many families pass their special recipes on from generation to generation. My mother in law told me how these meat pies were originally made by early French pioneers using a bird called they called the tourte. Over the years, pork became much more common, replacing the bird as a filling, but keeping the name; tourtiere.
Of course, my mother in law had her own recipe with her own secret mixture of meats used in the filling, rather then just pork. Every year, they would place an order with a local butcher and trusted friend for the meats. As they made so many to give away as gifts, there were years they ordered over 35 pounds.
Yes, you read that right. More then 35 pounds of ground meat! In fact, one year I remember, they got 38 pounds of ground meat. That's more then 17Kg, for those of you more used to the metric system.
During the years we lived in the same province as our families, my husband and I would help make the tourtiere, a two day job. Eventually, I was even entrusted with the secret recipe. Today I continue the tradition with my own children, and I am happy to share it with you. I even have a recipe to share with you, though not our secret one, of course!
This year, we used a mere 12 pounds of ground meat, mostly because the weather has not been reliably cold, so we cannot depend on using our balcony as a freezer!
This is a basic recipe from Mdm Benoit, an early Canadian celebrity chef. Ours is a modified version of this recipe.
Quantities here are for one pie. When making our tourtiere, we simply multiply everything by the number of pounds of meat we use, except for the water, which is kept quite low in comparison. I've never used more then 4 cups in total, no matter how many pounds of meat we've used. Of course, increasing the quantities changes the cooking and preparation times.
Serves: 1 pie serves 8
- 1 pound minced pork
- 1 small onion
- 1 small clove garlic (minced)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp savory
- 1/4 tsp celery pepper (I use just celery seed)
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 - 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- Combine all ingredients except bread crumbs into a pot. Using medium heat, bring to a boil. Stirring frequently, breaking up any lumps of meat, cook for 20 minutes or until meat is fully cooked through.
- Remove from heat and stir in part of the bread crumbs. Let sit for about 10 minutes, then check to see if liquid is absorbed. Continue stirring in small quantities of bread crumbs until the liquid is absorbed. (If you wish, you can switch to using flour instead of breadcrumbs to absorb the liquid.)
- Allow filling to cool.
- Use your favourite 2 crust pie dough recipe. Fill pie shell and bake at 450F for about 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown. If baking several pies at once, rotate the pies after about 15-20 minutes.
- Pies can be wrapped in foil and frozen.
- Photo with this recipe was taken when we made our 2010 tourtiere. We used 20 pounds of ground meat that year.
The First Step
Assembling the ingredients.
Garlic - Glorious garlic!
The recipe calls for 1 small clove to 1 pound of meat. Since we ordered 12 pounds of meat this year, that means 12 cloves.
Or more. More is good. Because garlic is awesome.
I cheat and use a garlic press.
I like doing the garlic first. After I'm finished with the garlic, my hands smell delicious for hours!
Garlic is a beautiful thing!
Garlic Press - So many to choose from!
There are so many different types of garlic presses out there. Ours was gifted to us and is pretty basic, though it has the added perk of an olive pitter at the end of the handle.
This press is self cleaning, which is always a good thing!
Large capacity, self cleaning and comfort grips.
An ergonomic design, and no need to peel the cloves.
A basic press that comes with a cleaner.
Herbs and Spice - For a flavour explosion
When giving me her recipe, my mother-in-law encouraged me to experiment and make it my own. So I did. Here is my secret blend of herbs and spices, all mixed together.
This is the result of me going through my spice cupboard and saying "Ooh! That would taste great in there!"
Beware of curious kitties! They don't make good pie.
Bread Crumbs - Some disassembly required
When it came time to buy our ingredients, our usual grocery store was out of bread crumbs. I had neither the time nor the energy to hunt down a store that had bread crumbs in stock. Instead, I made my own.
The easiest way to make bread crumbs is to put a cooling rack on a baking sheet, then spread bread slices over the rack. The rack allows for air circulation, and the baking sheet keeps the crumbs under control. Place in an oven at lowest setting (150F or so) and leave for several hours. When completely dry, place the slices into a large slide-lock freezer bag (the thicker plastic makes a big difference!) and crush.
I was able to fit most of a loaf of bread onto my impromptu drying rack.
Bringing out the Heavy Weight
Fresh Bread Crumbs
Marble Rolling Pin with Stand
More than just a beautiful tool!
I love my marble rolling pin! I used cheap wooden ones for years, but I'll never switch back! A good, heavy rolling pin saves a lot of effort, making the job so much faster and easier.
I wish I'd picked one of these up from the start! There are times when being cheap... er... frugal... is not actually saving anything, and this is one of them!
Onions - Bring on the tears!
Chopping onions is nowhere near as much fun as preparing the garlic.
The recipe calls for 1 small onion per pound of meat, and it's better the finer it's chopped. Usually, I use a food processor for this job, but I was doing it at 11:30 at night. Everyone else was in bed, and I didn't think they'd appreciate the noise.
When it comes to onions, less can be more. I used about half the amount of onions then the recipe called for.
My eyes appreciated that.
The right tool for the job.
A good chef's knife has a slight curve to the blade, allowing for a rocking motion, while fitting comfortably in the hand. High quality steel holds a sharp edge, making for a safer knive. Trying to cut with a dull blade if far more dangerous then using a good, sharp edge!
Time for MEAT! - Mix it all together
Now the fun starts! Time to toss all that lovely meat into the pot.
I bought a giant stock pot, just for this job. It only gets used once or twice a year, but it was worth getting. It's big enough to hold at least 30 pounds of ground meat, so at 12 pounds, it was looking a little empty.
Here is another area to make your own mark. You can use all pork, or mix and match your own favourite meats.
16L Stock Pot
A good, solid pot makes the job easier!
When helping my in-laws make their tourtiÃ©re, the ingredients were split between a pair of flat roasters large enough to fit over 2 elements at a time. The meat had to be constantly stirred, since this left some pretty extreme hot and cold spots. Finding a larger, dureable stock pot like this one made the job a lot easier - and only one element is used!
This size is big enough to hold a turkey carcass and make some soup stock after Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, too.
Mix it all together - Cook it 'til it's done!
Set the bread crumbs aside, then mix the meat with your water, onions, garlic and spice mixture into a large pot. Make sure you've got a really strong spoon for this job.
Trust me on that one. Having your mixing spoon snap while stirring your meats is not fun!
Set the heat on medium, though medium high works fine if you're cooking in larger quantities. You may have to adjust the temperature, depending on the type of pot you use. There can be quite a difference between how efficiently they conduct heat.
If you're making enough for 1 pie, this part doesn't take long. Bring the water to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes, making sure to break up the lumps along the way.
If you're making a large batch like we do, this is the time to make a pot of tea and stettle in for the long haul. It's going to take a while.
This is what it should look like when the meat is fully cooked. I suppose it doesn't look very appetizing at this point, though the smells are truly heavenly!
Note the liquid in there. It's full of flavour, so you want to keep that, but you don't want a runny pie. That would be gross. On to the next step!
Stir in the Bread Crumbs
Take the pot off the heat and add the bread crumbs. If you're making just one pie, stir the bread crumbs in a few tablespoonfuls at a time.
Me? I just dumped in the whole bowl full. Every year I've made these, I've added about 2 cups of bread crumbs, then switched to flour to absorb the rest of the liquid.
Stir the crumbs in very thoroughly, then let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes. If there's still liquid, add a bit more and repeat until no more liquid shows.
The Completed Filling
When it's done, this is what it should look like.
The bread crumbs I added in turned out to be just the right amount! This is the first time I've made tourtiere without having to add flour at least a few times.
This is also the smallest amount of filling we've made yet, so that might have something to do with it.
Once it's ready, it's time to let the filling cool down. For one pie, that should be enough time to make our dough and chill it. For larger quantities, leave it overnight. Stir it every now and then to redistribute the heat. If you live in a colder climate like ours, once it's almost completely cool, cover it and stick it outside. It might freeze overnight, but that won't hurt it. Just make sure it isn't hot in the middle, or it'll go sour.
In 2010, we used our balcony to chill our dough, too. The orange dough has paprika added to it.
Mdm Benoit Hot Water Pie Crust - (enough for 1 double crusted pie)
This is a sturdy dough, strong enough to handle a hearty, meaty filling.
You can use any pie dough recipe you like, but this is our favourite. We do this recipe in triple batches. A blender for the liquid ingredients and a stand mixer with a dough hook make the job much, much easier!
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1 1/2 cups pastry flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking powder.
- dried parsley (optional)
- paprika (optional)
- egg (optional - 1 per triple recipe)
- Bring water to a boil. Add shortening. Remove from heat and stir until smooth.
- Sift, measure and re-sift flour with salt and baking powder. Combine mixtures. Stir until smooth.
- Set in covered container and chill for 2-3 hours.
- If using optional herbs (one or the other, not both!), add them in with the dry ingredients.
- If using eggs with a triple recipe, beat it into the liquid ingredients before adding the dry ingredients.
Assemble and bake!
For 2012, my darling daughters made the dough, assembled and baked the pies for me while I visited with a friend.
I love having teenagers!
Unfortunately, they didn't take photos in the process, so I only got photos after the job was done - and a marvelous job it was!
That 12 pounds of meat worked out to 9 pies. Yes, we tend to fill our pies rather well!
When baking large numbers of pies, it's good to do it assembly-line-style. It's handy to have one person rolling the dough (hint: roll the dough between two sheets of heavy vinyl for easy transfer), while another lines the pie plates and fills them. A third person transferring pie plates and dough between the two is a help, too.
When adding the top to a filled pie, moisten the edges with water (or gin) to make a better seal.
Aluminum Pie Plates
If you're making a large batch of pies like we do, don't forget to stock up on these!
Trust me. This is not something you want to forget.
Great for Freezing!
The tourtiere can be frozen after they've cooled down. Wrapped in foil, they make for great gifts and quick and easy meals, since they can go straight into the oven without being thawed, first.
We can fit 3 pies into our oven at once, and cool them in stages. When we first take them out of the oven, they rest on the stove top until it's time to take out the next batch. Then they get moved to a table to cool some more. By the time the third batch comes out of the oven, the first batch has cooled enough for us to move them to the balcony, where we have large towels to cover them and keep them clean and clear of snow. We would then leave them outside to freeze. Once frozen, we'd wrap them in foil, put them in a bin or box to protect them, then back to stay frozen on the balcony they go.
Obviously, that only works if it's cold enough! Since we don't have access to a lot of freezer space, when the weather doesn't co-operate, we've had to reduce the number of tourtiere we make, so that we have room to keep them frozen.
Do you and your family have a favourite recipe you make every Christmas? Do you have a traditional recipe that has passed through generations of your family? Is this something you'd like to try yourself?
Let me know! I'd love to hear about it!