I am tempted to say that this is an old family recipe, but my family has no connection with French Canadians whatsoever. But it is a recipe my family has been making for years. The story goes like this: my grandparents had tourtière on a trip to Canada, and enjoyed it so much, that my aunt wrote to Gourmet magazine to ask for a recipe. Gourmet did not print her request in the magazine, but did send her a recipe. It has been a family standard ever since. It is actually a meal my brother and I would request – equally and with no ugly arguments.
After I was well and truly gone from her house, I would occasionally request that my mom make tourtière, but eventually she refused and handed the treasured recipe card over to me. I have tinkered with it over the years, but it is essentially the same. And it is amazing that so few simple ingredients produce such a richly flavored and delicious dish. Believe me, my photographic skills don’t do this pie justice, though it is all about flavor and not about looks. I have made this for friends, but no one else had ever heard of tourtière. But I have come across the recipe since my early days making it, and read somewhere along the way that this is a traditional meal for French Canadians on Christmas Eve. And I can totally see that. It is easily made ahead, simple fare but richly flavored. It is the kind of meal to eat with friends and family, in front of a fire, cozy and together.
There is a real added benefit to this recipe – it makes two pies. One pie serves six, and trust me, everyone will want a generous slice, so you can feed twelve people out of the preparation time. But even better, it freezes beautifully, so you can make it well ahead, or eat one pie and freeze one for later. That’s what my mom did. She always had one in the freezer in case we behaved especially well and were deserving of a treat. On the original recipe card, my aunt even makes the notation – “many Canadians think it is best cooked, cooled, frozen and reheated.”
And a note about pie crust. Sometimes I am in the mood and make my own, but I have no problem with the bought, ready-rolled crusts available today, and it does make things easier and quicker. If you plan to freeze the pie, consider making it in a foil pan, or make it in a tart pan with a removable bottom. Refrigerate until cold then slide it gently out of the tart pan onto the plastic wrap and foil and carefully wrap.
French Canadian Meat Pie
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion
2 celery stalks
3 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 bay leaf
1 cup hot water
pastry for 2 double crust pies (your favorite recipe, or bought, ready-rolled)
Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery (I do this in the food processor). Melt the butter with the oil in a Dutch oven or large pot. Add the vegetables and cook until soft and wilted, but not browned, about 7 minutes. Add meats and cook until browned through and no longer pink, breaking up the meat. Drain the fat thoroughly from the meat and return to the heat. Sprinkle over the flour and stir to coat. The meat will start to stick together and no oil will be left in the pan. Stir in the cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaf, crumbled very finely. Add the hot water and stir well. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes. The meat should be fragrant and cooked through with just a bare hint of sauce clinging to it. If there is more fat rendered, add a bit more flour and stir and cook through. Season generously to taste. Cool completely, then chill in the refrigerator until cold.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line two greased tart pans with removable bottoms or pie plates with pastry. Fill each pastry with half the meat filling, spreading it to the edges. Top with a second pie crust, sealing the edges. Cut slits in the top of the crust. Mix the egg with a little water and brush over the pastry top.
Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, lower the temperature to 350 degrees and cook an additional 35 – 40 minutes. You want the pastry golden, but if it starts to get too brown, cover with foil.
To freeze, cool the pies completely. Wrap them in plastic wrap tightly, then in foil. The pies will keep for two days in the fridge or up to three months in the freezer. Unwrap the pie completely and place the pie plate on a baking sheet. Bake until cooked through, about 25 minutes. Let sit for a few minutes, slice and serve. If frozen, thaw in the fridge overnight before re-heating.
Each pie serves 6