Tourtière: Celebrating Christmas French-Canadian Style

Tourtière is the traditional Christmas Eve dish in French Canada.  A lightly spiced, finely ground pork pie enveloped in a flakey melt-in-your-mouth crust, it is the center of the réveillon, a midnight feast served after Christmas mass.  The addition of cinnamon, ground cloves and allspice is what makes this savory pie so unique.  Served by generations of Québécois families, it is a memorable tasting experience should you be lucky enough to be served a slice.  So beloved, it has spread far beyond the borders of the province of Québec where it originated.

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French families throughout Canada and immigrant families in New England have kept the tradition alive.  There are many regional variations and often even variations within one family.  Some add veal, some mix in game meats and some recipes include potatoes.  Of course I think my maman’s recipe is the very best!  Hers is made with finely ground pork. Tourtière is all about the meat, so source a good butcher to get it at optimal freshness.  Water is added to the meat and it is cooked down for more than an hour. Then the fragrant spices are introduced to create the distinctive taste sensation. A handful of oats is added at the end as a binder.  The cooked pork is strained of excess fat so the pie is lean but rich in flavor.  This is a completely make-ahead dish and it can be frozen for up to a year.  Growing up we had tourtière Christmas Eve and looked forward to it all year.  Here in Pennsylvania, grandmaman makes enough for her grandsons to enjoy all year.  It is usually served with a condiment such as ketchup, chili sauce, green ketchup or chutney.  Tourtière is one of Canada’s most delicious contributions to the culinary world.  It is THE smell of Christmas in French Canadian homes.  And boy,  does it smell divine!  Joyeux Noël!

PIERRETTE'S PIE CRUST

  • Servings: 2 nine inch crusts
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cup flour, more to roll out dough
  • 1 cup shortening or lard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup ice cold water, more as needed

Method:  In a large bowl, cut the shortening into the flour with 2 knives until the mixture is uniformely coarse, about the size of dimes. Gradually add water and shape into a ball with your hands. Divide the dough in half.  On a floured surface, roll out the dough.  Fit one crust into a 9 inch pie plate.  Reserve the second crust for the top of your tourtière.

Prepare the dough for a double pie crust

PIERRETTE'S FRENCH CANADIAN TOURTIÈRE (tour-tea-air)

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pounds of finely ground pork butt, timmed of fat
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup old fashioned oats(bread crumbs can be substituted)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 t ground pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice

Method:

In a large Dutch oven, cook the onion and garlic on low heat in olive oil until translucent and soft.  Add pork, and cook over medium heat while stirring, until the pork browns.  Add water so that approximately 3/4 of the meat is covered.   Stir, cover and simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half, until most of the water has been absorbed.  Add the oats and cook for another 10 minutes with a vented lid.   Stir in the spices, salt and pepper.  Let cool to room temperature.  Strain any remaining liquid or fat out of the meat. Fill your unbaked pie crust with the seasoned pork.  Top with the second crust, cutting slits for venting.

Bake at 375F for 40 minutes until the crust is golden.  If freezing, cool completely before wrapping in foil.  Bake frozen at 375F for 1 hour.

Note:  The spices can be adjusted according to taste.  If you like cinnamon more than cloves you can adjust quantities.  Pierrette, like all great cooks, works by taste and it is difficult to get exact measurements of the spice combination which is the secret to the awesome taste of her tourtières.  I noted 1 teaspoon  cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice and 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves in one session of documenting this post while observing the master at work!  In another session, I noted the combination of spices in the recipe above.

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In a large pot, soften the onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil.

Ground pork ready to be browned and seasoned

Add the ground pork and cook until browned, adding salt and pepper

Seasoned and browned pork

Seasoned and browned pork.  To this you will add water and slowly cook it for an hour and a half.  The oatmeal is then added followed by the spices.

The spices that give tourtière its distinctive flavoring

The spices that give tourtière its distinctive flavoring

The seasoned meat mixture, thickened and starined

The lean-seasoned meat mixture, thickened and strained of excess water and fat.

Filling the unbaked pie shell with the pork mixture

Filling the unbaked pie shell with the savory pork mixture.

The meat pie ready to go into the oven

The meat pie ready to go into the oven

A golden beauty ready to serve or to freeze, after cooling, for up to a year

A golden beauty ready to serve or to freeze, after cooling, for up to a year

With a green salad on the side, a slice of tourtière is a satisfying meal.

With a green salad on the side, a slice of tourtière is a satisfying meal.

My beautiful 83 years young mom with one of her delectable creations!

My beautiful 83 years young maman, the famous Pierrette,  with one of her delectable creations!

i’m taking this to Throwback Thursday because this recipe is just too good not to share!

27 thoughts on “Tourtière: Celebrating Christmas French-Canadian Style

  1. “Merry Christmas Johanne & Pierrette” Lovely picture of you Pierrette. I’m sure that everyone will enjoy those meat pies tonight. We’ll be doing the same thing at my house this evening, having my Mom’s homemade meat pies and celebrating with family, although we won’t be waiting until midnight. Our celebration will begin about 9 p.m. so that we can all be in bed before midnight so that we’re fast asleep when Santa arrives.
    Some of my family uses the Ketchup, but others insist on having my Mom’s home-made Chili Sauce with her meat pie. I’ll share that recipe with you, so that you can share it in one of your blogs.
    Thanks so much for this past year of inspiring blogs!!!!! Have a Wonderful Holiday!!!!

    • Joyeux Noël Kathy! I guess you had to decorate after all! I would love your mom’s chili sauce recipe! I will edit the post to include chili sauce! Thank you for all your support and enthusiasm about the blog in the past year Kathy. Mit means the world to me! We’re starting our celebration at 6 so we might beat you to bed! Love, Jo xo

  2. Hi, Johanne! This really IS unique in that spices we Americans usually associate more with sweet dishes are introduced to a meat pie. I’m sure it’s delicious and very rich! The one your Mom made looks really, really good! She must be an expert at it! I’ve never eaten many meat pies in my day, but I’m open to trying anything that sounds as good as this one!!!

    It’s great that this dish can be frozen for future baking. I’m sure that means a little extra goodness later on in the winter season!

  3. Hi Johanne! This looks amazing! I wish you, Chris and the boys lived a lot closer to Ca.! Your family is very lucky to have you cooking all these great dishes. Thank you for sharing and Merry Christmas!

    • Thank you Bruce and to you as well! I wish I was closer to bring you a tourtière and have you help eat up the cookie tower I have heard you admired! :))) enjoy your handsome men! Looking forward to seeing you in CA next month! Merry merry merry!

  4. Thanks again for sharing this wonderful traditional French specialty. How wonderful for you to have a special visitor for Christmas. We had the pleasure of meeting your Mom recently and know that she is a special lady. Merry Christmas to you and yours and all the best in 2015.

  5. Oh my goodness, that sounds and looks delicious! Have a Merry Christmas! I look forward to reading your blog in the new year.

  6. Pingback: Fiesta Friday #48 | The Novice Gardener

  7. This is just wonderful, Johanne! What an inspired pie, adding the spices to give it that hint of Christmas – perfect after returning home from midnight mass!
    Thank you so much for sharing this tradition with us, as well as showing off your formidable maman! Please pass on my best wishes to her!
    Ginger x

    • She is tickled pink that a talented German blogger is sending best wishes to her from the UK, Ginger! Thank you for reading and commenting. My mother has been my inspiration to cook. Today is our last day together as she heads back tomorrow. It is so hard to live far from our loved ones as I am sure you have had to do do also.

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  8. Pingback: Fiesta Friday #49 | The Novice Gardener

  9. What a wonderful post, and I am sorry I missed it initially as I was traveling myself. Please tell your Maman that I will be making this very soon. I told you a bit about making the pies at Our Lady of Lourdes, but their spice mixture is highly guarded. I could pick up allspice and clove in it but am excited to learn about the cinnamon. At Lourdes the crust is made with Lard, too.

    I think I’ll make it for my Dad and see if it sparks any childhood memories – it was his family that came into the States through Canada. They settled in Canada about 1820 or so near Chambly, Quebec, which is by Granby. Funny thing is, our family didn’t know about the generations spent in Canada until I started researching family history, although both my Grandparents spoke fluent French as well as English.

    But anyway, thanks for sharing such a wonderful tradition!

    • I’m so glad to read about your family history and am looking forward to hearing about your father’s reaction to the tourtière! Curious to see if our spice mix is the same “secret” ingredient as Our Lady of Lourdes! I worked on this post 2 Christmases to try to get the ingredients right because my mom works by instinct not recipes!

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      • I learned to cook that way, too, and know exactly what you mean! But now you have a true treasure documented to pass down to future generations – and to all of us!

      • It is a treasure and my son asked me to write the recipe down so we could continue to make it. I hope we have my spunky mom around a long time though:)

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    • Thank you for visiting Elizabeth! This is a great Christmas tradition and I am so blessed to still have my mom share it. I even had her teach a dozen girlfriends how to make tourtières one year and it was a lot of fun.

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