Tourtiere: A study in delicious contradictions
by Ms. Joy
A few weeks ago, perhaps a little further back in time and closer to Christmas than I realize, Carolyn of All Day I Dream About Food wrote up the recipe for a delicious looking French-Canadian Tourtiere. I am not much for meat pies but there was something about Carolyn’s recipe that I found intriguing so when I found ground pork at the farmer’s market I quickly snagged about a pound. As luck would have it I didn’t get around to making my own tourtiere in a very timely fashion and Mr. made a very delicious pasta with half of it. I think this may have been fortunate because even though I was making a meat pie I was put off a bit by the amount of meat used and this gave me the perfect excuse to stretch the filling a bit with brown rice and green lentils.
A firmly entrenched habit of mine is to peruse numerous recipes before I start my own. Doing this gives me a feel for the cooking times, the traditional spices used and anything that has the potential to throw a wrench into the whole lot. A cookbook that I seem to be mentioning on a fairly regular basis has been my father’s Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook. It is similar to the cookbooks put out by various flour companies years ago and it is still a beautiful book, filled with traditional recipes that give you a great base of food knowledge. I highly recommend tracking down such a book for yourself. In fact, most of my cookbooks are at least 25 years old and I love every one of them because they haven’t been swayed by food trends or health fads and they present the recipe as it should be done, free of modifications – this lets you play as much as you like! I’m a bit of a traditionalist I suppose, I firmly believe that before you can start mucking about (and this applies to music, art, literature and philosophy) you need a firm grounding in the classics.
The Laura Secord Cookbook recounts that the original tourtiere was made with passenger pigeon and while there is a pesky pigeon tormenting my cats from the balcony I decided to stick with pork, another common filling. The only other ingredient in the recipe was one whole white potato, mashed and as I looked over a few other recipes I was finding the same thing: meat, potato, pastry. It’s a tasty trifecta but not exactly a healthy one. After my adjustments I would say that my filling, seasoned with a touch of nutmeg (this is absolutely necessary. we can’t be friends if you don’t add nutmeg) was in thirds: pork, rice and lentil mix and the always flavourful sweet potato. There were a few other things but for now, rest assured you won’t be eating meat and starch for dinner tonight. As funny as it sounds, I’d be willing to bet that tourtiere could very easily be made vegetarian with a bit of tweaking.
As I was taking things out of the refrigerator Mr. mentioned he was sure the filling was covered in gravy before the second crust was added. It couldn’t hurt to add the gravy (goodness, this tourtiere is a study in contradictions: I make it healthy-ish only to add gravy to the whole thing) since ground pork isn’t nearly as moist as ground beef – keep this in mind while you cook it, also it cooks in seconds. Simple gravy is very easy to whip up if you have stock, an onion and a roux of butter and flour.
The pastry is rolled quite thin because I baked the tourtiere in my monster tart pan. I measure it once and it’s about 13 inches across but only about 2 inches high. I didn’t want the pastry to overpower the filling so the bottom layer is perhaps just a few millimetres thicker than the top layer. I intended to use a straight lard crust but as chance would have it, I broke the glass jar I used to store the lard after only reserving 1/3 of a cup. I actually do think it was fortunate because I substituted oil for the rest of the fat and it made for a sturdy, flavourful pie crust that stood up to the weight of the filling. The recipe can be found here. Take note that it is for a 9 inch pie crust pan and that I like my pie crust very thin, you can’t see through it but it is thin.
1 1/2 cup chicken stock, boiling
1/2 onion, minced – I used a beautiful, large purple onion
1/3 cup roux
S&P to taste
1. In a small sauce pot heat the oil until it slips easily across the bottom. Add the onions and cook until translucent and the juices release.
2. Add the stock and bring the whole thing to a boil.
3. To prepare the roux, mix 1/3 cup of butter or margarine with a handful of flour. It should be creamy but very thick, you don’t want it dry. Add to the boiling stock and quickly whisk to incorporate, take care it is at this point that you can end up with lumpy gravy.
4. Reduce the heat to low, stirring occasionally. Season well with salt and pepper.
Reserve for the tourtiere. This is a simple gravy that will lend moisture and a subtle bit of flavour to the filling which will already be seasoned with its own spices.
1/2 purple onion, minced
1/2 cup breadcrumbs – I used the last bit of bread from my molasses whole wheat bread.
1/2 pound ground pork
one cup brown rice and lentils, cooked*
one sweet potato, mashed
S&P to taste
one 9 inch double pie crust, rolled out and in the pan – feel free to use a 13 in tart pan
1. In a saute pan with high sides, heat a tablespoon of oil until it slips easily across the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and cook until translucent and the juices release.
2. Add the pork, breadcrumbs, and rice and lentils. Mix together well and cook until the pork is browned. This will take seconds so keep a close eye. Add the sweet potato and gently mix.
3. Season with nutmeg and the salt and pepper. Spoon the mix into the pie shell and pour the gravy over top. Top with the second pie shell, taking care to pinch the bottom and top together.
Bake at 425º for 20 minutes then lower the heat to 350º for an additional 20-30 minutes.