Holiday baking traditions: Tourtière

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Réveillon!

What would the Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve feasts in Canada – Réveillon – be without tourtière, the classic meat pie beloved of Quebeçois and French-Canadians everywhere?

And this isn’t a strictly Canadian treat. Ex-pats in northern New England and upstate New York, both of which claim a border with French-speaking Canada, guard their family tourtière recipes just as secretively as do bakers in Montreal and Quebec City.

Recipes for tourtière can range from incredibly simple (boiled pork and onions, baked in a crust) to the sublime (gently spiced pork with onion, parsley, celery, and garlic, in a flaky, buttery crust). As my friend Jackie, a Montreal native, says, “There are as many recipes for tourtière as there are cooks in Quebec.”

In researching recipes, I found that the meat can range from pork, chicken, or beef, to lamb, veal, or even duck. Some pies are simply meat and onions; others include potatoes and/or celery as well, plus an array of spices and seasonings. And while one may argue the merits of each combination of ingredients jusqu’à ce que les vaches viennent à la maison, one fact remains: woe betide the Quebeçois who neglects to bake his or her tourtière at Christmas!

After much research, and some invaluable help from both Jackie, and Sue Gray (my fellow King Arthur baker and tourtière veteran), I settled on the following recipe.

Let’s start with the potato. Peel 1 large boiling potato (about 12 ounces), and cut it into 1/2″ dice; you’ll have about 2 cups of diced potato. Yukon Gold or Chef are both good potato choices.

Put 1 teaspoon salt, 2 cups water, and the diced potato in a medium saucepan.

Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Boil until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Drain the potatoes, saving the water.

Mash about half the potatoes, leaving the other half in chunks. Set them aside.

Next, brown the meat. Choose 2 pounds ground pork; or a combination of ground pork and ground beef; or meatloaf mixture.

Drain off any excess fat when finished.

Add the following to the pan:

1 medium-to-large onion (about 8 ounces), diced (about 1 1/2 cups diced onion)
1 to 2 large cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt, to taste

Pour in the reserved potato water.

Stir to combine.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer. Stirring occasionally, continue simmering the mixture for 35 minutes or so, until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are tender.

Add the mashed potatoes and diced potatoes, stirring to combine.

Spread the filling in a shallow pan, so it’ll cool more quickly. It should be just lukewarm when you spoon it into the crust.

While the filling is cooling, let’s make the crust.

Put the following in a bowl:

2 1/2 cups King Arthur Perfect Pastry Blend or Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
10 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pats or diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

Mix everything together thoroughly.

Unlike a typical American pie crust, this “short crust” shouldn’t have any extra-large pieces of butter remaining; the mixture should look like coarse breadcrumbs.

Drizzle in 5 to 8 tablespoons ice water (enough to make a cohesive dough), mixing all the while.

Grab the dough and press it with your fingers; it should feel supple and moist, not dry. You should be able to gather it into a ball that sticks together easily.

Divide the dough into two pieces, making one slightly larger than the other. The larger piece will be the bottom crust; the smaller piece, the top crust.

Shape each piece into a flattened ball, or wheel; they should look like big hockey pucks. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Note: make the dough ahead and refrigerate it overnight, if desired. Next day, let it warm at room temperature for about 30 to 45 minutes before rolling it out.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Unwrap the larger piece of dough, and put it on a lightly floured work surface. For ease of rolling AND cleanup, I highly recommend this silicone rolling mat.

Before rolling, select your pan. A 9” cast iron skillet offers striking presentation at the table; but any 9” pie pan at least 1 1/4″ deep is fine.

Roll the dough into a 13″ to 14” circle (for the skillet), or 12” circle (for the pie pan).

Let the dough rest for 10 minutes; this will help prevent it shrinking as it bakes.

Fold it in quarters…

…and transfer it to the pan, with its folded point in the center.

Unfold the crust and settle it gently into the pan.

Don’t stretch it; stretching is what causes crust to shrink as it bakes.

Spoon the cooled filling into the crust.

Roll the other piece of dough into a 9” to 9 1/2” circle.

Settle it atop the filling.

Fold the bottom crust over the top crust.

Pinch together, and crimp.

Cut a few vents in the top, to let the steam from the baking pie escape; this will keep the crust from ballooning up.

At last – ready for the oven!

Bake the pie for 45 minutes, until it’s golden brown. Remove it from the oven, and set it on a trivet or rack.

Allow the pie to cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes, preferably longer, before serving.

This is what happens when you serve tourtière hot from the oven; it simply won’t hold its shape.

So if you care about looks, wait a bit before serving.

Here’s what it looks like the next day, sliced and rewarmed briefly in the microwave. Many aficionados enjoy tourtière cold or at room temperature just as much as warm.

Joyeux Réveillon!

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Tourtière.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. lweber

    Thank you for doing justice to this classic! This is always the centerpiece (along with the salmon pie, of course) of my Memere’s Christmas spread. I’ve been waiting for your opinions of this long-loved family favorite! I like how you used the separate spices for the meat – my family uses Bell’s poultry seasoning to spice the meat- very similar mix. I’m excited to try this version this year. Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Brenda

    Thank you! This is the recipe I’ve been waiting for since you first mentioned working on it. SUPPOSED to be Thanksgiving dinner, but guess it’s Christmas dinner instead. This sounds like the type of recipe I’ve been looking for. Probably change the spices a little, but eagerly anticipating that first bite!

    Reply
  3. Mary Beth

    I had the best tourtière of my life on a family trip to Quebec as a kid–I’ve been trying off-and-on to recreate it for the past ten years. This recipe looks like a winner!

    (An English variant involves spiced green apples layered over the meat mixture before baking. It’s not tourtière but it’s FANTASTIC!)

    Wow, that sounds great – I do a sausage-apple-cheddar pie that’s really SUCH a nice combo. this sounds similar- thanks for sharing, Mary Beth. PJH

    Reply
  4. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez FMP-FASE - Petrópolis, R.J.- BRAZIL

    Nice delicious. We have similar pie here in Brazil we call Empadão with chicken breast, heart of palms and even shrimp as fillings.
    I love a lot!!
    The main difference is that here we dont make dough with mashed potatoes just oil or unsalted butter.
    I´ll give a try in this one!!

    Your pie sounds delicious too, Ricardo. I wonder if it’s related to Spanish empanadas? They sound similar- Happy holidays, friend- JH

    Reply
  5. sallybr

    I am undecided as to what to cook for Christmas Day, and this could be it…

    Very tasty, Sally… give it a try, I recommend it. I’d cook it the day before, refrigerate overnight, then warm gently just before serving. It shouldn’t really be piping hot, just gently warmed. As I noted, many people like it at room temperature… Enjoy! PJH

    Reply
  6. mflack

    Where do I find the printer friendly version. Please take all the great recipes from the banter and print them in a new cookbook! They are all so great. Thanks

    You’ll find that option here: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/christmas-tourtiere-recipe Frank @ KAF.

    Hi – You’ll always find, at the end of our blogs going forward, a link that says this: Print just the recipe. It will take you to the printable version of the recipe. Cheers! PJH

    Reply
  7. jacquieastemborski

    you didn’t happen to find a non-meat version did you? though i’m guessing the traditionalist wouldn’t like that idea :) i like the basic concept of the dish but don’t eat meat …

    thanks.

    No, the point of tourtiere is the meat – so I doubt a traditional non-meat version exists. You might want to try this Winter Vegetable Pie, however – it’s hearty, unusual, and VERY tasty. PJH

    Reply
  8. LeeB

    From the far north to the deep south – down here we use tender chunks of chicken and add a few peas and carrots and call it Chicken Pot Pie. :)
    But your recipe sounds fabulous and I intend to try it this week as soon as I get to Whole Foods for some ground pork.

    Reply
  9. Rebecca

    Thank you for the recipe! Its tradition for my husband’s side of the family to enjoy this for breakfast on both Thanksgiving and Christmas morning. They serve theirs with butter and cranberry sauce. There’s no formal family recipe, so mine never turns out! This will help.

    Interesting – thanks for adding Thanksgiving to the “tourtiere occasions,” Rebecca, plus cranberry sauce and butter. It’s great to hear real-life experiences with these traditions! PJH

    Reply
  10. lishy

    This is something we have made in my family as long as I can remember. We always have it Christmas morning with ketchup and fried eggs. We only use pork and Bell’s seasoning with the potato, onion, celery mixture. We use a traditional pie crust, and make them by the dozens. They are a favorite in my French Canadian community here. Holidays would not be the same without it. Thank you for including so many special traditions in your blog this year, it is informative, and interesting and you do an amazing job.

    Thank you SO much for taking the time to connect here. We’ve enjoyed doing the Holiday Traditions email series, and hope to continue it next year with some more favorites. Happy holidays! PJH

    Reply
  11. kathyfromkansas

    My Canadian born and raised husband is sitting behind me and got very excited when he saw your post. I was reading the meat choices to him and he said his mother always used pork and moose meat. Hmmmm. I guess that just means you are right, any meat is fine. I am going to try this for him. He also said theirs was always served with brown gravy.

    If you grew up with meat pie, then you know that we all learn to love the method we are used to seeing (this even applies to the vent on top of the pie and the flute of the crust) as well as the taste of your family pie – no matter what the combination of meats or potato. Thanks for sharing your family tradition with all of us! Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  12. zubill

    Many, many years ago I purchased a cookbook called, “The Christmas Cookbook: Great Canadian Recipes” by Rose Murray. The fact the cover price was $12.95 should tell you how long ago that was! This book contains a recipe very much akin to yours; as well, it contains the following story about tourtieres:
    “There is a story that the name originated in the sixteenth century when “tourtes”, large wild pigeons, abounded in New France. Settlers felled the birds by the thousands, and thrifty housewives transformed them into a variety of meat pies, including the “tarte a la tourte”, now abbreviated to tourtiere.” [An aside: I suspect these wild pigeons were the infamous "Passenger Pigeons" that disappeared in the 19th century.]
    I’m not suggesting this story is authoritative, but it is interesting.
    Me, I use a little venison in mine for no reason other than I happen to have some thanks to my son-in-law.
    Merry festivities to all readers and particularly to the hard-working and hard-blogging folks at KAF.

    Reply
  13. Linda

    I usually make 4 or 5 pies for the holidays using my mom’s recipe, a pork and beef combination, boiled with chopped onions and mixed with most of the same spices you used, then mixed with a sleeve of crushed saltines and put in a crust. My mom and her sister used to argue every Christmas about whose pie was correct-she used potatoes, but we like it best without. And always served with a big plop of ketchup!

    Reply
  14. Asdahne

    This reminds me of the Pasties (with the “a” sounding as it does in “past”) we learned about when living in NE Pennsylvania. They were turnovers with the same whatever-meat and onion filling as in your pie, although the pasties also included sliced potatoes. We were told that Welsh miners brought the idea to NE PA, where the coal miners adopted the idea. The pasties were piping hot when the men went into the mine in the morning, and had cooled to a good temperature for eating by lunch time. They were really a full meal in a handful. The recipes I have made were delicious and similar to yours except that they didnt have the “baking” spices (clove, nutmet, allspice) in them.

    I’ve read about pasties – they’re from Cornwall, in England, where many of the miners in that area of Pennsylvania came from. Thus their name – Cornish Pasties. I’ve never made them, always wanted to… they sound like just the ticket on a cold winter day, don’t they? PJH

    Reply
  15. jrberg

    I grew up eating pasties. They’re as described – pocket pastries filled with meat and veggies. I love them. My grandfather was a Finn in northern Michigan who worked in the copper mines. The Finns adopted that lunch, and it became associated with them, as well as the Cornish miners. The Finns put turnips in them as well, but fortunately my family abandoned that part of the tradition.

    Reply
  16. Dave

    I was just going to post that these reminded me of Cornish Pasties. I grew up in Northern California’s “Gold Country”, which has many influences of the Cornish miners that came to the area during the Gold Rush.

    A great friend of the family made these pasties at the end of Deer Season and always added Venison to the mixture, along with beef (and some extra fat, since Venison is very lean). Reading this recipe reminds me of those Pastie “pies”. I’ll see if I can coax a recipe out of the folks back home and post it.

    Good Stuff, Thanks so much for bringing back those memories :)

    Thanks, Dave, we’ll look forward to seeing the recipe. If you can, post it on our community site, OK? That way it’ll be easy for everyone to find. PJH

    Reply
  17. hickeyja

    The recipe I got from a British cooking instructor years ago is posted on the Circle. She always used a parmesan-enriched crust, which is heartier than a regular pie crust.

    I often make these as an easy ‘take along’ for day trips or weekend hunting. They are great to just grab and eat or to heat and serve for dinner with a salad and brown gravy.

    Reply
  18. penandra

    I love the fact that three of the posters above mention the Pasties with which I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan . . . I was just back visiting my Dad for Thanksgiving and we had pasties for lunch twice while I was there . . . what a delightful memory from my childhood! (And while I am actually fond of turnips (and rutabaga), I don’t care for them in my pasties! Thanks for the recipe and thanks to Asdahne, jrberg, and Dave for the memories (and I’ll go look for Dave’s recipe in the community site!)

    Reply
  19. Mary

    I have a recipe for French Meat Pie that is very very similar with this. It calls for a topping of Chutney and boy is it GOOD!

    And I LOVE chutney – thanks for the suggestion, Mary. :) PJH

    Reply
  20. Steph

    I snagged my ex-s mom’s recipe for this- potatoes, pork and beef with Bells’; this looks super, though! Might have to grab the ingredients and make some for my family on the 24th when we go down to visit!

    Reply
  21. joanne

    My mom’s family is from Central China, Wubei province, and they make an almost identical pasty with ground pork. It’s definitely one of my favorite comfort foods.

    Joanne, that’s fascinating – what’s the dough for the crust? Is it similar to the tourtiere crust? PJH

    Reply
  22. csergio

    I can’t wait to try this. My maternal grandmother made so many of these and served them for the family open house on Xmas day. Unfortunately, the recipe consisted of a few notes and has never been recreated. We always ate it with catsup and grandma used a fresh ham (uncured) and had the butcher grind it for her. I also enjoyed the postings about pasties because grandma made those also. My grandparents were raised in upper Michigan where pasties are very common. Happy holidays to all.

    We love hearing all of the tourtiere variations – thanks for posting yours here. PJH

    Reply
  23. sunkissmetwo

    To jacquieastemborski
    I have made a tortiere with vegetarian burger in the past. I chose the canned vegeburger by Loma Linda products and followed the recipe as close as possible. It was very good. Good luck! Im sure any recipe can be changed to vegetarian and King Arthur’s would be no different

    Reply
  24. svanzutfen

    Of French-Canadian descent by adoption, I’ve enjoyed tourtiere many times. My mom always made it with a store bought crust but, on a whim, she tried making one entirely from scratch last week. It was the best one yet! She’s made it several different ways, sometimes adding crumbled crackers into the mix. She uses a similar combination of spices as your recipe and memories of my Pepe’s overzealous use of clove always come back. I think the amount he is alleged to have used in his pie increases every time. Last week, the amount was up to the whole spice container.

    Reply
  25. simonen

    My mother didn’t boil the ground pork. She would fry the pork and minced onion together and season it with allspice and salt and pepper. She added boiled and mashed potatoes for the meat pies for revillion (after midnight mass because Christmas Eve was a day of abstinence) or added a sleeve of crushed saltines to the meat filling and used it to stuff the Thanksgiving turkey.

    We always eat the meat pies with sweet gherkins.

    Good tip, about the sweet gherkins – I’ll have to try that next time, thanks! PJH

    Reply
  26. ksgarvin

    I’d love to try these, but I can’t stand onions. I’ll eat onion powder, though. Can the onions just be left out, or do they add anything other than flavor? (extra liquid, etc.)

    I’d also like to be able to make small ones that I can freeze and then just heat up when I want them. What kind of pan would you suggest for making single-serving versions?

    How about substituting celery for the onion? If you don’t like celery, maybe up the potatoes a bit; the onions add some volume, as well as flavor. And, rather than single-serve pans, why not just make the standard 9″ pan version, then cut, wrap, and freeze individual portions? If you don’t want to do that, you could use whatever mini pie pans you have – should work just fine. PJH

    Reply
  27. mafado

    When the email highlighting this Tourtiere Pie arrived mid-December, I knew immediately that I wanted to try it — I loved the appearance of the pie cooked in the skillet! I hadn’t yet read this blog when I made it a couple days ago but I see that I am not the first one to be reminded of pasties. I grew up in South Australia, where pasties are as common as hamburgers in the US, and I always loved them. Despite being a “from scratch” cook myself, I sheepishly admit that I always liked the bakery versions of pasties better than the home-made ones, mostly because of the light, crisp, golden flaky pastry. We made them at home too, usually a dozen or so individual turnover style ones, and then a pastie pie to use up all the filling we had left. There was often a problem with the pastie pie though, as pastie filling goes in “raw” and the density of the pie required lengthy cooking time, which could make the pastry tough. Making this tourtiere pie has given me the idea of applying the same principle to precooking the pastie pie filling, including mashing some of the potato to act as a binder.

    Despite living in southern Indiana since 1973, I had never come across pasties in the US until a couple of years ago. My husband saw a bakery in Madison, WI, that sold them several years ago, but we couldn’t find it when we spent a week touring and camping in the state in 2008. Then in one small town we found two places that advertised pasties — I was excited, but then disappointed. The first diner served us a piece of a square pie with pastry only on the top, and corrected my pronunciation of pastie, saying it should rhyme with “nasty.” No, no, no — it should sound as if there is an “r” in there, like “parstie. The second restaurant served us a misshapen turnover that contained meat and potatoes but nothing else and was very bland — they prided themselves on cooking them “for hours” which seemed strange to me. I offer the above with apologies to Wisconsonites — we loved your cheeses and your wines, we loved your countryside of patchwork fields and your state parks, we even enjoyed getting lost on your crazy double letter roads!

    But pasties, and specifically pastie pie — I’m back to the kitchen to try a tourtiere inspired version.

    Reply
  28. Normand in Alberta

    Ouais. Pas pire!
    Looks good. I’ll have to try it. Our family’s recipe is quite a bit simpler. We use 1/2 and 1/2 beef and pork. Actually we’ll skip the beef for moose, elk or bison when we have it. This gives a leaner tourtiere. Deer is okay if it isn’t too gamey. We usually spice with diced onions, a bit of cinnamon or ground cloves. Liquify the onions if my sister in law is coming. This year we tried a couple pies using Herb de Provence. A keeper! The latest variation is making gluten free tourtiere for a daughter with celiac. My mother in law’s recipes used potatoes but ours don’t. In the Saguenay they often used potatoes as the topping becomes a shepard’s pie;) The original tourtiere in “old” New France was made with Tourtes or tourterelles (young-uns) (wild passenger pigeon, now extinct). Thus the origin of the word Tourtiere.

    Very interesting, Normand – thanks for sharing your experience here. PJH

    Reply
  29. boilerbaker

    Thank you for sharing this tasty ground meat pie recipe– my family loved it, and it will become a new tradition in S. Indiana! My husband loved the spice combination, and I used ground pork, ground veal, and a little ground turkey. I added a touch of Susan Reid’s strawberry-rhubarb chutney on top, and voila, a wonderful meal!

    Reply
  30. Victoria

    I learned to love tourtiere (and King Arthur flour) when we lived in Kingston, ON in the 80′s. I also add cloves to my recipe, and like to serve it with a green salad and lingonberry or cranberry sauce on the side. It makes a very festive presentation and the berries are the perfect sweet-tangy accompaniment.

    I’m so happy to have found this website!

    Reply
  31. elariv40

    We grew up eating tourtière at the family Reveillon on Christmas Eve and also on New Year’s Eve. Our family also insisted if you’re going to make all this effort–make more than one. They freeze very well. In addition to making pies, I would make turnovers using the same filling and baking them then freezing them. When my husband had to work late, he would bring one in to work and heat it up to eat on his break instead of waiting to eat dinner at 10PM. The same can also be done with the filling for Salmon Pie which is also delicious. In our family we use only mashed potatoes for both the tourtière and the salmon pie with egg sauce. The meat content varies, usually a combination of beef and pork but I’ve also added ground veal, buffalo or turkey in varying proportions to the mixture over the years. I’ll also concur that homemade cranberry sauce is great with the meat pie.

    Reply
  32. rlhuaracha

    Our family has been making this pie since well, FOREVER!!! We put an “S” on the top of every pie…and no one knows why. Anyone out there know why??? Every year we get together to make pies & the discussion always comes up…Why the S?
    Our pies are made with pork, onions, and salt. Yummm!!! Your pie cooked in a cast iron skillet looks delicious. I might need to try that this year!
    Christmas morning wouldn’t be the same without Tourtiere Pie!
    MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
    Hmmm, I’ve never heard of the “S” and neither has my seatmate who lived in Canada for several years. Perhaps S for savory? Anyone else have an idea? ~ MaryJane

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Terry – Tourtiere is for anyone who is bringing presents or holiday greetings, a red suit is not a necessary! Happy Baking – Irene@KAF

  33. LGO'C

    I grew up just south of the Quebec border and tourtiere was a staple – this recipe is similar to mine, except that I bake a potato and scoop out the flesh – it’s drier, so I add some of the pan drippings from the pork (or a bit of cider, white wine, chicken broth etc). Leftover mashed potato can also be used – I add only skim milk to mine, so it’s not too rich. Since the kids grew up, I usually make much smaller versions – my electric pie maker’s 4″ ones (which freeze well in deli containers) or as turnovers. Asian dumpling makers make great minis and there are bigger versions, too. Tourtiere is great cool-weather picnic or tailgate food. I forgot the whole-berry cranberry sauce to go with – it should be tart, not sweet. Half pork and half ground turkey works too.

    Reply
  34. gigi

    pasty does rhyme w/ nasty – and is rather bland, depending on whether it is a sirloin/potato/onion one or pork/rutabaga. it is best served w/ homemade chili sauce. seeing the regions where the tortiere originated makes me wonder if the french immigrants tasted the cornish miners’ paties and added their twist…

    Reply
  35. krissy

    My great grandma made this pie and it is famous in my family. My recipe doesn’t include the cloves, nutmeg or allspice, but I used it last time and it was better. We always served it with pepper relish or home made chilli sauce.

    As for the pasty’s, I am British, grew up in Yorkshire, and a pasty is a flaky pastry, similar to puff pastry. The Cornish pasty is similar to this pie filling, but there is also other fillings, ham and cheese, cheese and onion, veggie.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Krissy, thanks for sharing here. We love hearing about people’s own family traditions; it’s a wide world of baking out there, isn’t it? PJH

  36. Richard Barry

    One of my fondest memories was tourtiere pie as made by my grandmothers, mother ,and now my sister. The only thing that I could see different was—-no cinnamon!. All tourtiere in my families, and also boullettes had cinnamon in them. I am going to give this one a shot (with cinnamon of course) because it looks just like the ones I remember. As I recall, there may have been more potatoes in my family recipes, but, meat was pretty dear when I was growing up. Being from the Northeast Kingdom, I recall my family using King Arthur flour. My preferred brand today.
    Richard Barry

    Reply

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