My proposed New Year’s Eve feast this year accidentally served as our Christmas dinner – long story. Either way, today’s dish, Tourtière, is a traditional centerpiece for Christmas as well as New Year’s in the Canadian province of Quebec – so why not South Carolina!? Once you try it, I guarantee you’ll crave this hearty, baking-spice-infused delicacy, year after year, whenever the weather is cold, the wine is plentiful and the company is warm.
To say that this year’s Christmas dinner was a comedy of errors would be a vast understatement. I aspired to cook the perfect Prime Rib for the big day. I planned ahead. I ordered an organic cut from my local butcher. I picked it up on time and discussed ideal storage with my knowledgeable purveyor. He recommended that I keep the meat in the fridge until Christmas morning – no need to freeze the pristine meat. I pulled that beautiful hunk of meat out around noon then unwrapped her like she was a highly anticipated Christmas gift around 4:00. The meat was turning an alarming shade of green and one sniff sent my olfactory senses into suicide watch. It was simply inedible. What to do? The stores were all closed, and I’d been cooking anything and everything within reach for our visiting family for days. Luckily, I had a pound each of ground venison and veal that I had planned to use for New Year’s Eve. Fortified by a healthy dose of Beaujolais Cru, I pressed ahead. I would make Tourtière. French Canadians bake this dish for Christmas as well as New Year’s – why not a Texan living in South Carolina!?
I experienced my first magical bite of Tourtière (Canadian Meat Pie) while my husband and I were stationed in northeastern Alberta, Canada. A friend of mine was a fiery blonde Québécoise the size of a matchstick with the intensity of dynamite who claimed to make the best Tourtière in all of Canada. We made a bargain. I would provide the wine if she would let me make her great-grandmother’s Tourtière with her. I’ll never forget the hours of preparation, fueled by wine and “moose milk,” and the immensely satisfying, first bite of French Canadian Tourtière.
Although you can use any mixture of meat you prefer, from exotic game, pork to straight-up beef, I prefer to use a 50:50 combination of veal and venison. The only part of the preparation that is de rigueur is ample patience and a healthy supply of quality, quaffing wine.
It’s ideal to prepare the meat and potatoes a day ahead, but you can do it all in one day if pressed for time as I was this year.
- 2 potatoes, diced fine
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 shallots, minced
- 1 lb. ground veal
- 1 lb ground venison
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- a pinch of cinnamon
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 twigs of rosemary, chopped fine
- ¼ cup red wine
Mix the veal and venison by hand then season evenly with salt, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and 2 of the minced garlic cloves. Place uncovered in fridge for the following day. Or pat the meat thoroughly dry ahead of time if cooking everything all at once.
Dice the potatoes and season with salt, pepper, rosemary, 1 of the minced garlic cloves and the shallots then place in the refrigerator for the following day.
In a large le creuset or dutch oven, get a mixture of butter and olive just bubbling on medium-high heat. Place the meat (brought to room temp) in the pan in batches to brown. Do not crowd the meat or it will not brown. When the meat all has a nice sear, lightly brown the potatoes in the same oil. Deglaze the pan with red wine then mix the potatoes and meat in the pot evenly.
For the pie dough, my go-to is always Julia Child’s recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Since time was of the essence on this go round, I hastily pulled a box of Pillsbury pie shells out of the fridge and they did just fine. They were not on par with Julia’s infallible buttery crust, but the result was still delicious. If you want to make your own dough, here’s the recipe:
- 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cake flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, diced and cold
- ¼ cup lard or vegetable shortening, cold
- ½ cup cold water
- 1 egg, beaten (save for later)
You can either prepare this recipe by hand or in a food processor. Start by mixing the flour and salt evenly then add butter and lard/shortening and mix until it resembles rough crumbs. Add cold water and process or knead until the dough forms a ball. On a piece of parchment paper for a work surface, mold the dough into a neat ball then wrap and refrigerate for one hour. This recipe makes the equivalent of two pie shell rounds – enough for the top and bottom of the Tourtière.
Once you have formed the first round of dough into the pie dish, brush a bit of the beaten egg over the surface then spread the meat and potato mixture into the shell. Cover with second round of dough, cut slits on the top then brush an egg wash over the finished product. Cover with foil then place in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Remove the foil then cook for an additional 15 minutes or until the top of the pie has turned a golden brown.
This dish is wonderful with anything from a good, red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) to a bottle of Bandol Rouge from Provence or even a right-bank Bordeaux. Whatever you decide, I recommend keeping it French!
Happy New Years and Bon Appétit!