Why, hello there! I've been a bit derelict in my duties as a blogger as of late. To you, I apologize... I had such good intentions but the holidays being what they are and my "regular job" being what it is, I just couldn't squeeze in the time. That said, I have a great post for today... Tourtiere! Otherwise known as French Meat Pie.
I think I've mentioned before that my family (on both sides) is mostly of French-Canadian ancestry. Migrating from Canada, through Maine and New York during the Industrial Revolution, they settled in the areas surrounding Woonsocket, Rhode Island in the Blackstone Valley to work in the various woolen mills. That was back when immigrant folks stuck together and the Woonsocket area seemed as French as Quebec herself.
Today, the city still remembers its French Canadian roots with signs as you enter the city that welcome you with, "Bienvenue!", The Museum of Work and Culture, and the American-French Genealogical Society.
So what does all this have to do with Meat Pie? Well, it's tradition amongst Canadian-French folk to make Tourtiere (pronounced "Tor-tee-ear") around Christmastime and for New Year's Eve to celebrate the season and ring in the new year (usually served as part of a very late night party after Midnight mass and involving lots of festive beverages, but I digress). The dish, like many ground meat dishes of that time, was born of frugality but often contained spices that would have been saved for special times like the holidays. Like the American Meatloaf, every family has its own recipe for Tourtiere and each one is as different as the next.
I thought I'd share with you my favorite recipe for Tourtiere. This one is an adaptation of one that was given to me by a wonderful woman by the name of Claire who lives in the still quite French village of Manville, Rhode Island. The original recipe had many of those imprecise instructions that are characteristic of recipes from that era, so I've updated it a bit for the modern home cook (complete with measurements for the seasonings, which you were just supposed to know by taste, I guess). I hope you enjoy it!
(aka French-Canadian Meat Pie or "Pork Pie")
Important Note: The original recipe calls for "3 to 4 Uneeda Biscuits" as a thickener and they were the secret weapon of this particular recipe. Uneedas are a very old-fashioned thick, dry unsalted cracker that were discontinued a couple of years ago by Kraft Foods when they needed to streamline their product line. Their closest cousin, the Crown Pilot Chowder Cracker, was given the boot as well. I've searched high and low and the closest match I've found thus far is a hefty cracker made by Goya. If you can find those, use them but reduce the salt. Otherwise, about a half sleeve of unsalted Saltines will do the trick. The recipe makes 2 pies but may be halved.
2 two-crust pie shells (4 rounds)
2 pounds ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 cup boiling water
1 cup finely chopped onions
3 medium-sized russet potatoes ("baking potatoes")
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon oil or butter
8 Goya Crackers or about 1/2 Sleeve of Saltine Crackers
1 egg (optional)
1) Wash potatoes and pierce skin several times with a fork. Bake potatoes in the microwave on high, beginning with 5 minutes. Microwave an additional 2 minutes at a time until a butter knife slides through easily or potatoes are soft to the touch. Set aside to cool.
2) When potatoes are cool, remove white flesh and discard the skins. Mash well or run through a potato ricer.
3) In a large pot or dutch oven, saute onions until soft but not brown. Add meat and boiling water. Cook, stirring until the meat has lost its red color. Add the spices and continue cooking for another minute or so.
4) Stir in the potatoes, mixing until almost all of the potatoes are no longer visible. Crush the crackers thoroughly and add a little at a time as needed until the mixture has thickened and most of the crackers have dissolved. Mixture should be pasty but not dry with no liquid in the bottom of the pot. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your preference. Allow to cool slightly so it won't melt the pie crust.
5) Prepare two bottom pie shells in pie plates. Divide the mixture equally between the pie shells and smooth-out the top.
6) Add the top crust and seal and crimp the edges as you would a fruit pie. Pierce several holes in the top of the crust with a knife. Optionally prepare an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water) and brush the egg wash all over the crust. This will give it a glossy shine once it is baked.
7) Bake pies on a baking sheet at 375 degrees until the crust is golden brown and the meat filling is heated through (you can stick a probe thermometer through the vent holes if you wish).
8) Serve hot or lukewarm with ketchup on the side (this part is a personal preference). Pies may be made up to 2 days in advance, refrigerated and reheated. They also freeze very well. If planning to reheat, consider under-baking the crust slightly to prevent over-browning.