French-Canadian Meat Pie (or Tourtiere)


Lindsay William-Ross is the co-editor of LAist.

tourtiere-05-crustAt some point traditions are inaugurated, and in the case of my family’s tradition of serving Tourtiere (French-Canadian Meat Pie) on Christmas Eve, the practice goes back just one generation to my mother.  I moved to the States from Canada at age 13, a couple of years after my mother did.  It must have been around that time, then,  she decided we needed a holiday tradition that connected us to our Canadian roots.  Of course, our roots are completely non-French; we’re Vancouverites who have had addresses in Toronto at times, but no one in our family hails from Quebec.  And while Canada–maple syrup and poutine aside–is not a nation known for its cuisine, there is something charmingly evocative about this savory pie made with ground pork.

tourtiere-01-recipeThe recipe my mother uses is from a very Canadian source: Her Five Roses Flour Cookbook.  It’s a small, spiral-bound cookbook that she’s had for as long as I can remember, and I always picture it opened to the Tourtiere page, dusty with errant sprinklings of flour and besmirched with a buttery fingerprint or two.  She’s got her copy at home in the border town of Point Roberts, WA, so I have come to use Ruth Reichl’s in the Gourmet Cookbook as a handy substitute in my California kitchen.

Inside the pie is a blend of ground meat, seasoned with herbs and spices.  The pie is double crusted, and to vent the top, rather than just simply dot it with fork or knife-point marks, my mother got in the habit of making it Christmas-y, her and my favorite being to cut the word “Noel” (French for Christmas) in the top.

tourtiere-04-fillingA couple of years ago my parents moved from Los Angeles, and that means I’m the only one of my family left here.  Flights are expensive, time off work is precious, yadda yadda yadda, so I’ve spent the holidays in L.A. without my family many times.  Over the years I’ve adopted the custom of making Tourtiere on Christmas Eve, sharing it with friends and loved ones when I can.  Oddly enough, the tradition didn’t pass itself back up or laterally on the family tree; my grandmother and other relatives will happily eat the pie, but as a sort of loving indulgence for my mom’s invented tradition.  They don’t really know where her notion came from, either.  That’s okay. For me, it is a slice of home–the home my mother made for us–that I cherish.

Tourtiere (French-Canadian Meat Pie)
adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl

1 1/2 lbs ground pork (or half pork/half veal or beef)
1 large onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 tsp dried summer savory, crumbled
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour

+ Pastry for double-crust savory pie (no sugar)
1tbsp whole milk
Flour to dust pastry

Make the filling:  Combine pork (or pork and veal/beef) onion, garlic, savory, salt, allspice, and pepper in a 12- to 14- inch heavy skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently and braking up lumps with a fork, until meat is no longer pink, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring, until juices are thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Cool completely.

While the filling cools, make and/or assemble pastry.  Fit bottom pastry, dusted with flour to keep dough from sticking, in a 9-inch pie plate.

Spoon cooled filling into shell.  Cover pie with top pastry round and trim excess, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang.  Press edges together, then crimp decoratively.  Cut 3 steam vents in top crust with a small sharp knife (i.e. the word “Noel”).  Brush pastry with 1 tsbp whole milk.

Bake tourtiere until crust is golden, about 30 minutes.  Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.

The leftovers are fantastic cold or warmed up the next morning with some HP Sauce and scrambled eggs.  Perfect fortitude for opening Christmas gifts!

  • Mmmm, this looks delicious. I wonder though – does the filling hold together, even without any eggs?

  • French canadian

    Haha! You english people are killing me! 😛 This is not a real tourtiere, tourtière isn't only made of porc, and you also need potatoes! Hahaha, I had a good laught tho.

    • Konstance Lazet

      I think it is wonderful that people share there traditions …I am french and english !!! It can be made with pork and beef and potatoes spices is the key to its flavour…share your recipe with us too instead of laughing at this one and laugh is spelled without the t cute ….Thanks for sharing your tradition that means so much to you …..

  • Larry

    To Erika. Yes it does! When I was a child, my granmother made meat pies ( we called it tarte de viende). It was made during the holidays, but also made for any family gathering. My family got together to play cards every weekend. The meat pies were made by the host. I remember waking up at my Grandmothers' place to the smell of meat pie being baked over a wooden stove. There is no smell that comes remotely close to this savory smell. The cooked meat that was left over was packed into plastic containers and refridgerated. This was a meat spread, call caton (sp?), that was spread on toast in the morning on cold winter days (I liked bananas on it too) .

    At any rate, Mamere's recipe was called for equal portions of a boston butt, and cheap beef (usually flank). "Fench Canadian" is right, you need potatoes in this tortielle (although his ability to portray this is a bit rude). Garlic is not a big thing in French Canadian cuisine, so I eliminate it. All in all your recipe is close to what I had as a kid. I mean no harm to your recipe, but only sharing my family recipe.

    Larry Gagnon

    • rollande

      mama &mamere did the same , thanks for the memory were from quebec area

  • Point well made.
    For the most part, I've seen other people's tortiere as seasoned beef or veal and sans potato. I guess I should have said 'perhaps more typical' or maybe that our pork pies are perhaps less typical.

  • Wow, special. Born in South Africa, but totally at home in Quebec, Canada for more than 40 years now, I have always loved the tourtieres made here. I have made them, but better still a wonderful patisserie, St. Louis-de-France, on Berri-de-Montigny, in Montreal, makes them specially for the Holiday Season. I buy them there, and frequently their frozen stock lasts a good while, so they are available for a long time. However, now happily retired, I am going to try this lady's recipe to compare with the winner I have been buying. I am sure this new recipe will have me baking more often. I want to learn that secret vinegar addition for a silky pastry. Thank you.

  • Claudette

    This is pretty close to my families tradition. My family roots are in the Lac Saint-Jean area of Quebec and though there are no real rules for making Tourtiere, my family slanged the name a bit and calls it Tourque, it can be made any way you like….as long as pork is part of the pie. My family makes it with wild game including ground deer, elk, buffalo, pork butt, diced potatoes, chopped onions, salt and pepper. I have changed the spices around to make it my own, I've added all spice, and garlic. Most of the receipes that I have found add cinnimon, nutmeg, cloves, savory, and poultry seasonings to the meat. My mother said to make it the way you like it best and make your own "family tradition" to the "Tourque." The most important thing to remember is the tradition and meaning behind the pie.

  • Martha

    This recipe sounds great! I am trying it right now! ..I'm pleased there are no CLOVES in this recipe. Cloves can really screw things up. I'm a bit sceptical about allspice?? But it only calls for a bit.

  • Doris Corriveau

    I am a 2nd generation Canadian/American. My Meme was a great cook and made all the Canadian dishes. Thanks to her I love flat dumplings, tourtieres, gorton and many other delicious foods. I use onion, garlic, sage, allspice, pork, salt & pepper and mashed potatoes (mashed without any additives such as butter, cream or milk) which is what holds all the ingredients together affording a nice slice of the pie which doesn't fall away from the crusts. I'm sure it makes great Phyllo dough bundles as one person commented, but I use the gorton recipe for phyllo bundles and reserve the Toutiere specifically for holiday pies. Let's all be kind to each other while sharing recipes…variety is the spice of life. Happy Holidays to all of you no matter how you make your pies!

  • Lyn

    Lindsay, I loved learning about your tradition, and the meat pie recipe. My Nana was French-Canadian and brought with her the Toutiere' Pie Christmas tradition, and we had it for breakfast before opening presents. I also believe in variety being the spice of life. So, to her handwritten recipe, I add mashed potatoes, use half ground pork and half ground beef, and I leave out the allspice and cloves (my personal preference). I also add a smidgen of garlic powder and parsley (I am half Italian). Nana's recipe will be on my blog soon. Feel free to check it, some notes about our family tradition, and recipes at: http://nanasfrenchcanadianfoodtraditions.blogspot….

    And, just a note to the laughing French canadian who commented above, please feel free to post your recipe for toutiere' using potatotes, here for everyone to check out, or on my blog above. Lyn

  • Donner

    Hey people allow me to enlighten the conversation…. traditional tourtiere is actually made with shredded meats of what ever leftover was laying around. It was all place in a roasting pan seasoned and covered with pastry and bake. This old tradition is stiil carried in some parts of Quebec and east coast…. Merry Christmas to all

  • Tina Abercrombie

    I am a multigeneration French Canadian (currently living in the US) and reading all your comments brought me back to my Mémé's cooking. The spread that everyone is referring to is called "creton" and is usually made with the leftover fat from all the meats that were cooked for the tourtière. Creton is similar to Head Cheese, minus the meat chunks as our meat was ground, we'd spread it on bread or toast and we always pretended it was fancy paté! Ah, memories….

  • Carol

    My family was from Rhode Island after immigrating from Quebec several generations ago. We always had meat pies and our family also pronounced it tourque. We used the meat as stuffing for our turkey then, traditionally the tourque was made for Xmas with Boston baked beans.

  • Absolutely indited articles , Really enjoyed reading through .

  • Natika

    A little late to this discussion, but the lack of potatoes is not an English mistake. My Acadian family also made it without potatoes. Acadian cooking also heavily makes use of summer savory, so it’s quite possible this recipe originates there, as many of the other recipes (with potatoes) I’ve seen online don’t include it.

    I’ve never heard it referred to as tourque or tarte de viende, so it seems it is not just ingredients where there is regional variation!

  • Christine Elizabeth Dupuis Par

    Hi, I grew up watching my Mom make these as Christmas presents . My mother put the cooked pork shoulder in the grinder..twice to get it really smooth. She also added mashed potato which I don’t see in any of these recipes. I cannot imagine this pie without the potato in it!