Salmon Pie is a seafood version of the classic French-Canadian Tourtière, a traditional meat pie enjoyed throughout Canada and New England on Christmas Eve.
If you grew up in a French-Canadian community and enjoyed meat pie as part of your Christmas Eve and New Years Eve food celebration, you may also had salmon pie.
In coastal areas of Canada and New England where fish was abundant, salmon was commonly used for making tourtière. Salmon pie is a simple but delicious pie made from a combination of salmon, potatoes, onions, seasonings, and baked in a flaky piecrust.
One of the most popular recipes on Grow a Good Life around the holidays is Tourtière: A French-Canadian Meat PieTourtière: A French-Canadian Meat Pie Recipe. This recipe is pretty magical in that it continues to bring out stories from folks sharing heartfelt memories of their own family version of tourtière passed down from generation to generation.
This recipe for salmon pie is a seaside version of the classic French Canadian meat pie. It is often served right along with meat pie on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.
Atlantic salmon were once native to almost every coastal river in eastern Canada down to New York. In early colonial times, salmon could be easily be fished at the mouths of freshwater brooks, rivers, and streams to feed the colonists.
By the 1840s, salmon was being canned in Maine and New Brunswick. Canned salmon became a pantry staple even for those who did not live on the coast.
Unfortunately, commercial fishing and environmental destruction reduced the salmon population. The Atlantic fisheries closed in 1948, and were replaced by larger salmon canning operations along the West Coast.
Ingredients for Salmon Pie
In the past, recipes were not written down. Instead, they were taught from mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter, or even in some cases mothers to sons.
When I asked my mother for her version of salmon pie, her response was, “There isn’t a recipe, here’s what I do….”
She proceeded to tell me the salmon filling ingredients, a can of salmon with the bones and skin removed, potatoes, diced onions, and salt and pepper to taste. Mash it all together, fill a piecrust, and bake until golden.
Use Fresh or Canned Salmon
Although my mom and grandmothers traditionally used canned salmon, I used fresh poached salmon fillets in this recipe. Consider also trying smoked salmon as it will add a delicious smoky depth to the pie. Since smoked salmon may already be salty, taste the filling before adding salt. Frozen salmon fillets or steak would work too. Just thaw before using.
I envision the original French-Canadian salmon pies were made from salmon caught in the coastal rivers and streams as they traveled to and from their spawning locations.
It you are using canned salmon, I suggest opting for the smaller cans of salmon because these are skinless and boneless. Two or three 6-ounce cans and the liquid will be plenty to flavor your salmon pie. It doesn’t have to be exact. Wild sockeye or wild pink salmon both work well in this recipe.
If you choose the large, 15-ounce cans, be sure to pick over the salmon to remove the bones and skin. Drain the can, and save the liquid because it is filled with lots of salmon flavor. Spread the salmon out on a dish, go through it with a fork, and pick out anything that is not salmon.
Choose Starchy Potatoes
Select high starch potatoes that stand up when mashed, such as Russets or Yukon gold. Starchy potatoes will remain fluffy, blend well with the ingredients, and absorb the salmon flavor. You’ll need about two pounds of potatoes to yield three cups of mashed potatoes.
Onion of Choice
Any type of onion can be used from yellow, red, or white. My mom relied on yellow storage onions for all her cooking. One small to medium onion will yield around 1/4 cup chopped onion.
How to Make the Salmon Pie
The full and printable recipe can be found at the bottom of this article, but here are the illustrated instructions for making salmon pie:
Step 1: Make the Double Crust Pie Pastry
Add the flour and salt to a large bowl, and mix to combine. Cut in the chilled butter or lard until the mixture has even crumbly texture. Add 4 tablespoons ice water, and then add more water a little at a time and mix just until the dough comes together. Shape the dough into a rough disc, wrap, and chill in the refrigerator. Prepare the salmon filling while the pie dough is chilling.
- See All-Butter Flaky Pie Crust for more details
Step 2: Cook the Potatoes
Wash and peel the potatoes. Cut into chunks and boil in a large pot of water until tender. Mash the potatoes and set aside.
Step 3: Prepare the Salmon
Chop and sauté the onions in butter Wash and peel the potatoes. Cut into chunks and boil in a large pot of water until tender. Mash the potatoes and set aside. in a large skillet over medium heat until they are soft.
Season the salmon fillet with salt and pepper, and place it into the skillet skin side down. Add the water and spoon the liquid and cooked onions over the salmon, cover the skillet, and poach until the salmon is cooked.
Omit the water if you are using canned salmon instead of fresh. After sautéing your onions, add the canned salmon and liquid from the can to the skillet. Add salt and ground black pepper and simmer for about 3-5 minutes.
Step 4: Mash it All Together
Remove the skin from the salmon and break the fillet into pieces.
Add the salmon, onions, and poaching liquid to the mashed potatoes and stir to combine. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed.
Step 5: Assemble and Bake the Salmon Pie
Roll out and place the bottom pastry into the pie plate.
Add the salmon mixture, and brush the outer edge of the piecrust with the beaten egg.
Roll out the top pastry, and place it over the filling. Crimp the edges of the piecrust to seal, brush the top with beaten egg, and cut slits or vents in the top to allow steam to escape.
Bake the salmon pie in a preheated oven until the pastry is golden brown. Serve the salmon pie plain, or drizzled with a simple lemon dill white sauce (recipe included below). Roasted vegetables or a side salad with homemade salad dressing rounds out the meal.
French-Canadian Salmon Pie
Prepare the Pie Pastry
- In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in butter or lard until mixture is an even crumbly texture. Add cold water a tablespoon at a time and mix until dough comes together.
- Shape the dough into a disc, wrap, and chill in the refrigerator. While pastry is chilling, prepare filling.
Prepare the Salmon Filling
- Wash and peel the potatoes. Cut into chunks and boil in a medium size pot of water until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain, mash the potatoes, and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, and sauté until they are softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add the 1/2-cup of water to the skillet.
- Season the salmon fillet with salt and pepper, and place it into the skillet skin side down.
- Spoon liquid and onions over the salmon, cover the skillet, and cook until the salmon is opaque, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the salmon cool slightly.
- Remove the skin and break the salmon into pieces. Add the salmon, onions, and poaching liquid to the mashed potatoes and mix to combine. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed.
Assemble the Salmon Pie
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- On a lightly floured surface, divide dough in half and form two balls. Flatten one ball with your hands, and roll dough to about 12-inches in diameter, to fit a 9-inch pie pan.
- Place the pastry into the pie plate and add the salmon pie filling. Gently pat the filling down to remove any air spaces.
- Brush around the outer edge of the pastry with the beaten egg. Roll out the top pastry and place on top of the pie filling.
- Fold the top crust under the bottom crust and pinch the edges. Brush with egg wash and cut vent holes.
- Bake the salmon pie in a preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown. While the salmon pie is baking, make the dill béchamel sauce.
Make the Lemon Dill Béchamel Sauce
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Gradually add milk stirring constantly. When sauce begins to thicken, add the lemon juice, dill, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 2 minutes. Keep warm until ready to serve.
- Remove the pie from oven and let it cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Cut into pie wedges, drizzle with the dill sauce if desired, and serve warm.
- Yield: Makes 1 pie, about 8 servings.
This recipe was originally published on November 6, 2019. It has been updated with additional information, new photos, and a video.
Research and Further Reading:
- Noaa. “Atlantic Salmon – Protected.” NOAA Fisheries, https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/atlantic-salmon-protected. Retrieved October 26, 2019.
- Dunfield, R. W. The Atlantic Salmon in the History of North America. Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, 1985.
More New England Recipes:
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