Tourtière, also known as pork pie or meat pie, is a traditional French-Canadian pie enjoyed throughout Canada and New England. It is made from a combination of ground meat, onions, savory seasonings, and baked in a traditional piecrust.
Growing up in a Northern New England paper town provided an eclectic upbringing of various nationalities and traditions. Like most mill towns, employment opportunities summoned immigrants from all over the world including Russia, Scandinavia, and Ireland. However, the largest immigrant group by far was French-speaking Canadians.
Employment opportunities at the many saw mills and logging camps drew numerous French Canadians south in several waves during the 19th century. Eventually, many French Canadians seeking work and preservation of their customs, language, and way of life relocated to New England towns.
They settled, established Franco-American communities, and maintained their culture, language, and religion. My family is mostly of French-Canadian descent, and I grew up in a bilingual French and English speaking small town.
Among the customs passed down from generation to generation is the tradition of serving tourtière for special occasions such as Christmas Eve. This celebration meal was an adaptation of réveillon de Noël of rural Québec.
The Family Tradition of Tourtière (Meat Pie)
As our family Christmas traditions continue to evolve over the years, I often think about the old-fashioned customs and foods from my youth. I remember attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, then returning home to feast on meat pies smothered with a generous amount of ketchup before we were ushered to bed so Santa could deliver presents.
As the years went by, and family members got older, the tradition of Midnight Mass gave way to Christmas Eve Mass at an earlier hour but the ritual of serving tourtière after Mass continued for many years.
Tourtière, also known as pork pie or meat pie, is a combination of ground meat, onions, spices, and herbs baked in a traditional piecrust. There are many variations of tourtière throughout different regions of Franco-American communities and Canada and even among members of the same family.
Most recipes include a combination of ground pork and beef, but it is not unusual to include venison or other game meats in the pie. Almost every family had a Ma Tante or Mémère (aunt or grandmother) who had a meat pie recipe with a secret ingredient or two.
Some versions of tourtière are made from only ground or chopped pork, but we have always made it with a mix of pork and beef. Several accounts suggested that using potatoes was frowned upon because that meant you could not afford meat. In this recipe, I feel the potatoes are essential to help bind the ingredients together.
The poultry seasoning that is historically used by many families in New England is Bells Poultry Seasoning and is still made today. If you can’t find Bells, go ahead and substitute your favorite poultry seasoning.
Steps for Making Tourtière
The full and printable recipe can be found at the bottom of this article, but here are the illustrated steps for making tourtière:
Step 1: Make the Pie Pastry
In a large bowl, combine the flour with the salt. Cut in butter or lard until mixture is a rough crumbly texture. Add the ice water a little at a time and mix just until the dough comes together. Shape into a rough disc, wrap and chill in the refrigerator. While pastry is chilling, prepare filling.
Step 2: Cook the Potatoes
Cook the potatoes in a pot of boiling water until tender. Scoop out and reserve 1/2-cup of the starchy potato water and drain the rest. Mash potatoes and set aside.
Step 3: Make the Tourtière Filling
Add onions and garlic to a large skillet over medium heat, and sauté until they have softened.
Add the ground beef, ground pork, and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Drain off any excess fat.
Add the poultry seasoning, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and reserved potato water. Mix well and simmer until the liquid has evaporated.
Turn off the heat and stir in the mashed potatoes. Let the filling cool as you roll out your pie pastry.
Step 4: Assemble the Meat Pie
Preheat your oven and remove the pie pastry from the refrigerator to let it warm up a little to make it easier to roll.
Split the pie dough in half and place one half on the lightly floured surface. Roll into a circle to fit your pie plate. Place the bottom pastry into the pie plate and add the meat filling. Brush around the outer edge with beaten egg. Roll out the top pastry and place on top of the filling. Crimp the edges, brush with egg wash, and cut vent holes.
Step 5: Bake the Pie
Bake in a preheated oven until the pastry is golden brown. Let the pie cool for about 10 minutes before cutting. Refrigerate leftovers.
What to Serve with Meat Pie
Serve tourtière with something that has a nice tart flavor to balance the richness of the savory meat pie.
Our family enjoyed meat pie with ketchup, but that was probably a modern evolution from the homemade chutneys and catsups of our ancestors. I vaguely remember a green tomato chow chow or piccalilli on the table. Here are some suggested sides:
- Pickled Foods: Anything pickled such as dill pickles, pickled string beans, pickled beets, relish, chow chow, or piccalilli.
- Cranberry Sauce: The mildly sweet and tart flavor of cranberries goes well with the savory meat pie. Try this recipe for cranberry sauce.
- Salads: Consider serving with a leafy green salad tossed with a tangy vinaigrette dressing.
- Roasted Vegetables: A nice medley of roasted root vegetables drizzled with a little bit of apple vinegar will help balance the richness of the meat pie.
Make Ahead Tips
Yes, meat pies can be made ahead and frozen. In fact, it is common for families to gather and make up multiple meat pies at once and then freeze extra for later. After a visit to my family on Thanksgiving, it is not uncommon to bring home a frozen tourtière along with leftovers.
You can also make the meat filling and freeze it to fill pies later.
How to Freeze Unbaked Meat Pies
- Make the pie pastry and chill. Make the filling and let it cool.
- Assemble the meat pies into freezer-to-oven safe metal pie plates or the disposable aluminum pie plates.
- Place the pies on a baking sheet and freeze until firm. Once frozen, slip the pies into freezer bags, label, date, and freeze for up to 4 months.
- To cook the frozen meat pie: Preheat the oven to oven to 400°F/205°C. Remove the pie from the freezer and unwrap. Brush the top of the piecrust with beaten egg wash, and place the frozen meat pie in a preheated oven. Bake until the pie is heated through and the pastry is golden brown, about 50 to 60 minutes.
How to Freeze Baked Pies
- Make and assemble the meat pies into freezer-to-oven safe metal pie plates or the disposable aluminum pie plates. Cook completely as directed.
- After baking, let the pie cool completely. Place the pies on a baking sheet and freeze until firm. Once frozen, slip the pies into freezer bags, label, date, and freeze for up to 4 months.
- To reheat: Remove the pies from the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator for about three hours and then bake in a preheated oven (400°F/205°C) until heated through, about 20 to 30 minutes.
How to Freeze Meat Pie Filling
- Make the meat pie filling and let it cool. Add the cooled filling to freezer bags, label, date, and freeze for up to 4 months.
- To use: Remove the pie filling from the freezer and let thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Assemble the pie and bake in a preheated oven (400°F/205°C) for 30 to 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is hot.
Tourtière: A French-Canadian Meat Pie Recipe
- 2 large Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes about 1 pound
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic finely minced
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 teaspoon Bells poultry seasoning or your favorite poultry seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- 1 large egg scrambled for glazing
Prepare the pastry:
- Combine flour and salt in a large bowl.
- Cut in butter or lard until mixture is a rough crumbly texture.
- Add ice water one tablespoon at a time and mix just until the dough comes together.
- Shape the dough into a ball, flatten, wrap, and chill in the refrigerator. While pastry is chilling, prepare the filling.
Make the Filling:
- Peel and cut potatoes into 2-inch chunks, add them to a medium saucepan, and fill with water until it covers the potatoes by 2-inches.
- Bring the saucepan to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to medium-high and boil until the potatoes are until tender, about 12 minutes.
- Reserve 1/2-cup of potato water and drain the rest. Mash potatoes and set aside.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add olive oil, onions, and garlic, and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes.
- Add the ground beef and pork and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Drain off excess fat.
- Add the poultry seasoning, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and reserved potato water. Mix well and simmer for about 10 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.
- Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in mashed potatoes, and set the filling aside to cool slightly.
Assemble the Pie:
- Preheat oven to 400°F/205°C
- On a lightly floured surface, divide dough in half and flatten one ball of dough with your hands. 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 meat filling. Brush around the outer edge of the pastry with the beaten egg.
- Roll out the top pastry and place on top of the filling. Fold the top crust under the bottom crust and pinch or flute the edges. Brush with egg wash and cut vent holes.
Bake the Meat Pie:
- Bake the pie in a preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.
- Remove the tourtière from oven and let it cool at least 10 minutes before serving.
- Yield: Makes 1 pie, about 8 servings.
This recipe was originally published on December 14, 2015. It has been updated with additional information, new photos, and new video.
If you grew up near a French-Canadian community and enjoyed meat pie as part of your Christmas Eve and New Years Eve food celebration, you may also have had salmon pie. You can find a recipe for French-Canadian Salmon Pie here.
Does your family have traditions centered on food and meals?
What family traditions do you carry on?
More New England Recipes:
- New England Hot Dog Buns
- Old Fashioned Ginger Snaps
- Creamy Fish Chowder
- Pumpkin Pie
- Slow Cooker Baked Beans
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