meat is better when served in pie form
everything is better when wrapped in some kind of pastry

With the arrival of fall and frosty mornings I am always reminded of my days working with Chef Luc Jean at the classic Franco-Manitoban restaurant La Vielle Gare. The weather provided some much needed relief from the insatiable summer heat of the kitchen and the crisp mornings were full of preparing for the upcoming busy winter season. With summer ended and the leaves starting to turn I find myself craving heartier fare: thick soups, simmering stews and good stick-to-your-ribs meat filled pie with perfectly flaky pastry. Although I did not grow up with much exposure to French Manitoban cuisine I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about it first hand working in many restuarants here in Winnipeg. Take time this fall to celebrate the season by sharing some of these traditional flavors with family and friends around the dinner table.

This recipe for Tortiere makes several pies. I like to freeze them for a quick dinner solution to busy weekdays. Serve this classic meat pie with a garlicky caeser salad and some baked tomatoes or braised carrots. 

French Canadian Tortiere

1 strip of bacon, diced

1 onion, diced

2 medium sized russet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 lb ground pork

½ lb ground beef

1 garlic clove, minced

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

1 can condensed cream of chicken soup

¼  cup water or beef stock

1 tbsp gravy browning

Salt and Pepper

Heat a large saucepan or cocotte (enameled cast iron pot) over medium heat and saute the bacon until it is well cooked but not too crisp. Add the onion and saute until it is translucent. Add the diced potatoe and the ground meat and cook the meat until well browned. Toss in the garlic, and the spices. Stir to distribute everything evenly. Next add the condensed soup, stock or water, and the gravy browning. Stire everything up and let it come up to a boil. Turn the heat to medium low and let this simmer on your stove for half an hour, stirring occasionally. Taste and then season with salt and pepper. Take the pot off the stove and let the meat mixture cool completely. Meanwhile make the pie dough.

Perfect Pie Dough

5 1/2 cups all purpose flour

¼ cup cornstarch

1 lb lard

2 egg yolks

1 cup of water

Combine the flour and cornstarch in a large mixing bowl. Add the pound of lard and use two knives to cut it into the flour. The use your (washed) hands to crumble and rub it into the flour until it resembles fine meal. Don’t worry if there are some lardy chunks, it is difficult to work it all in. Next combine the water and egg yolks in a small bowl. Whip them together with a fork. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and dump all the liquid in. Use the fork to start drawing the dry into the wet. When it is all mixed in ditch the fork and use your hands to knead the dough until everything comes together. Try not to overknead the dough or it will lose some of its flakiness and make it more difficult to roll out. Divide the dough into 8 portions. You can individually wrap any extra portions and freeze them for future use.

To assemble the pies:

Roll out one portion of dough approximately 2 mm thick. It should be large enough to hang at least two centimeters over the edge of the pie plate. Fill it with the meat mixture. Roll out another portion of dough for the top of the pie. Press the pastry onto the meat mixture gently. To make a perfect crust trim the extra dough leaving about two centimeters  of overhang. Gently fold the excess under so you have a smooth top and lightly press it down. Then pinch all around the crust with your thumb and forefingers to make a scalloped edge. Cut an ‘X’ in the top of the pie and bake it in a 400*F oven for about 40 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown. Serve the pie immediately or reheat it for 15 minutes in a 350*F oven.

Bon Appetit!

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