The History of the Best Tourtière ever:
Family traditions are super important to me, especially around all the holidays, and I’ve been building them with my husband James since we got married 2o years ago. Christmas was the first big holiday I had to tackle, and creating The Best Tourtière was a labour of love over many many years.
I have to admit, I’m pretty happy with the results and everyone who has ever tasted it says it’s “The Best Tourtière Ever”. It’s quite amazing the complex flavours that come out of a relatively simple set of ingredients. It’s truly Love on a Plate, and I happily share my recipe with everyone who asks, and many do.
How it all began
Both our families are from Montreal, and this recipe for The Best Tourtière became part of that tradition early on, it’s a nod to our heritage and history. I will admit, it took a few years for me to perfect not only the recipe, but also our Christmas Eve tradition. We’ve got it down to a science now however and I’m excited to share with you.
On my side of the family we always held a Christmas Eve open house, fondly named “Orphan Christmas”. Everyone was welcome, friends, colleagues, friends of friends, basically anyone who didn’t have somewhere wonderful to be on Christmas Eve came to our house.
Some years it was 20 people and some 50, we never really knew how many people to expect so we cooked for a crowd. The Best Tourtière ever was always on the menu, along with a huge pot of mashed potatoes. Oh and don’t forget the gravy and chutney! Assorted appetizers, and homemade cookies in abundance were also on offer. Throughout the year my Mon and I collected and tested must try appetizers, keeping some and crossing off others. Then there was the list of tried and true recipes we just had to have. The menu got a bit crazy at times, and we cooked ahead for weeks filling the freezer with goodies.
On James’ side of the family it was a smaller affair of closer family. Everyone gathered at his parents house, enjoyed a traditional Quebecois meal, his Gran Dad’s Tourtière being the highlight. After dinner, perhaps a game of charades, the “hatting of the tree” by the youngest child. some last minute gift wrapping and lots of good cheer.
Christmas Eve Crazy
As lovely as all this was, it was a bit crazy. The problem? Both events took place at the same time. The first few years we ran from one place to the other, trying to keep the traditions alive and both families happy. When we had kids it got tougher. Lots of cooking for one party, getting babies all dressed into snow suits and into the car to head to the other end of town, and then back again to my Mom’s house in time for party number two. Christmas Eve craziness for sure, and it was wonderful but oh so nutty!
Now, many years later, with the families farther apart, we do Christmas Eve at our house. Our kids are now all teenagers, but they look forward to our version of Reveillon. We still welcome “Orphans” however they are much smaller in number. We get the best of ev erything; food, family and staying home. My biggest challenge when we first started hosting was getting Gran Dad Clarkes Tourtiere recipe just right. We didn’t have him to ask, but still I wanted to make The Best Tourtière ever to honour him. I researched, tested, re-tested, tweaked the recipe, made notes, and eventually, I did it. My faithful taste testers said I could stop. While it may not be exactly what Grand Dad made, it was perfect. The Best Ever Brooks Family Tourtiere is a must make every year.
So what is Tourtiere anyways?
Tourtière is basically a meat pie, seasoned with holiday flavours, and baked in a double crust pastry. Sounds simple, and maybe not so delicious, but believe me, it’s AMAZING. Originating back to the 17th century, the original recipes call for finely minced meats, pork, mutton, veal, rabbit, pheasant etc. Using what was readily available regionally was key. Adding in potatoes to the simmering meat, and then a lard based crust made it rich and decadent. My modern day version however uses ground meat (I prefer pork only), and my special blend of seasoning. Each family will have it’s preferences for this recipe which is one of the things that makes this dish so special.
Tourtiere is most well known for being served as part of Réveillon, a traditional feast enjoyed by Catholic Québécois after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It is also often served on New Years Eve as well. At our house, it makes an appearance on boxing day as well, reconfigured into a Tourtierre Shepherds Pie of sorts. I love intentional leftover and the filling is an excellent candidate. It reheats really well, so I make a lot of filling, freeze some and use it as needed.
Réveillon; a celebration of food and family
I’ve collected a few great resources if you are interested in exploring more of the French Canadian traditions of Réveillon.
Many of my recipes that I share are based in family tradition and history. For more great recipes join us on our Facebook Group, Love on a Plate. You’ll find recipes, videos, meal plans and more!
- 2 1/2 pounds lean ground pork
- 2 large onions
- 1 sweet red pepper -- diced
- 2 stalks celery -- diced
- 3 cloves garlic -- minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt -- to taste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 6 cups mushrooms -- sliced
- 1 1/2 pounds potatoes -- diced
- 3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 3 cups beef broth -- up to 5
- In a dutch oven or large heavy skillet, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium high heat; cook onions, red pepper, celery, diced potatoes, garlic, salt, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, pepper and cloves stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until softened. Add mushrooms and cook until most of the moisture has evaporated
- Add pork, breaking up with a wooden spoon, and cook until no longer pink. Drain off fat from pan.
- Add 3 cups stock, and simmer over medium heat for about an hour, until broth is reduced, potatoes are extremely tender, and a thick sauce has started to develop. Low and slow is the trick here, I like to simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours on super low heat. You may need to add additional broth up to 5 cups depending on how large you cut the potatoes and how long you simmer the mixture.
- Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Fill bottom of a pie shell to the top with meat filling, put top on and cut 2 steam vents.
- Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.
- If you want to make the filling ahead of time, it freezes really well. Place about 6 cups of filling into a freezer safe container and simply defrost and use as needed.