When the weather turns cold and holiday season kicks into full gear, in French Canada the masses turn to meat pie. Not those modest Cornish pasties found in England, but those super-pregnant beefy tarts with their perfect little vent holes we remember from weekday afternoon cartoons.
Tourtiere, to be exact. The packed pie, whose Canadian lineage dates back to the 1600s, combines meat with meat and more meat, spices and vegetables to flavor and bind that meat, all inside a thick, buttery crust.
So we were filled with gluttonous anticipation when we learned from our friends at Edible Manhattan that tourtiere from Montreal’s legendary restaurant Au Pied de Cochon were being made here in New York for Thanksgiving. We were able to score one of roughly 40 pies just before taking off for Turkey Day. They will be available again for Christmas and New Year’s, the more traditional time to eat them.
Au Pied de Cochon is a meat eater’s mecca, and short of another visit to the James Beard House (the last time was more than a year ago), this is the closest anyone in New York is going to get to eating chef Martin Picard’s creations.
The New York pie is the work of Heritage Foods USA team member Sarah Obraitis and husband-to-be Hugue Dufour, Picard’s one-time right-hand-man and adventure partner on their Food Network culinary road series.
The pie came about through “happenstance,” Obraitis says, the way these sort of things do in New York: boredom, excess and a light-bulb moment.
After filling all her orders for Heritage meat, Obraitis had some leftover guinea hen, pork, turkey, and brisket. Dufour, who has left the restaurant to be in New York, had just finished filming and was moping about looking for a project while preparing for his wedding day later this month. Normally this time of year at Au Pied de Cochon would be spent filling hundreds of tourtiere orders.
“It was the time of the year,” Dufour says. “She had incredible meat and it was the perfect occasion to do it. People in Quebec, where I am from, they order 10 at a time. Some crazy people will order 20. When Christmas time kicks in, they will eat that for breakfast. You have tourtiere all the way.”
The meats were braised and mixed with ground pork, potatoes, ale, a little brown sugar and spices. “The sort of binding agent is the ground pork,” Obraitis says. “The potatoes are shaved. Ground pork and potatoes is the bed.”
The two started out by making 11 pies of pork and guinea hen. With the help of friends and the use of a catering kitchen on the Lower East Side, they made another 30 with ground pork, turkey legs, and brisket.
There is no right combination. “There are as many tourtieres as there are cooks,” Dufour says.
Adds Obraitis: “You make it with what you have around in the kitchen. Each region has its own version. A meat pie can be just about anything.”
If our virginal pie is any indication (moist meat, flaky crust, warm feeling), we like the options.
The couple is taking orders now for Christmas and New Years. As the duo weaves wedding plans with pie making, Obraitis has only one request: “The earlier the better.”
The pies come frozen, with heating instructions and a lightly tart homemade cranberry ketchup. At $30 each delivered, they are a bit steep. But show up with a meat pie derived from Picard that’s stuffed with Heritage meat and, as we found, you will be a hit for the holidays.
Want to order your very own tourtiere? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.