Madame Benoit’s Tourtière – a French Canadian Pie of Minced Meat and Cloves

“I feel a recipe is only a theme, which an intelligent cook can play each time with variation.”

Jehane Benoit

Madame Benoit is not widely known, but, due to her pragmatic approach (summarised in the quote above), she’s one of my cookery heroes. Born and brought up in Montreal (like me) she was educated in Paris and was awarded a degree in food chemistry from the Sorbonne in 1922 having studied under Dr Edouard de Pomiane. She was Canada’s first real celebrity TV chef (a sort of Canadian version of Fanny Cradock) – and you can read much more about her on the CBC website.

The Tourtière was traditionally part of the Christmas spread (it’s the cloves make it Christmasy) in French-speaking Canada but it passed me by, I suppose because my parents were both British. On its own it makes an excellent light lunch. The correct thing is to serve it with ketchup, but I think it is better either with a goats’ cheese salad with lots of dressing, or with paprika-permeated aubergines in yoghurt, or, if part of a Christmas spread, both!

Following Madame Benoit’s approach that a recipe is only a theme with which an intelligent cook can play I have made some amendments. She uses pork, which is good, but I think it works well too with beef. Or you could try a mixture of both, or minced beef with lardons.

The original recipe includes potatoes in the filling, but my view is that, these days that really is too much in the way of carbohydrates, so I’ve eliminated that. But it needed something to absorb the meat juices, so I added some breadcrumbs instead. The same carbohydrate-reducing reasoning led Jessi, one of this recipe’s testers, to suggest a very pretty looking lattice top, rather than a complete sheet of pastry.

You can also make individual tartlets.

It heats up well. If frozen (it freezes well) it doesn’t need to be unfrozen before reheating, covered in foil.

For other Christmas recipes follow this link.

Recipe for Madame Benoit’s Tourtière

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 500g/1 lb good quality minced pork, or beef; or a mix; or beef and lardons (see notes above)
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 fat clove of garlic, mashed with 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 4 ground cloves
  • 120ml/½ cup red Martini
  • ¼ cup/25g/1 oz fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 x 320g/12 oz all-butter puff pastry sheets
  • Pinch of turmeric

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 210°C – the roasting oven of the Aga.
  2. Put everything except for the last three ingredients into a saucepan, bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes (if you have an Aga you can put it in the simmering oven).
  3. In the meantime, if don’t have an Aga, you might want to grease, and cover the bottom of your pie dish (use a glass one for preference – go here to find out why) with one of the sheets of pastry (into which you have rolled a pinch or so of turmeric). Follow this link for how to bake blind.
  4. Take off the heat, stir in three or four spoonfuls of breadcrumbs and leave to stand for ten minutes. If the fat has been absorbed by the breadcrumbs leave it as is, if not add a few more breadcrumbs.
  5. Fill your pastry case with the mince mixture.
  6. Cover with the pastry – or cut the pastry into strips and make a kind of lattice effect. Sprinkle over a few extra breadcrumbs if you have them to hand.
  7. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes – until the pastry is golden brown.
This post is dedicated to Jessi McGarry whose idea it was to make the latticed pastry.
Madame Benoit's tortiere recipe
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