We have Canada to thank for a barrage of best eats, from Montreal’s humble but coveted sesame bagels and classic French cuisine to savory Alberta steaks and traditional fondue in Lake Louise Village. Among the urban skylines of contemporary Vancouver or shivering in a remote Yukon mining town, Canadian cuisine has taken its rightful place in sought-after destinations for culinary travelers and locals alike.
When it comes to Canadian comfort food, few dishes can compare to centuries-old tourtière. Traditionally a meat pie dish that got its start in Québec province, its journey into Canadian hearts began over the holidays when cooks minced pork, veal, or beef and mixed it with potatoes between layers of flaky crust. Canadians are known for friendliness and hospitality any time of year, so it’s no surprise that chefs are giving a variety of these homey little pies a permanent spot on modern menus. Gone is the pigeon pie of the 1600s and, in its place, contemporary tourtière is limited only by a cook’s imagination. Though tourtière has evolved from its cast-iron kettle days to new interpretations, finding it isn’t always easy – a Google search returns more recipes than restaurants that serve it. Here are a few of our favorite OpenTable eateries where tourtière remains a reason to celebrate.
Donna Mac, Calgary, Alberta
Donna Mac in Calgary, named for the owner’s grandmother, has only been open a few months. But chef Justin ‘Tino’ Longpre couldn’t be happier with the feedback he’s already getting about their version of the Canadian staple.
“In our earliest conversations about Donna Mac, we always talked about people and, in my mind, my ideal guest sits at the bar, reads a book, and eats dinner,” he said. “We wanted Donna Mac to be a welcoming neighborhood joint where we all wanted to hang out, so tourtière is a natural fit.”
Donna Mac’s feel-good vibe harkens back to Donna Mac herself, when families did not have a lot of money, grew veggies in backyard gardens, and warming up the house meant tossing another log on the fire. Hearty food is at home here, where Longpre loves the history of tourtière and the personal connection guests have with it.
“We always make something that includes everyone so our twist on a traditional meat tourtière is a vegetarian version prepared with mushrooms and lovely dark spices using lentils to bind it together,” said Longpre, who couldn’t be happier with the feedback he has received. “Do guests expect something more refined than a slice of tourtière? Apparently not, because now they also come in to order the whole pie.” Make a reservation at Donna Mac.
Bannock, Toronto, Ontario
In Toronto, Bannock is home to a pork shoulder tourtière served with pickles and tamarind jus. Bannock executive chef and Toronto native Michael Robertson grew up eating tourtière throughout the holidays with family friends from Québec City.
“It was such a treat to go on ski trips where everyone would gather around and tourtière was always on the table,” he said. “We are proud of our tourtière, which is a blend of beef and braised pork shoulder, not pulled pork, but it has that same texture.”
Not to be confused with pot pie, Robertson likens pot pie to a warm, thick stew in a ceramic dish. Tourtière is not so much a ragu, he points out; though saucy, it is denser and served in slices. While Robertson typically sticks to a core set of ingredients, he does alter it on occasion in canapes, with venison or foie gras.
Most often, Robertson blends allspice, clove, nutmeg, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire, chiles, lots of onions, and garlic for his filling. Between the mouthwatering pie and his pickles, no wonder his diners come back for second helpings.
“We make our Bannock pickles in-house and they could be anything really because it’s all relevant to the season,” said Robertson, who has been known to pickle ramps and rutabaga to accompany his tourtière. “For Mother’s Day, we serve it with pickled asparagus and tamarind jus and at Christmas time, we sell whole tourtière in small sizes for individual sales and larger sizes for groups.”
Banock guests visiting Saskatoon can find tourtière at its sister property, Shift Restaurant at Remai Modern Art Gallery of Saskatchewan (pictured, top image). In the museum, the tourtière is prepared with pig and duck, turnips, carrots and served with Heinz ketchup. Make reservations at Bannock or Shift Restaurant.
Honey Salt, Vancouver, British Columbia
In Vancouver, where the mountains and sea marry into one of Canada’s coolest cities, Honey Salt in the Parq Vancouver seamlessly blends the savory and sweet. Chef Christopher Oliveira’s homage to Québécois tourtière contains pork and beef and he serves it with tomato jam, apple, and arugula salad. Oliveira prepared it for Honey Salt owner Kim Canteenwalla, whose response was that it took him back to his youth in Canada.
“Think of like a Québec version of a steak kidney pie – it was traditionally served Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, but it’s so versatile and one of my favorite dishes to prepare,” said Oliveira, who sent out a tourtière to one of his regular tables for the guests to try. “I have these three ladies who come in for lunch and they all get our tourtière every time, so it’s fun to educate people who don’t know about it.”
Chef Oliveira incorporates duck fat in his tourtiere, along with celery, onions, and potatoes. He uses the traditional dark spices, ground all spice, cloves, nutmeg, and Worcestershire with a little sherry vinegar. Where other tourtières are served with some sort of ketchup, Oliveira’s housemade tomato jam compliments the dish, along with his apple and arugula salad. He, too, changes it up from time to time, using venison or pulled rabbit.
“I grew up with in Portugal on a family farm eating lots of rabbit, so I use that sometimes, but you could make a salmon tourtière or use bison – with some sort of fat contact added so it doesn’t dry out,” said Oliveira, whose favorite cheese shop sells out of tourtière every year at Christmas. Make a reservation at Honey Salt.
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