Thursday, March 24, 2011

Les mets d'chez nous! (1ère partie)

Bonjour les amis!

As you may have guessed (or I may have told you), I'm proudly French Canadian. Well, half so, the other half is dairy-farming, Potato-Famine-era Irish immigrant (although my Dad is a judge, my Grampa and all great-uncles grew up on farms and were very typically Irish-Canadian).

My Mom did some family tracing and my French roots in Canada are pretty deep. My great-great-grandfather was the mayor of Vaudreuil sometime in the late 19th Century and I've often joked that my Grandpapa's oldest Canadian ancestor is "third from the left of Champlain" is one of those old 17th C. portraits of the explorer (for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, look up Samuel de Champlain and get a taste of early Canadian history).

Now, that being said, our family, while being of fine quebecois stock, didn't really eat much in the way of traditional quebecer fare. With one notable exception: tourtière (more on that shortly). It might have something to do with the fact that my Mom hated most traditional quebecer food (again, except tourtière) and tended to go with more standard "North American" meals: roast beef, spaghetti, chili, etc.

It wasn't until I met my Dad's second wife that I learned a little more about some of the other traditional goodies like 'ragoût de boulettes' (meatball stew) and 'pattes de cochon' (pig's feet stew). Quebec food focuses a lot on making the most out of very little. Expect to find lots of fat, cheap cuts of meat and a crapton of maple syrup!

You've already seen one very common quebecois food, cretons, in an earlier post, and we ALL know about the fatty deliciousness of poutine, but there are quite a few foods out there that you might be have encountered in other cuisines that the Quebecois put a special twist on.

With that in mind, I'll be running down some of the tastier samplings of quebecois goodness I've had in my life and throwing out a few recipes here and there.

Here are the items I'll be exploring over several posts, with their more common versions in parentheses:

- Soupe aux pois (split pea soup)
- Oreilles de crisse (pork rinds)
- Tourtière (meat pie)
- Cipâte (pot pie)
- Fèvres au lard (baked beans)
- Pattes de cochons (pig's feet stew - OK, maybe this one's purely Quebecois)
- Ragoût de boulettes
- Sucre à la crème (fudge, but totally not fudge)
- Pouding chômeur (bread pudding)
- Tarte au sucre (sugar pie)

So, today's post will cover the first three items: Soupe aux pois, Oreilles de crisse, and Tourtière.

1 - Soupe aux pois (Pea soup)

Pea soup is one of the most common of traditional quebecois meals, being so commonplace that Quebecers would often be called "Peasoup" in a derogatory manner, somewhere along the same lines of "Frog". Luckily, we have our own comeback against Anglos, who've earned the charming title of "Têtes-carrés", literally translated to "Square Heads". Also, in a funny twist of product development, a company called "Habitant" is well-known for their canned pea soup. "Habitant" is also a common term to reference Quebecers, albeit not actually derogatory. Hence, why you may hear reference to the "Habs" when talking about the Montreal Canadiens hockey teams, Habs being short for Habitants.

How's that for some obscure Canadian culture? And you thought we were just a fusion of wannabe Yanks and Brits!

Now, traditional quebecois pea soup is a split yellow pea soup cooked with a ham bone or other form of smoked pork. Now, having never actually HAD pea soup, except the odd time out of a can, I didn't realize it was supposed to be yellow. Oops... Instead, in a fit of longing for comfort food, I got my brain circling around the idea of making a pea soup, but using something a little more gourmet than ham. The thought hit me like a bolt - Hey, Pancetta! Pancetta's good and I'd never used it before. So with a vague concept in mind, I now needed a recipe! Luckily, Google provides.

What I found was a made-up recipe from this nice lady out of Oregon who writes a food blog entitled "Bread & Honey". I've made a few tweaks with the herbs and added an extra touch using frozen peas.

Split Green Pea soup (w.pancetta)

Makes about 8 cups (about 4 servings)


- 3 cups dried split green peas (rinsed in cold water and drained)
- about 200 grams pancetta, diced (use more if you want more salt/fat content)
- 8 cups vegetable stock (NOTE: I make veggie stock using a powder if I don't have anything home made available. To reduce salt amounts, I use half the amount of powder the package calls for)
- 2 onions, diced
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 potato, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced (or more, there's no such thing as too much garlic)
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp dried/powdered sage
- Cracked black pepper to taste
- Salt to taste (I generally add no salt, since the pancetta and veggie stock tend to add enough on their own)
- 1/2 cup frozen peas


- In a very large pot, fry pancetta on medium high heat with a splash of olive oil until crispy and browned.
- Remove from heat and spoon out all the pancetta onto a plate, leaving the fat in the pan.
- Place pot back on heat and sauté veggies until onions are glassy and begin to soften.
- Reduce heat to medium. Add broth and stir.
- Add potatoes, then split peas and bring to a boil.
- Turn heat down, add seasoning, and simmer on medium-low (3-4) for about an hour, or until peas become soft and soup thickens.
- 10 minutes before soup is done, stir in frozen peas
- Sprinkle with crunchy pancetta before serving.

The above image is purely an approximation, albeit fairly accurate, of how it'll turn out.

I like to throw in a few shots of hot sauce and eat with LOTS of warm bread and butter.

So there's my take on Soupe aux pois. It's very hearty and thick and easily serves as a meal on its own.

2 - Oreilles de crisse

These are standard fare at the multitude of cabanes à sucre (sugar shacks, where maple syrup is made in the Spring) in the province. They're essentially smoked pork rinds, fried in lard and bathed in syrup.

They mostly taste like bacon, but crispier.

I haven't yet tried my hand at this one, mostly because I'm frightened to try it... Oh so very frightened! Here's what they look like. You can see why I originally thought they were some special form of bacon...

With that in mind, I'm going to plug the cabane à sucre where I first tried oreilles de crisse. Sucrerie de la montagne makes for a a lovely family or foodie outing where you'll be stuffed to the gills with traditional quebecer fare, listen to some old-time Quebecois music, and be served by pretty French Canadian girls (and trust me, French Canadian girls ARE hotter, it's a fact. I'm totally not biased by the fact that I'm dating one). It's just outside Rigaud, Quebec, about 90 minutes from Ottawa by car, 45 from Montreal. In case you're wondering what "sucrerie" means, it's also a word for sugar shack. Yes, Quebecers love their maple syrup so much that they have two words for the place where it's made!

3 - Tourtière

Tourtière is one of the most recognizable quebecois contributions to cuisine, yet it's rarely found outside the province and certainly doesn't enjoy as much exposure in English Canada as it deserves. Living in Ottawa makes it a bit easier to find it in butcher shops since there is a strong French-speaking population here. Might have something to do with being across the river... But you'd be hard pressed to find it in amongst the Anglos...

Lord knows amongst the Francos it's as common during the Christmas holidays as roast turkey. Now for another bit of quebecer culture:

Christmas amongst French Canadian Catholics (which is almost redundant) entails a tradition known as Réveillon. The Réveillon is essentially a massive feast that occurs after celebrating Midnight Mass (which happens around midnight of December 25th, but usually begins before). Réveillon is a tradition in most French Catholic cultures, including Cajuns in Lousiana, but in Fench Canadian culture, one of the main dishes is tourtière. It certainly was when I was a kid! The turkey dinner would happen the following evening.

So what is tourtière? Basically, it's a meat pie. But, depending on which part of Quebec you're from, the details vary. For example, if you're from the Saguenay region, a tourtière is more like a cipâte (see below). But around our house, tourtière was a mix of ground beef, veal and pork with a bunch of seasonings served with either store-bought ketchup or some kind of wonderful home made version (aka ketchup maison, or similar preserves such as green tomato relish or chow-chow). I also find a medium or hot salsa is a great condiment to tourtière.

What I'm posting here is my Mom's recipe, I've never tried making it myself (the thought of trying to make the pie crust intimidates me), but Lord knows I've eaten my share! It's nothing too fancy, but its tasty simplicity is a good analogy for Quebecois cooking in general. This recipe has handed down over many generations, with tweaks coming from every cook that makes it. There is no real "standard" tourtière recipe.



Pie crust (makes four 10-inch crusts. Use one for the tourtière and freeze the rest for more tourtières, or make some pie!)

- 1 cup very cold butter
- 1 cup very cold Crisco shortening (store Crisco in fridge. Place in freezer for 1-2 hours before using)
- 4 heaping cups flour
- 1 cup ice cold water

Filling (for 1 pie)

- ¾ tsp ground cloves
- 1 lb lean ground pork (this is how my family does it. Others combine ground beef, pork and veal or any variation therein)
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 clove garlic, minced salt and pepper to taste
- 1 med onion, chopped
- water


For the dough

- Divide the butter or margarine and Crisco in half and cut each half into quarters.

- Place the quarters [that’s 1/2 cup of each] in the bowl of a food processor.
- Add 2 heaping cups of the flour. Process until the fat and flour are well blended and are the consistency of coarse meal.
- Transfer mixture to a large bowl and repeat process for the rest or the fat and flour. If mixture seems too wet, add flour a bit at a time.
- Make a well in the middle of the fat/flour mixture.
- Pour in the ice water and quickly mix with a fork to blend. Work mixture as little as possible. The more you work it, the tougher the crust will be.
- Gather up the mixture and form into a ball. Wrap ball in plastic or waxed paper and refrigerate for 1 hour. Divide dough into quarters. If making a double crust pie, one “quarter” should be slightly larger than the other.
- On a floured surface, roll out dough to desired size. Again, work as little as possible. Transfer dough to pie plates and fill as desired.
- When making a baked pie shell, place dough on an inverted pie plate making sure that dough extends a bit over the edge of the plate. Cut off the extending edges with a sharp knife, wet your thumb and gently crimp edges of dough to seal to edge of plate. Pierce the top and sides of dough several times with the tines of a fork. Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 12 mins. Lower heat to 350 and continue baking for 15-20 mins or until golden. Cool on a rack for 15 mins. Gently loosen edges of crust with a knife then invert crust into another pie plate and finish cooling on a rack.
- Do not use food processor to add liquid. Dough will be “overworked” and turn out tough.
- You can always halve the recipe or freeze any dough you don’t use.

For the tourtière

- In a large frypan, fry pork, garlic and onions.
- Add spices and enough water to cover meat mixture.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for 1 hour.
- Drain fat and place mixture in a food processor or meat grinder to mince.
- Roll out bottom layer of pie crust. Place in pie pan.
- Place meat mixture on top of crust.
- Roll out top layer of crust and place on top of meat mixture.
- Seal edges of crust.
- Bake in 400 degree oven for 12 mins. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until pie is done [about 30 mins].
- If freezing pie, reduce baking time to 15 mins. Cool pie, wrap in foil and freeze.

Hopefully, your efforts will come out looking like this:
Tourtière - Quebec Meat Pie
This is basically your standard tourtière presentation (with ketchup maison on the side). Slice yourself up a big ol' piece while it's still warm and enjoy! To note: it can also be served cold (but it's better warm).

On retourne aussitôt que possible avec plusieurs d'autres recettes et histoires des mets québecois!

A plus tard!

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