Make an interpretation of a Tourtiere along with a sauce or relish to go with
A vegetarian tourtiere with spicy tomato relish
So this particular bake I practiced a lot. My family were subjected to 3 tourtieres one particular week. In the middle of summer! But I think it paid off. Although confident my tourtiere was a great vegetarian version I still had some nervousness that the vegetarian option might count against me. A lot of professional chefs are somewhat dismissive of vegetarian cooking and Bruno certainly raised an eyebrow when I told him there was going to be no meat!
The bake starts with a rye shortcrust. Rye is great to make shortcrust pastry with. Not only does it add a lovely slightly nutty flavor, but because it relatively low in gluten. Too much gluten formation ruins a shortcrust leading to tough dough and soggy bottoms. That’s why you work cold butter into the flour and use tiny amounts of very cold water, water also activates gluten production. In this pie I used just under 40% Rye. I also used cold vodka instead of some of the water. This is another good trick – it adds moisture to make the dough workable but does not promote gluten formation. The vodka evaporates off in the oven and leaves no flavor.
As I say, I was feeling pretty confident but things didn’t actually start all that well. To make the shortcrust I grate frozen butter with a box grater. Now a box grater is one of those kitchen tools that pretty much everyone has. If you’re like us it kicks around in a drawer, gets fairly heavily used. You’ve probably had it for ages. Can’t even remember where you got it. Probably you bought a super cheap one when you first started making grilled cheese sandwiches for yourself as a student. Maybe a relative gave you their crappy extra one when you moved into your first home. Most importantly – it is not sharp. It has never even occurred to you that it could be sharper than it is. Well in the tent we had brand-spanking new ones from show sponsor Cuisinart and they were SHARP! As I grated my butter, as often happens, the butter slipped and I ran my thumb-knuckle down this little wall of evil razor blades. There was a surprising amount of blood pretty much instantly and I stuck my hand in a nearby bowl of ice-water while the paramedic came to sort it out. For the rest of the show you’ll see I was wearing gloves a lot of the time. The cut (or rather multiple cuts one on top of the other) took weeks to heal and I still have a scar – suffering for my art I guess 🙂
Other than that everything went smoothly. The filling came together nicely while I blind baked the pie case. I must say the tent smelled fantastic on that challenge and we all appreciated baking something savory after all the sweets. I had got hold of some swim goggles for the pool at our hotel – I hate swimming without goggles – so I thought it would be totally hilarious to wear them while I chopped my onions. It’s an old gag but hey what the hell!
We had one last hicup. With about 20 minutes left on the clock a huge thunderstorm rolled in. Rain was battering the tent and some serious mopping needed doing. The for a short while they had to turn off some of the power including the ovens. We all stood around biting our nails and worrying about our bakes. As long as you don’t open the door a new oven should hold its heat pretty well and so they did. So it didn’t really make much of a difference to anyone other than adding a layer of stress!
I was very happy with my tourtiere – it looked pretty good and smelled pretty good but I was still nervous when Bruno and Rochelle got to my bench. I will never forget how surprised they both looked when they cut into the pie and took out a slice. I held it’s shape perfectly. It looked delicious. And both were very surprised by the taste. To be clear it does not actually taste of meat. But it has a texture which is very close to the texture of a ground meat filling and has a very strong rich flavor which somehow reminds you of meat. Someone said it tasted somewhat like stuffing. Whatever, Bruno and Rochelle were both very impressed.
As I said in my after-bake interview: “Mission accomplished”. I had been particularly worried about Bruno not liking the vegetarian angle. But I think in the end I pretty much knocked that one out of the park!
I have had some comments that my pie was not a tourtiere for the simple reason it was vegetarian. To which I say – meh. This was a signature challenge not a technical so by definition there is going to be a wide range of interpretations. I think my tourtiere was actually closer in flavor to a traditional one than some of those that used meat. I tried to deliver a tourtiere-like experience without the meat and I think I succeeded. Can I call it a tourtiere? I can call it whatever I like – I made it. I’m not a great believer in tradition anyway – rules were made to be broken. Plus, I’ve been vegetarian for coming up to 28 years – I’m not about to make a meat pie now, baking show or no baking show!
This recipe is available on the CBC website at here.