Wild Rabbit Tourtière

In my circle of close friends, a party usually involves folks bringing a dish to share. Certain special parties are an occasion for the most talented to bring out the “good stuff.” So it was at some friends’ annual Christmas party a few years ago when I spied this meat pie on the main table. I cut myself a piece, and then went back for more.

Asking around, I found out who made this delicious creation. I learned it was a Canadian specialty. He promised to send me the recipe.

In the meantime, I started asking around about this dish in my cooking groups on social media. It was quite clear that this fantastic dish was a long-held Christmas tradition in the households of Quebec. I later learned that Tourtière is a Christmas dish dating to the 1600’s.

I collected a lot of opinions and and ideas. Some said it had to be pork, some pork and veal, others wild game. Meat is the central theme in all versions. Some said to use potato, others decried the use of potato. When I floated the idea of a lard crust, that was soundly endorsed. Several folks sent recipes, and I did eventually get a recipe from my friend, too.

The recipe here is a compilation of all the inputs I received, and I think even the staunchest Québécois traditionalists will enjoy.

First is that lard crust. Someone gave me an idea to use raw leaf lard in making savory pie crusts, and that is perfect for this type of dish.

Leaf Lard Crust

This makes enough for two tourtières. This is also a great crust for mincemeat pies. If you have a favorite crust recipe, feel free to use that.

1 cup frozen leaf lard ground 3mm (leaf lard is the creamy white fat lining the body cavity of a pig — there is no substitute)
1/2t fine sea salt
3 cups all purpose flour
4T ice water

Work the cold lard and the salt into the flour. Fingertips are great for this but you can use a fork or pastry blender. The mixture will be crumbly. Work in the water 1T at a time. Test a small bit to look how it forms. When it looks ready, don’t add more more water (it may take more or less than the 4T). Gently form the dough into two equal balls, wrap in plastic, and put in the refrigerator to rest and stay cool.

Tourtière

I have several rabbits in the freezer. They perpetually invade the garden, so I have been harvesting a few of them to keep their population in check. Wild rabbit is delicious lean meat. One rabbit makes about three cups of cooked meat, just about right for a tourtière. If you don’t have wild rabbit, you can substitute a domestic rabbit from your local market.

I took a rabbit out of the freezer to thaw a few days in advance. Rather than boning the raw rabbit, I pressure cooked it with the other pie filling ingredients, except for some pork.

I have pork scraps on hand from hog butchering. I ground 1/2 lb with a 3mm plate. You can use ground pork for this if you don’t have scraps to grind.

1 rabbit, whole, cleaned and thawed, if frozen
1 onion, diced
1 potato, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic
1 cup turkey stock (you may use chicken or pork stock)
2T chopped fresh parsley
1/2 t salt
1/2 t dried savory
1/2 t ground allspice
1/2 t black pepper
1/4 t celery seed
1/4 t ground cloves

Place all these ingredients into a pressure cooker. Once the pressure cooker releases steam showing it’s up to pressure, cook for 20 minutes. Once 20 minutes is up, put the pressure cooker under running water to cool it down and relieve the pressure. Remove the rabbit to a large dish to cool. Puree the rest of the ingredients left in the pressure cooker.

The rabbit should now be cool enough to pull apart to speed the cooling. In the meantime, cook 1/2 lb ground pork in a large skillet to brown and break up any large pieces.

Pull the rabbit meat from the bones. Discard the bones. Finely dice the rabbit meat. Add the pureed vegetables and stock and the rabbit meat to the skillet with the pork. Cook and stir until the stock is reduced. Stir in up to 1/2 cup bread crumbs to bind the mixture and absorb the fat. (I made the crumbs by placing cubes of stale baguette in the food processor and pulsing a few times. You need the mixture to bind, but it will still be very moist.

Cool the mixture. I put it in a bowl and set it outside for a few minutes on a cold night. Otherwise, spread it in a tray and pop in the freezer.

Roll out one crust for the bottom of the pie. Fill with the cooled filling. Place the top crust on top, seal the edges. Cut vent holes in the top to release steam.

Bake at 425F in convection oven. 450F in a conventional oven. Serve hot.

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