13 January 2007

Tourte lorraine (alias « pâté lorrain »)

It was many, many years ago when I first tasted the specialty called tourte lorraine or pâté lorrain. At the time, in 1979, I was working as a lecturer at the Université de Metz. Metz (pop. 300,000) is the chief administrative city of the French region called La Lorraine. It's located in NE France, near Luxembourg and Alsace.

So in Metz (which is pronounced mess in French) what I had was called pâté lorrain (recipe in French), and it was the second-best thing to eat there, I thought. The best was a big choucroute garnie, which is sauerkraut served with sausages, cured pork of different kinds, and boiled new potatoes. If you've never had sauerkraut in France, you don't know how good it can be.

Oops, I forgot about quiche lorraine. That's pretty good too. Both other French and American versions are so well known that it's hard to think of quiche as a French regional delicacy nowadays.

The Larousse Gastronomique, one of the prime reference books on French cuisine, says the speciality it describes as la tourte à la lorraine as being "made with two meats, pork and veal, which, after having been marinated in an aromatic bath, are cooked together in a pastry crust with a cream and egg custard." In other words, it's a meat pie.

And today on the Marmiton.org web site, I found this explanation, which clears it all up for me: the difference between pâté lorrain and tourte lorraine is that the tourte includes the cream and egg custard in the filling and the pâté does not. Otherwise, les deux sont identiques.

Now you know more than you ever imagined you would know about a dish, which you had probably never heard of. I don't know exactly when the dish or the recipe came back into my mind, but I do know that some of the recipes I have in my files are ones I printed before 2003, when we still lived in California.

What follows is not so much a recipe as a method for making such a pie. A lot of the ingredients and steps are optional. Just look at the pictures if you're curious but don't think you'd ever try to cook such a thing. (Retirement leaves you with a lot of time to do these kinds of complicated dishes.)

Making a tourte lorrain

Take equal amounts of lean pork and either veal, chicken, or turkey and cut the meat into long strips as you would if you were going to stir fry it. Marinate the raw meats overnight in a cup or so of white wine with onions and/or shallots, garlic, bay leaves, a pinch each of allspice, cayenne pepper, dried thyme, and dried tarragon, some salt, and a good amount of black pepper.

Some recipes just call for adding "spices" to the white wine marinade along with the onions, shallots, and garlic, so you can flavor the meat the way that sounds best to you. What about a pinch of curry powder, for example?

The next day, you can (optionally) run all or part of the marinated meats through a meat grinder before using them. Discard most or all of the onions, shallots, and garlic (which you haven't chopped up too finely!), and the bay leaves of course. It's probably better for texture and appearance to leave some bigger pieces of meat rather than grinding it all. Strain the marinade and set the liquid aside if you want to use it to make a gravy, for example.

Again optionally, add to the marinated meats about 4 oz. of bacon which you have cooked lightly in a skillet. Chunks of smoked bacon or ham would probably be better than sliced bacon, if you can get such smoked meats.

Also cook some chopped mushrooms with onion or shallot in a skillet and, when cooled, add them to the meat mixture. Another option is to cook some spinach and add it, cooled, to the mixture, for color and taste. Mix the meat and vegetable ingredients together well (with your hands, I say).

Make (or buy) enough pie crust to line a pan and to make a top for the pie. (Lucky for me, Walt makes crust. I don't know how.) Put the bottom crust in the pan, making sure it's big enough so that its edges will wrap back over the top of the stuffing a little. The bottom crust should be pie dough (pâte brisée but the top crust can be either that or puff pastry, which is fancier.

Then fill the pie crust in the dish with the meat mixture and fold some dough over the top around the edges. Beat an egg (or an egg yolk with a teaspoon of water) in a little bowl and brush some of it on the folded-over pastry dough edges. You can even paint the top crust with some of the egg before you put it, painted side down, on top of the pie. Pinch the two crusts together to seal the pie.

Cut a hole (or two) in the top crust and insert little foil or paper chimneys so that the pie can vent steam as it cooks. Paint the top surface of the crust with the beaten egg or yolk so that it will brown nicely. Put the pie in a 350ºF/190ºC oven and bake it for an hour or more. Check the interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer to make sure it's done. It should get up to about 170ºF/75ºC inside to be properly cooked.

One think you can do (or try to do) is to pour in, through the chimney opening, a mixture of about a cup of cream beaten with two or three raw egg yolks when the pie is about three-quarters done. In theory, the cream will enrich the whole thing (and turn it into what is called a tourte) and the eggs will thicken the cream and form a kind of custard. That's what I tried to do here.

In my experience, having made this dish twice now, there is entirely too much liquid in the pie for you to be able to pour in even more. I've tried using a turkey baster to suck out some of the cooking liquid before trying to put in the custard mixture, but with not much success. Try it, though, if you want to.

I ended up taking the cooking juice that I sucked out with the baster and adding it to the cream and egg mixture. I cooked that very slowly in the microwave for while until it thickened, and then I served it as a gravy.

Here's what it looks like when you cut the pie while it's still hot. Delicious.

After the pie has cooled in the refrigerator overnight, it's actually more attractive. You can eat it cold or you can re-heat it. Actually, I think the next time I make it I'll let it cool overnight before I even try to slice it.

But that will make the confection of the pie into a three-day process, what with cutting up and marinating the meat the first day, cooking the pie the second day, and eating it only on the third. Fortunately, I have time.

Each piece is enough for a meal, and this is only half of what I made.

4 comments:

  1. Yum. Yours looks better than the one pictured in the recipe.

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  2. I think I've said it before but you really should consider going commercial on this. Your descriptions are appealing, it makes you feel anyone can do it, the text has a very 'homey' feeling to it, friendly, warm, and the pictures are appetizing. Like a diary thing. A meal a day from the Loire. Seriously, could be a second career, no? I know I've cooked some of your things,m and they came out wonderfully well.

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  3. Thanks for the comments, Peter and Sietske.

    Sietske, I'm glad you've been able to use and enjoy some of the recipes and food ideas. I doubt I'll be doing recipes professionally, though, and if I did, it wouldn't be my second career but my third or fourth... speaking serially, not simultaneously.

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  4. I lived in France for a while and used to get a slice pretty much every single day after school at the market. Lately I've been searching for a good recipe and came across this one, Thank you soooo much!

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