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LYNN NEARY, HOST:

For the last several days, we've been bringing you some holiday treats. Today, it's tourtiere, a savory meat pie from Canada. Thomas Naylor, executive chef to the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., says, traditionally, French-Canadians would serve it after coming home from midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at a festive meal known as reveillon. He spoke with us from the kitchen at the ambassador's residence.

THOMAS NAYLOR: It's a tradition from France, probably to go back and still even practiced in New Orleans, where a family, if they've been fasting all day, comes back from midnight Mass, then they'll have a huge feast with sweets and lobster, oysters, everything but always has - in Quebec, at least, they'll always have tourtiere be the center of the reveillon.

NEARY: There's no one way to prepare tourtiere, says Naylor. Every region has its own version of this spicy meat pie.

NAYLOR: The recipe has been altered so many times. If you go up to the Gaspe region, you almost have, you know, the cousin of the tourtiere, which is made with salmon. And, of course, every recipe is very distinct to every different region in Canada, even to the families.

NEARY: Well, I know I've been at events with Canadians around Christmastime where there can be kind of a little tourtiere competition. Everybody brings their own tourtiere.

NAYLOR: Oh, yeah. It's like hockey rivalry.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NEARY: All right. So what makes a - so - and everybody has their own recipe, in other words, right?

NAYLOR: Yeah, everybody has their own recipe. I mean, in Montreal and the rest of Quebec, they'll make it with ground pork, maybe Quebec City, Charlevoix, the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area on the north shore of Quebec, of the Saint Lawrence River. And they'll use cubed meats, game meats, veal, beef et cetera. But the main ingredient, I would say, is definitely the spices. There's four main spices - you have cinnamon, clove, allspice and nutmeg - and usually combined, say, in my recipe from Montreal, with savory and rosemary. That will make up an authentic tourtiere.

NEARY: So how do those spices combined with the meat - how would you describe the flavor then?

NAYLOR: Well, it's a very festive flavor, especially savory, which is one of Quebec's favorite herbs to use. But you - when you get a combination of clove and nutmeg, allspice, just like, you know, in a butternut squash soup and other festive sort of fowl Christmas recipes. It gives a nice spiciness to it. It almost, you know, since the recipe and the use of the spices goes back to medieval times, they used to even serve, you know, these kind of spiced meats along with sweets.

NEARY: The first step in creating a perfect tourtiere, says Naylor, is to make a buttery, flaky pastry shell.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOD PREP)

NEARY: Then, Naylor moves on to the meat mixture.

NAYLOR: So what I have is a straight edge fry pan, and it's really simple. We're just going to add two pounds of pork - ground up pork - a cup and a half of water...

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOD PREP)

NAYLOR: ...one cup of onion - diced - and a half cup of celery - diced.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOD PREP)

NAYLOR: When the water comes to a boil, what you're going to do is you're going to add the spices...

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOD PREP)

NEARY: Naylor let's that mixture simmer for about an hour and a half. At the end, he mixes in a cup of rolled oats, which binds the meat and makes it easier to slice a piece of the pie later on. Once the meat filling has cooled, he spoons it into the pastry shell and covers it with a crust. Now, it's time to decorate with some of the leftover dough.

NAYLOR: We can take a little cookie cutter. You have cookie cutters. I have a little maple leaf cookie cutter here. So we'll cut out a couple of maple leafs, put them on top and finish it off. You got to make some vents for the steam to escape, so what I do is I use scissors and just make sort of triangular - they look like sort of chevrons in the top here.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOD PREP)

NEARY: And again, just to clarify, that this is, of course, a French-Canadian tradition, but a lot of Canadians who are not French-Canadians also love tourtiere.

NAYLOR: Oh, of course, yeah.

NEARY: Yeah.

NAYLOR: Tourtiere, I'd say, is definitely one of Canada's contribution to the culinary world.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NEARY: All right. Thank you so much.

NAYLOR: OK. Well, thanks for coming and have a happy holidays, and I hope you get to eat some tourtiere this season.

NEARY: To find Thomas Naylor's full recipe for tourtiere, visit our website, npr.org. And to get you in the mood, Thomas Naylor suggests a little French-Canadian music.

NAYLOR: (Foreign language spoken) is kind of - it's like a French-Canadian, like a Canadian gig bag, you know, it's sort of the accordion and the fiddle and...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAYLOR: (Singing ) (Unintelligible).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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