How to make an Acadian meat pie in 6 easy steps

  • NOTE: This story was originally published on December 10, 2017. CBC PEI is bringing the story back on August 15, 2022 to mark Acadian Day.

From his family’s centuries-old farmhouse in St. Chrysostome, PEI, in the heart of the island’s Acadian region, Felix Arsenault is busy making meat pies – hundreds of them.

He frequently consults a battered cookbook written by the late PEI Acadian singer, Angèle Arsenault Hey j’mange! Les recettes de ma mere.

“She was a great cook,” says Arsenault.

I want to make sure that Acadian traditions and food stay alive here at PEI– Felix Arsenault

“Acadians only go with pork and chicken and certain spices in them that we like. Cilantro, savory, and we also use pickled spices and cloves.”

Six years ago, Arsenault opened a small shop called La Grub à Félix in a wing of his house, where he cooked every evening and weekend. He has also been a daytime cook for 30 years and prepares meals at the PEI Youth Centre, a state correctional facility in Summerside, PEI

“If it’s something you enjoy, you don’t get tired of it,” he said.

keeping traditions alive

Arsenault only cooks Acadian favorites, including rapure, casseroles, galette blanche (French buns), and pickled eggs. But meat pies are his biggest seller – he makes about 600 a year, 350 of them at Christmas, with a lot of help from his wife Alice.

Prepare Acadian Meat Pies with Felix Arsenault

Prepare Acadian Meat Pies with Felix Arsenault

“Acadian is pretty hard to come by these days, there aren’t that many places that serve Acadian food anymore and I want to make sure Acadian traditions and Acadian food stay alive here at PEI,” said Arsenault.

“From the way sales are going I can see it’s still alive and kicking, which is excellent!”

He believes his recipe is simple enough for any home cook. Here is his step-by-step guide. This recipe makes six meat pies.

1. First cook the meat

Based on the recipe by local singer Angèle Arsenault, Felix Arsenault simmers pork and chicken in separate pots with a mirepoix. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Cook approximately 5 pounds (2.2 kg) of pork chestnuts and 4 pounds (1.8 kg) of whole skinned shredded chicken in separate pots. This is the only place where Arsenault deviates from the recipe – he adds a mirepoix or carrots, onion and celery and salt to taste.

Cover the meat and vegetables with water and simmer for two hours. Allow to cool and discard the mirepoix, skimming off the fat and setting the broth aside.

2. Make the filling

Meat pie filling ingredients include diced chicken and pork, mashed potatoes, breadcrumbs, and more. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Cut the chicken and pork into small cubes.

Mix the meat with:
2 cups mashed potatoes
2 medium onions, chopped
1 cup toasted bread crumbs
1 1/2 tablespoons savory
2 tablespoons pickling spice tied in a cheesecloth bag
1/2 tablespoon allspice

Add broth, which you set aside earlier, until the mixture is “nice and moist,” Arsenault advises, about 1.5 cups.

Cook the mixture in the oven in a large skillet, covered with foil but with a steam vent, for one hour and allow to cool.

3. Make the crust

Combine the ingredients, but don’t mix your batter too much, advises Arsenault. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

While the filling is cooking, you can prepare the dough for your pie crust.

9 cups flour
2 packets of active dry yeast
3/4 pound shortening
3 cups of lukewarm water
1 egg, beaten
Salt

Using a dough cutter, mix together the flour and shortening until the mixture appears “floury,” Arsenault said. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water according to package directions. Crack the egg into the water and whisk.

Gradually add the liquid to the dry ingredients, first with the dough cutter, then knead with your hands to combine them. Don’t overdo the dough as this can make it tough.

Set the dough aside and let it rise to about double in size. Knock it down until there is no more air in it before rolling it.

4. Roll out the dough

Arsenault forms the dough into a disk before rolling it out on a lightly floured surface. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Prepare a large, clean surface to roll out and lightly dust with flour.

Arsenault measures and rolls out each crust individually—12 ounces or 330 grams for each bottom crust and 9 ounces or 240 grams per top crust.

Use a large, floured rolling pin and “try to roll it as round as you can” to about an eighth of an inch thick, advises Arsenault.

“This dough is really nice to work with because you can pick it up,” he said, carefully placing the rolled dough on a 9-inch aluminum cake stand and gently pressing it to the bottom.

Roll out the cake top.

5. Fill the cake

Fill the pie crust with about 2 cups of the cooked meat filling. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Top the pie with about 2 cups of meat filling — don’t overfill, Arsenault said.

Dampen the edge of the pie crust with warm water using a pastry brush or your fingers and place the top crust on top of the pie, pressing down lightly.

Poke 5 holes in the top crust with a fork to allow steam to escape. Use the fork to press down the edge of the cake to seal. “Don’t press too hard,” Arsenault advises—you don’t want to press right through the soft dough.

Using a sharp paring knife or spatula, Arsenault’s favorite tool, trim off any excess pastry that hangs over the edge of the pie plate.

6. Bake your cake

You need to preheat the oven, says Arsenault. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Preheating the oven is very important, Arsenault said. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. The crust rises slightly as it bakes.

Arsenault’s kitchen has two ovens in which he can bake 15 cakes at a time.

Meat pies from La Grub à Félix are $12 each.

The crust is a hybrid pastry bread dough and rises slightly when baked. (Sara Fraser/CBC)
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