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How to make an Acadian meat pie in 6 easy steps

From his family's century-old farmhouse in St. Chrysostome, P.E.I., in the heart of the Island's Acadian region, Felix Arsenault is busy making meat pies — hundreds of them.

'Acadian is kind of hard to get these days'

Felix and Alice Arsenault make about 350 meat pies at Christmastime. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

From his family's century-old farmhouse in St. Chrysostome, P.E.I., 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 late P.E.I. Acadian singer Angèle Arsenault, called Moi j'mange! Les recettes de ma mere. 

"She was a great cook," Arsenault says.

I want to make sure that the Acadian traditions and the Acadian food stays alive here on P.E.I.— Felix Arsenault

"Acadians go with pork and chicken only, and certain spices in it that we like. Coriander, savoury, and we also use pickling spices in it, and cloves." 

Six years ago, Arsenault opened a small business in a wing of his home called La Grub à Félix, cooking there every evening and weekend. He's also been a chef by day for 30 years, making meals at the P.E.I. Youth Centre, a government corrections facility in Summerside, P.E.I.

"When it's something you enjoy, you don't get tired of it," he said. 

Keeping tradition alive

Arsenault cooks only Acadian favourites including rapure, potted meat, galette blanche (french rolls) and pickled eggs. But meat pies are his biggest seller — he makes about 600 every year, 350 of them at Christmas, with plenty of help from his wife, Alice. 

Making Acadian meat pies with Felix Arsenault 0:43

"Acadian is kind of hard to get these days, there's not too many places lefts that serve Acadian food, and I want to make sure that the Acadian traditions and the Acadian food stays alive here on P.E.I.," Arsenault said. 

"By the way the sales are going, I can see that it is still well alive, which is excellent!" 

His recipe is easy enough for any home cook to master, he believes. Here's his step-by-step guide. This recipe makes six meat pies. 

1. Cook the meat first

Using local songstress Angèle Arsenault's recipe, Felix Arsenault simmers pork and chicken in separate pots with a mirepoix. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Simmer about 2.2 kilograms (5 pounds) of pork buckeye and 1.8 kilograms (4 pounds) of whole cut up chicken with the skin on, in separate pots. This is the only place Arsenault deviates from the recipe — he adds a mirepoix or carrots, onion and celery, and salt to taste. 

Cover the meat and vegetables in water and simmer for two hours. Let cool and discard the mirepoix and skim any fat, and set aside the broth.

2. Make the filling

Ingredients for the meat pie filling include diced chicken and pork, mashed potatoes, bread crumbs and more. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Chop the chicken and pork into small cubes.

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

Add stock you set aside earlier until the mixture is "nice and moist" advises Arsenault, about 1.5 cups. 

Cook the mixture in the oven in a large pan, covered with foil but with an opening for steam, for an hour and let cool. 

3. Make the crust

Combine ingredients but don't over-mix your dough, Arsenault advises. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

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

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

Blend flour and shortening using a pastry cutter until mixture appears "mealy," Arsenault said. Dissolve the yeast as per package directions in half a cup of warm water. Crack the egg into the water and beat together.

Gradually add the liquid to dry ingredients, at first with the pastry cutter then knead with hands to combine. Don't over-handle the dough as that can make it tough. 

Set the dough aside and let it rise to about double its size. Punch it down until there's no air left in it before rolling it. 

4. Roll the dough

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

Prep a large clean surface for rolling, and sprinkle a light dusting of 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 possible," to a thickness of about one-eighth of an inch, Arsenault advises. 

"This dough is really nice to work with because you can pick it up," he said, placing the rolled dough gently on top of a 9-inch aluminum pie plate and pressing it gently to the bottom. 

Roll out the pie top. 

5. Fill the pie 

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

Fill the pie with about 2 cups meat filling — don't overfill, Arsenault said.

Wet the edge of the pie crust with warm water using a pastry brush or your fingers, and place the top crust on the pie, patting it down slightly.

Using a fork, make five holes in the top crust for steam to escape. Use the fork to press down the edge of the pie to seal it. "Don't press too hard," Arsenault advises — you don't want to press right through the soft dough. 

Trim the excess dough hanging over the edge of the pie plate, using a sharp paring knife or a dough scraper — Arsenault's preferred tool. 

6. Bake your pie

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

Pre-heating the oven is very important, Arsenault said. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. The crust will rise again slightly as it bakes.

Arsenault's kitchen has two ovens, where he can bake 15 pies at once.

Meat pies from La Grub à Félix sell for $12 each. 

The crust is a hybrid pastry-bread dough and rises slightly as it bakes. (Sara Fraser/CBC)