Rappie Pie: A Matheson Family Tradition
This is my family’s biggest Christmas culinary tradition, and one I look forward to sharing and making with my family for years to come. We have had rappie pie every Christmas Eve. It is an Acadian dish that my Nanny Poirier learned from her grandmother. I think it should be as well known as poutine, but it has never gotten the love. I think it has to do with the fact that it’s not the prettiest dish.
Everything about this dinner makes me happy: making the chicken broth, reconstituting the potato pulp that was often freezer-burnt and grayish, pouring the chicken broth, stirring the gummy potato mash back to life, and picking the meat off the braised chicken. You can buy frozen blocks of grated, drained potato from a few stores in the Maritimes, or you can make your own potato base. My Nanny would eat and make this dish a lot as a child, growing up on the shores of Nova Scotia. You could substitute mussels, rabbit, or clams for the chicken, but Nanny would never use beef. I love that this dish is served at Christmas and comes from hard times. It may seem very plain to most people, but to me, this dish is the cornerstone of my culinary makeup. This dish is family to me, it is celebration, it is tradition. And coming from a guy who has very few traditions, I hold this one close to my soul.
When we first moved to Ontario, I really missed this meal. We didn’t go back to the Maritimes for almost four years when we first moved to Fort Erie. And this dish was one that always kept us connected and wouldn’t let us forget our Maritime blood and history.
Please note: A rappie pie pan is a specialty item, so you will most likely have to use a deep cake pan. Do not use a glass pan; it must be a basic metal pan.
2 (3 to 4 pound/1.4 to 1.8 kg) whole chickens, quartered
2 onions, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped 1 bunch thyme
1 bunch parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Potato base for rappie pie (recipe follows) or 2 frozen potato blocks
2 bunches green onions, sliced
Molasses, for serving
Hot sauce, for serving
In a large pot, place the chickens, onions, carrots, and celery. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and skim the scum that rises to the top. Add the thyme and parsley. Turn the heat down to low and simmer 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Remove the chicken and let rest 15 minutes to cool so you can pick the meat off the bones. Leave the meat in large chunks—we will use all of it, light and dark. Strain all the chicken broth into another pot; season with salt until it’s tasty. Set the broth to a low boil.
Now, in a very large stainlesssteel bowl, place your potato base (recipe follows if you can’t find potato blocks). Add your hot chicken broth, 2 cups (480 ml) at a time, stirring it continuously with a large wooden spoon to form a dough. Keep adding chicken broth until it’s smooth, like thick cake batter.
If you can find the blocks, there are instructions on how much liquid to add. Basically, what liquid is taken from the potato is replaced by broth, so it’s important to get that balance. Add the green onions to the mixture. Once again, add salt until it tastes like a solidified chicken soup.
In a large well greased (Pam works best) rappie pie pan or stainless steel hotel baking pan, pour half the mixture. Layer the chicken on top, then layer with the remainder of the potato mixture. Bake until you get a golden crispy top, about 3 hours. It’s okay if it takes longer because you really can’t overcook this dish. Remove from the oven and allow to rest 20 to 30 minutes so it’s not soupy and has time to set.
Cut into squares and serve with molasses, hot sauce, or plain—the way I love it. Maybe add some salt and pepper. The edges, much like a lasagna, are the most sought after. Make sure you get a corner square!
Photo: Quentin Bacon and Pat O’Rourke
To make your own base for rappie pie:
Peel and grate 20 pounds (9 kg) PEI potatoes very finely and then squeeze out all the liquid. What will be in that liquid? Mostly water but also a lot of starch. You must save all the liquid and starch, not to use but as a measure of what you need to put back in the remaining pulp to reconstitute it properly. It’s pretty cool to see the starch settle out of the liquid. (That’s what they used to use to starch shirts!)
The old school way to do this is to peel the potatoes and put them in a bucket of water so they don’t turn brown. Then finely grate a couple pounds at a time, put those gratings in cheesecloth, and wring out all the liquid you possibly can. This is very hard work.
Many devices have been made to take some of the work out of this, but today we have a machine that anyone can buy to do this: a juicer! Keep the dryish pulp for use, and keep the juice for measuring so you know how much liquid to put back. Cut your potatoes so they fit in the mouth of your juicer. Have a bowl handy to collect all the pulp and another bowl for the liquid. When all the potato is pulped, measure your liquid by volume. That is the amount of chicken broth you will add back to make the rappie pie mix.
Excerpted from Matty Matheson: A Cookbook by Matty Matheson. Copyright 2018 Hary N. Abrams.
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