If it is your turn to host the gang for the Super Bowl party, or any similar gathering, preparing dinner for a large crowd can be a daunting task; you have to come up with a menu that you’re pretty sure everyone will like, something that is delicious and familiar but not old hat or boring. Sometimes it’s exciting to serve something new, something that your guests have never had before. And when it comes to hosting, spending time with your guests is the main idea, you don’t want to spend all your time in the kitchen fussing over cheese soufflé or worrying about whose steak is medium rare and whose is medium well. Maybe next time you have a crowd over for supper, why not put a distinctively Canadian spin on it and serve them Cipaille?
Cipaille is a traditional French Canadian dish hailing from the Gaspesie and is also known in different areas of Quebec as cipâtes or six-pâtes (literally, “six doughs”). The name Cipaille is pronounced “Sea Pie,” derivative of the old English dish, Sea Pie, a layered meat or fish pie served to British sailors in the 1700s.
Essentially it is a large, one-pot dinner made in a Dutch oven that has up to six layers of meats of different animals, separated by layers of pastry. Think of six meat pies, all cooked in one pot, one on top of the other and you get the idea.
Originally cipaille was made with wild game; hare, elk, venison, moose, duck and partridge were all readily available and they would all go into the cipaille along with onions, celery, carrots and potatoes, and aromatic spices like cinnamon, savory, thyme and juniper berries, each layer separated by a layer of pastry. The entire dish is topped with a final layer of pastry, and hole in the middle allows the cook to pour in the stock or water that the cipaille will cook in.
Today it is more common to use more readily accessible meats like pork, beef, veal, chicken and rabbit, but if you are lucky enough to get ahold of some wild meats you will have a cipaille that is truer to its heritage. Furthermore, you don’t have to actually make six layers, 2 or 3 is more typical these days. The great thing about this dish is its variety, you can make up any combination of meats that strikes your fancy, although if you are making it for the first time, maybe start out simple.
One thing is for certain, though, this dish will be a hit at your next gathering. Thanks to a few hours of slow cooking, your house will be filled with the most tantalizing of aromas when your guests arrive, and all the work will be done, so you can hang out with your guests and not be hidden in the kitchen. Cipaille is rustic, hearty and delicious, and will feed the most ravenous of crowds. Served with an obligatory salad and ice-cold beer, it just might be the perfect dinner for the big game.
As you might expect, considering the variables in terms of meats and number of layers, finding a definitive recipe is probably impossible. We like this version as it calls for the traditional game meats like elk, partridge and moose. If these are hard to get in your neck of the woods, check out this more modern recipe which calls for pork and turkey.