In Quebec, the classic Irish Shepherd’s Pie takes on a new name: Pâté Chinois. But, don’t let the name or simple ingredients fool you. It is still an incredibly easy and tasty comfort-food casserole.
Growing up, I loved when my mom would make Pâté Chinois. It had been a staple in her household growing up, and it became a staple in ours. I loved hearing her pronounce the French Canadian name too. It reminded me of when we would stay at her parent’s house, and I would listen to my grandparents speaking French to each other in the early morning before we all got out of bed.
The meaning of Pâté Chinois was a bit lost in translation for us. No one really knew why the French Canadians called Shepherd’s Pie Chinese Pie. It was simply what it was called.
To me that three-layered casserole was synonymous with Shepherd’s Pie. And, I had never heard of using any other vegetable in Shepherd’s Pie besides corn. Needless to say, when my college roommates introduced me to strange vegetables like corn and peas in Shepherd’s Pie, I was one confused cookie.
But, after doing a bit of digging into my grandparent’s French Canadian heritage and into traditional Quebecois food, I finally found the answer to my questions.
Cooks for the Chinese railway workers in the 19th century came up with this dish as a variation on Shephard’s Pie because it was an economical way to feed all the workers. Apparently, Canadians liked it so much, it stuck around and became the national dish of Quebec.
Traditionally, the Pâté Chinois is made using canned creamed corn, however, my Grandmother was not a fan of creamed corn, so she would use fresh corn instead. That version is what has been passed down in our family. But, if you’d like to try it using creamed corn, I’d suggest making your own creamed corn, rather than using the canned version. (It’s actually quite easy.)
- 2 lbs potatoes, peeled and quartered
- ⅓ c milk
- ½ Tbsp butter
- ¾ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ⅛ tsp black pepper
- ½ Tbsp butter
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 lb lean ground beef (90% if possible)
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 c sweet corn, fresh or thawed from frozen (To make the dish more authentic, use 2 c of creamed corn. You can make your own using THIS RECIPE.)
- Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.
- Put peeled and quartered potatoes into a medium soup pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender. Drain and add the milk, ½ Tbsp butter, ¾ tsp salt, garlic powder, and black pepper. Beat using an electric hand mixer to achieve very smooth and fluffy mashed potatoes. (If using leftover mashed potatoes, beat them to create a smooth texture, adding a splash of milk if necessary.) Set the potatoes aside.
- In a large skillet, heat ½ Tbsp butter. Add the diced onion and sauté over medium-high heat until the onions are golden, 3-5 minutes. Add the ground beef and brown the beef until it is cooked through.
- Pour the onion and beef mixture into the bottom of a greased 8x8 baking dish. Evenly distribute the corn over the meat. Finally, dollop the potatoes over the corn, spreading them even to create a top crust.
- Place the dish in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
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