Pâté Chinois (French Canadian Shepherd’s Pie)
Pâté Chinois holds a significant place on the weekly dinner tables of French-Canadian families and remains an all-time favourite. Particularly adored by children, this reinterpretation of Shepherd’s Pie stands out with its three distinct layers of minced meat, corn, and a comforting mashed potato topping.
There’s something truly special about comfort food. It can transport us back to simpler times, conjuring up memories of cozy evenings and family gatherings. One such classic comfort food dish that holds a special place in many hearts is Pâté Chinois. This humble yet delicious dish hails from Quebec, Canada, and consists of three layers of seasoned ground beef, corn, and creamy mashed potatoes.
This French Canadian traditional dish is so popular in Quebec it’s even laughed at for being so straightforward. The TV show ‘La Petite Vie’ made a fantastic sketch about how easy it is to make, except for that idiotic character messing up the layers in every possible way. Anyone can nail a Pâté Chinois; kids usually eat it with ketchup, although we would use mustard in my family.
The origins of Pâté Chinois, also known as ‘Chinese Pie,’ remain unclear. According to one theory, it emerged during the construction of the National Railroad in Canada, which involved the labour of Chinese and Irish migrants. It is believed that they utilized corn, readily available in Canadian fields, as an additional ingredient for their renowned Irish Cottage or Shepherd’s Pie. Given the similarities, it is most likely that the dish’s creator had Irish roots. Consequently, there was a misconception about the responsible party for this culinary creation, with the assumption that the majority of the workers were Chinese. As a result, the dish’s name also became mistakenly associated with Chinese origins. In reality, it should have been called Irish Pie.
Homemade Creamed Corn
If creamed corn is readily available at your local grocery store, it can be a convenient option to save time. However, finding creamed corn can be challenging in certain areas like where I live. In such cases, create your own creamy corn layer by combining cream cheese and cream. The process is quite simple: I blend the corn, cream cheese, and cream together, ensuring a coarse texture. This homemade mixture adds a delightful creaminess and a subtle touch of sourness to the corn, resulting in a perfectly balanced middle layer.
Unlike Shepherd’s Pie, using lamb, the traditional Pâté Chinois is made solely with beef, but I like half pork and half beef mixed. This is up to you; let your inner chef shine here! I added a soft onion and a tad of garlic to the meat, this last one, not in the traditional version either.
The paprika sprinkled on top is typical, too, usually added at the end to keep its flavour and colour intact. There is a whole world of paprika out there for this version, and I highly recommend it; I’ve used a smoked Paprika from Spain called Pimenton de la Vera. It brings this smoky touch to the dish! Simply irresistible! In the past, the mashed potato layer on top was not typically gratiné with cheese, as depicted in this recipe. However, this thin layer of parmesan topping has become a standard addition in the past 10-15 years. Aside from enhancing the visual appeal, it adds a hint of umami and a delightful salty crust on the top, making it even more irresistible.
The Three Layers
A distinct feature of Pâté Chinois is often its preparation in a transparent dish like Pyrex, allowing the three layers to be visible. This presentation adds to the appeal of the dish, especially for children. If a child has texture sensitivities, this meal can be particularly appealing since it consists of three distinct and clear layers without many added ingredients. It provides a clear visual understanding of what is being served, often resulting in hassle-free consumption.
This dish can be safely stored in the refrigerator for up to three days when adequately covered with plastic wrap. Alternatively, you can prepare the pie, excluding the parmesan and paprika topping, and freeze it for later use. Just remember to add the cheese before baking and the paprika after. If you choose to freeze the dish, it will require additional cooking time. Estimate an extra 15 to 20 minutes. To freeze it, ensure it is well covered with plastic wrap and aluminum foil to maintain quality.
You can find many variations of this dish nowadays; a popular variation is the spiced-up version. Which is lovely to contrast the sweet corn with spicy spices (Check this recipe for spiced up Pâté Chinois). Or some people put cream cheese in their mashed potato or extra butter on top. For a vegetarian version, they use lentils or tofu. There are many variations, but if you want an authentic and simple one. This is your recipe!
Other Kid-Friendly Recipes
- 1 pyrex 20x30cm-5cm thick 20×40-4cm thick works too or oval casserol.
Meat Layer *Bottom Layer
- 500 g minced beef
- 500 g minced pork
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove finely chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil or butter
- salt and pepper
Corn Cream *Middle Layer
- 600 g corn kernels
- 1 tbsp cream cheese
- 1 tbsp cream
Mashed Potatoes *Top Layer
- 6 potatoes large ones
- 50 g butter
- 400 ml milk
- ⅓ tsp nutmeg optional
- parmesan to taste
- paprika Smoked Spanish (Pimenton de la Vera
- salt and pepper
- Start by peeling and cutting the potato in four to cook faster, and add in a pot of cold water and bring to a boil; let cook until tender, about 15-20 minutes.
- Cut the onion and garlic and cook with olive oil in a skillet at medium-low heat to soften them, about 10 minutes.
- Bring the heat to medium-high heat and add more oil and the minced meats. Cook until brown for about 5-6 minutes, then transfer to the Pyrex or casserole.
- Make a corn cream with one corn can, the cream cheese and cream, and blend it.
- Add the corn cream and the rest of the corn on top of the minced meat layer.
- Once the potato is tender, discard the water, add the butter, milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and mash it until thickly mashed (no purée, please).
- Add the mashed potato layer gently to the corn layer and spread to cover the surface.
- Add a bit of parmesan or cheese of your choice on top.
- Cook in the oven at 200°C (400F°) for 25 minutes or until the top is golden.
- Take out of the oven, add a sprinkle of paprika and salt, and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.