Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pâté Chinois

Growing up in Maine, we had some unusual names for certain dishes. I had no idea where they came from. The one that most humors my husband is our "Chinese Pie" for the more traditionally known "Shepherd's Pie."

Before I shared my recipe here on my blog, I felt it was my duty to find out the origin of this crazy name. Turns out, it's not so crazy afterall.

I hail from the town of Lewiston, Maine - a largely French Canadian community. According to Wikipedia, there is a French Canadian dish called "Pâté Chinois" which is ground beef, corn in the middle, with a mashed potato topping. Now, guess what "Pâté Chinois" means in English? You guessed it - Chinese pie.

So, where did the French Canadians come up with the name for this dish? One theory is that the French Canadian rail workers were introduced to the dish by Chinese cooks way back when the rails were being built across North America. The Chinese cooks were told how to make the dish by their bosses - the English, who were trying to replicate a favorite dish of theirs called "Cottage Pie (or Shepherd's Pie)." Then thousands of Canadians moved to the area known as Lewiston, Maine to work in the paper mills bringing with them the name that I would later use to describe this delicious dish. (Wikipedia)

I find it fascinating to learn something about my heritage at the age of thirty-five. Funny that I had no interest to look it up until the writing of this entry motivated me to do so. I hope you found it interesting, too.

This recipe is how I make my Chinese Pie. It's slightly different from the one my stepmother, Memere, and mom made growing up. I've added my own touches over the years.

~ Chinese Pie ~

1 lb ground beef
1/2 of an onion, finely chopped
1 garlic glove, minced
2 tablespoons Worcesterchire Sauce
1 - 2 tablespoons of wine
(Use what you like - since I don't drink wine due to migraines, I just purchase cooking Marsala from the grocery store. I know - the real chefs out there are cringing. I'm okay with that.)
2 cups of corn
(fresh or frozen or 1 can of corn - you also use a can of cream style if you'd like - traditional Chinese Pie uses both)
6 potatoes
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
milk, butter, salt and pepper

First, dice the potatoes and get them boiling on the stove (I'll leave the decision to peel or not up to you. I don't.) Saute the onion and garlic with some oil in a skillet. Once the onion is translucent, take them out of the skillet and add your ground beef. Cook until no longer pink. Add the onions and garlic back to the pan along with the Worcestershire Sauce, wine, salt and pepper. Let it simmer for a few minutes. You can thicken the sauce to make more of a gravy, but I find the juice gets soaked up in the "pie" anyway so I don't bother.

Layer the meat mixture in the bottom of a baking dish. Sometimes I use a round casserole dish and other times I use a 9X13 glass pan. Spread the corn on top of the ground beef. Sprinkle about a cup of the cheddar cheese on top. Then it's time to mash your potatoes, add some butter, milk, salt and pepper and whip with a hand mixer. Then, I add the remaining cheese to my potatoes and blend. Spread the potatoes on top of the corn and cheese. Bake in the oven at 350 for about 30 - 40 minutes.

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