As some of you know, I have been participating in The Daring Kitchen’s Challenges for about a year now. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, The Daring Kitchen is an online community of cooks and bakers who commit to making one dish — the month’s challenge — and posting their results on their blogs on the same day.
I took a hiatus from the Daring Cooks (there is a corresponding Daring Bakers group) during and following my dissertation. In the interim, I missed out on some pretty great challenges. I especially regretted missing the Brazilian Feijoada and the Paella challenges. In addition, there were many more that passed me by as I just watched and salivated on the sidelines. This month, after a period of decompression and relaxation, I finally felt ready to jump back in and cook something new.
So imagine my reaction when I pulled up December’s challenge PDF for a mysteriously named dish called Pâté chinois and saw that . . .
Pâté chinois is essentially shepherd’s pie with a layer of canned creamed corn in-between the meat and the mashed potatoes.
And its traditional accompaniment is ketchup.
Yes. That’s it.
As Pâté chinois generally calls for ground beef, it is perhaps more accurate to say that it is a variation of cottage pie not shepherd’s pie. However, the more pressing question is why is it called Pâté chinois considering there is not much in it that can be either construed as pâté (ground meat alone does not a pâté make) or Chinese.
According to Wikipedia, the origins of Pâté chinois are rooted in the assumption that the name refers to Chinese cooks who came to Canada to serve the workers who built the North American railroad system in the late 19th century. These cooks were instructed by their railway bosses to prepare and serve something that was not only inexpensive, but that the railway workers would recognize and therefore eat As wood ear fungus and black chicken soup was probably out of the question, the Chinese cooks put together a version of cottage pie using canned creamed corn in place of the more expensive gravy.
Of course, this is all anecdotal. Alternatively, the name Pâté chinois might also refer to a variation of hachis Parmentier, which is basically cottage pie too. This is a dish that French-speaking families in Maine would refer to as Pâté chinois in reference to the towns where they ate it: China and South China, Maine.
I also read somewhere that Pâté chinois could also be an allusion to the dish’s preparation. When I read about the possible connection to Chinese immigrants, this was actually my first thought. Much like how chop suey is inauthentically Chinese and refers instead to the chopped items in the dish, I imagined that Pâté chinois got its name from the chopped meat and corn kernels that could be commonly found in Chinese stir-fry.
Regardless of when, where, and how Pâte chinois came to be, it is one of those quintessential Québecois comfort foods that everyone is familiar with, yet it is unknown to outsiders as it is hardly ever served outside of the home.
If you understand French (or even if you don’t), this is an truly awesome Youtube clip about Pâté chinois in Québec. It is narrated by a man with the dang coolest Québecois accent ever.
Given that I have made cottage pie numerous times (and even blogged about it here), I thought this challenge would be a easy one.
Wrong! Can you believe it, dear Readers? My first attempt at Pâté chinois was a dismal failure!
First of all, my fancy schmancy neighborhood supermarket does not carry canned creamed corn. Oh the class warfare! Consequently, I was forced to improvise with frozen corn and fresh heavy cream. Although my homemade version of creamed corn looked and tasted superior, it completely separated while cooking. To my horror, my cottage pie had morphed into a cream of potato soup with little bits of hamburger floating in it.
In my defense, it tasted amazing, but anything that is more than 50% heavy cream is almost always guaranteed to taste amazing.
Back to the drawing board! Still no creamed corn in a can. This time, instead of blending the corn with heavy cream, I put some corn kernels with a little bit of milk in the food processor. Once puréed, I folded in more corn kernels for better texture. The result was a mass of corn about the same consistency of my mashed potatoes.
The final result yielded three distinct and yummy layers. Pâté chinois is still a fairly bland dish, which explains the predominant use of ketchup to kick it up a notch. However, since I find ketchup generally too sweet for my tastes, I substituted a healthy squeeze of Sriracha. Can’t go wrong with that 🙂
Many thanks to this month’s host, Andy of Today’s the Day and Today’s the Day I Cook!, for the challenge. I had a so much fun learning about Canadian comfort food. Your challenge was also a great reminder that it doesn’t matter how many times you make something, there is always something more to learn!
Our Daring Cooks’ December 2012 Hostess is Andy of Today’s the Day and Today’s the Day I Cook! Andy is sharing with us a traditional French Canadian classic the Paté Chinois, also known as Shepherd’s pie for many of us, and if one dish says comfort food.. this one is it!
4 Yukon Gold potatoes (5 if they are small), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons of butter
Salt and pepper
1 pound of frozen corn kernels, thawed and divided in half
Milk or heavy cream
One medium onion, finely chopped
1 pound of lean ground beef
1 teaspoon of paprika
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
Sriracha or ketchup
How to prepare:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
2. Put the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover them with water. Generously add salt. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until they are tender. You will know that they are ready to mash when you can crush a potato piece easily against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon. Drain the potatoes. In the same pan, mash them with the butter. Add the milk a 1/4 cup at a time until you get the right consistency. You don’t want the potatoes to be dry, but you don’t want them to be soupy either. Aim for a texture that is loose enough to spoon out, but not so loose that the potatoes add a lot of excess water to your dish. Adjust the seasoning.
3. While the potatoes are cooking, purée half of the corn kernels in a food processor with about a quarter cup of milk. Add more milk if the mixture looks too dry, but not so much that you end up with a corn slurry. The texture of the puréed corn should match that of the mashed potatoes. Turn the puréed corn out into a large bowl and fold in the remaining whole kernels. Adjust the seasoning.
4. Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions until they are translucent and begin to brown. Add the ground beef to the pan, breaking up bigger chunks of ground beef with your wooden spoon as it cooks. Continue to cook the beef until there is no longer any visible pink. Sprinkle it with the paprika, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce to taste. Cook everything until the sauce has thickened, about another two to three minutes.
5. In an oven-proof dish, spread the ground beef out in an even layer on the bottom. Carefully spread the corn mixture on top of the beef. Gently spoon the potatoes on top of the corn. Sprinkle the shredded cheese evenly over the top and bake until bubbly, about 20-30 minutes.
6. Let it rest for about 20 minutes before serving with Sriracha or ketchup.