Pate Chinois, or ‘Chinese pie’ is a classic French-Canadian dish, allegedly invented by the Chinese migrants when they came to build the railway in 1867. At the time, maize, potatoes and beef was all they could get their hands on. The dish was soon adopted by busy mother’s in rural Quebec who liked the dish because it was cheap, simple and filling. This pie is proper comfort food, the kind that you can smother with tomato ketchup and eat at the end of a cold and blustery day.
Leonard was French Canadian. I had already met a few of them to realise that the most French men on the planet do not live in France, but Quebec, in all their proud, sauve, red wine drinking glory. Our paths crossed when he and his Eurovan pulled up on the side of the highway like a knight on a brilliant white stallion. Cass and I had already been hitch-hiking for over two hours; it was hot, there was no shade and I was on the brink of losing faith in humanity. Leonard was on his way to Prince Edward Island for an Acadian music festival. Happily we were going in the same direction. We spent the next few days travelling together in style, enjoying the local lobster and spending our evenings drinking Leonard’s stash of rather nice wine that he seemed to keep in a magical cellar under his van .
Like all Quebecois (or every one I met) he was proud of his home and culture. For the majority of his adult life he lived in Levis, which is the city on the other side of the St Lawrence river and overlooks the infamous Quebec City. As we walk through the neighbourhood, he points out at least four different houses that he lived in over the years, before eventually admitting that he’s lived in “at least a dozen”.
Before moving to the city, Leonard was brought up in the surrounding countryside. His childhood was spent rough and tumbling around the family farm with his eight elder brothers and only sister. It was simple, outdoorsy and to someone like me who has no idea of what its actually like to live on a farm – sounds idyllic.
But life was no painting – when they weren’t at school, they were put to work. Every Saturday morning the whole family would clean the farmhouse from top to bottom, a chore that would have been delegated to the girls, if only there were more of them. Three times a day Leonard would collect eggs from the 1,000 chickens they had and then drive round the villages with his father trying to sell them. The cows needed milking daily and Leonard and his endlessly hungry brothers would drink gallons of warm milk straight from the pail. Growing their own vegetables and fruit was second nature and Leonard remembers his mother being constantly busy tending to the vegetable patch, sewing, cleaning, preserving, canning, baking and the multitude of other jobs that needed to be done around the farm.
Have I already mentioned that Leonard had EIGHT brothers?! such a large brood really wasn’t unusual for French-Canadian families at that time, nevertheless, his mother’s food needed to be hearty and filling. Pate Chinois was a particular favourite in Leonard’s house, probably because it was easy for his mother to prepare and the ingredients – maize, potatoes and beef – were all abundant on the farm. All their meals were eaten together and Leonard remembers the gigantic dish of pate Chinois that would be placed in the middle of the table, only to be devoured in seconds by him and his brothers. Our table was slightly less filled, but the dish was still devoured in minutes. The recipe for which is below.
Recipe for Pate Chinois
4 Corn on the cobs
250 ml milk/cream
5 large potatoes
A few glugs of milk
2 large knobs of butter
450g Beef mince
A few pinches of paprika
2 tspn tarragon
400 ml passata
Make the creamed corn. I used Simply Recipes‘ method. It worked well, but does definitely need a lot of stirring. I also used parsley because there was some in the fridge at the time. I probably would leave out the parsley when cooking this again as you couldn’t really taste it.
Heat the oven to 190 degrees.
Make the mashed potato by boiling the potatoes in cold, salted water. Drain then add the butter, milk and s&p to taste. I like to whip up the mash with a fork as it makes the mash lighter and fluffier
Dice the onions then fry on low heat in pan. Once translucent add the beef mince, paprika and tarragon. Cook the meat until golden brown then add the passata. Let everything cook together for about 10 mins. Taste for seasoning and add more S&P according to taste.
In a large oven proof dish add the beef mix, followed by the layer of creamed corn, topped off with the mashed potato. Bung it in a preheated oven for 30 mins, or until the top has got a nice brown colour. Eat!