Updated: Mar 21, 2022
A variation of the humble Québec-style shepherd’s pie with freshly harvested vegetables.
A shepherd's pie is an old and common dish to people from many countries of Europe, North America and Oceania... but there are recipe variants, and ways to name it depending on where you come from. In most English-speaking countries, it seems that a shepherd's pie is made with lamb and a cottage pie with beef. The meat is minced or from a roast leftover, cooked in sauce and spices, covered with a layer of vegetables (like peas and carrots) and a crust of mashed potatoes. In French it is named "Hachis Parmentier": "Hachis" as finely chopped, and Parmentier after Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, a French pharmacist and agronomist who promoted the potato as edible food throughout Europe, at the end of the 18th century. However, in Québec, we have our own version (since the 1930's) with corn in the middle of meat and potatoes, and it is commonly (and mysteriously) called a "Pâté Chinois" (meaning Chinese Pie). This is another widely debated thing from French Canadian gastronomic history, as the provenance remains unknown. The dish has nothing to do with Chinese cuisine and there are multiple hypotheses of its naming origin.... The one we hear the most was that the recipe was created with readily available and affordable ingredients provided to the Canadian Pacific Railway workers (mostly of Asian origin). The Québec pie is mostly made with three layers of main ingredients: minced beef, corn kernels and mashed potatoes. "Steak, blé d'Inde, Patates" (meat, maze, potatoes) was a famous line from the humorous TV program "La petite vie", where a character needs to be reminded how to make a proper Pâté Chinois (and of course she always fails).
Québec-style Pâté Chinois • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2019
With seasonal crops of potatoes, sweet corn and beans being harvested around the same time in our garden, I thought of making this garden version of a Pâté Chinois. Snap beans are not usually added in this classic dish, but in my family, it was! My grandmother used to make it half corn on one side, and half with yellow beans (all from tins). This was because my grandfather and uncle did not like corn. I did not mind any of them, the middle was good with a mix of both...! So in this "harvest" version, I use a mix of both... except I chop some fresh green beans and remove fresh corn kernels from the cob (homegrown or locally grown). My mum's pie was (and still is, I'm sure) the best, with some grated cheese on top of the potatoes, which makes the crust even better. Most of the time I use extra lean beef mince, but this is a recipe that can always be adapted and twisted with ingredients you have and of course with canned corn is also fine. Some use tinned sweet corn kernels, some use tinned creamed corn, or a mix of both. Some serve it with ketchup (tomato sauce), some not. There are also vegetarian versions. This is an economical and comforting dish, with many leftovers to save you the trouble of cooking for a few days. It can be stored in the freezer if you prefer saving some for later, especially while your garden is exploding and the cooking-the-harvest marathon is on!
Beans, steak, corn and potatoes • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021-22
500g extra lean mince beef
6-8 potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
½ capsicum and/or tomato, chopped
Fresh herbs (chives, parsley, oregano, basil and/or thyme) chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
¼ cup of milk
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
Shredded cheddar cheese for grating (optional but genial)
Tomato sauce (ketchup) for serving (optional)
PREPARATION: Boil potatoes, drain, and mash with milk and butter.
Pre-heat oven at 180C (350F).
In a non-stick skillet or cast iron low casserole dish, sauté the onions in oil.
Add minced meat, garlic, herbs, seasoning and Worcestershire sauce and stir until cooked.
Turn off heat and pour the meat mixture into a rectangular baker dish, or leave in the cast iron dish.
Spread a layer of corn kernels and beans over the meat.
Then spread a layer of the mashed potatoes on top.
Use a fork as a finishing tool to give the mashed potatoes a crispy texture.
Top with a bit of shredded cheese if you like and a pinch of chopped chives.
Bake in the oven until the potato and cheese topping looks golden (about 40 minutes).
Let cool down for at least 15 minutes before serving.