What is Chinese Pie? The history of the “Pâté Chinois”

2 minutes, 58 seconds Read

I was invited to a pie party recently where guests were to create a pie and bring them to the gathering where it would be judged. Seeing as I don’t cook for any one but myself and never baked — I was stressing it.

On top of that, I didn’t want to just make an apple pie or pumpkin pie, I wanted to create something unique (which was also encouraged) if I was going to put the effort into learning how to bake.

What is a Chinese Pie (Pâté Chinois)

In my search for pie ideas, I came across a “Chinese Pie” which was basically a Shepherds Pie – a layered dish comprised of mashed potatoes, green peas, diced onions, and ground beef — but incorporates creamed corn in place of green peas, and sometimes ketchup mixed in.

Of course, the recipe made me curious about the origins of why it was referred to as Chinese Pie. Where did the name originate? What made it Chinese?

It appears that there the origin of Chinese Pie is somewhat up in the air, but the prevailing explanation is that shepherds pie was introduced to French-Canadian railway labourers, whom were Chinese, in the late 19th century.

From Wikipedia:

These cooks made it under instruction from the railway bosses (of English extraction) as an easily prepared, inexpensive version of the popular cottage pie, with the sauce in the tinned creamed corn serving as a substitute for the gravy. The French Canadian railway workers became fond of it and brought the recipe back with them to their home communities. 

The railroad-theory for pâté chinois makes sense from a financial standpoint because potatoes, corn, and beef were relatively inexpensive for the blue-collar immigrants. So the ingredients were easy to obtain to recreate the recipe in their homes.

This version of the pie would be associated with the Chinese workers and thus, Chinese pie was born.

Making a Chinese Pie

The fact that it wasn’t a typical sweet pie, and more a savory one, was a recipe I am more comfortable with. With my being Chinese, the Chinese pie  appealed to me.

Thankfully, the recipe wasn’t a very complicated. I ended up following the most basic, standard recipe to keep the likelihood of my fucking up to a minimum.

Four ingredients, five steps, 40 minutes, and very little technique involved. The Chinese pie couldn’t have been a more perfect for my skillset and attention to detail.

  • 1/2 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 can cream-style corn
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes
  • diced onions
  1. Brown ground beef
  2. Place in casserole dish
  3. Pour creamed corn on top
  4. Top with mashed potatoes
  5. Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes

It obviously takes a lot more time if you make mash potatoes from scratch, which I did. And as I am want to do, I ended up adding a couple ingredients to the dish to spice it up (and make it a little more Asian).

  • Used turkey instead of ground beef
  • Added white pepper to the mashed potatoes
  • Added pickled green beans (cut up into small pieces) into the ground turkey

The pickled green beans proved to be a great addition as it added a much-needed kick to the dish. I was very very close to adding Sriracha sauce and cilantro to take the Asian-ness up a couple more levels, but decided not to push it.

I’m proud to report that my Chinese pie was voted as the second best pie (out of 10-12 pies) — a far cry from guests spitting it onto their napkins.

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