Friday November 29, 2013 | 08:26 AM

             There’s a culinary mystery around the source of the name of a popular layered French-Canadian and Franco-American casserole call “pâté chinois”. 

Some people believe the name was invented in Maine. It's one theory put forth by culinary writer Jean-Pierre Lemasson in his gastronomic investigation titled, “Le mystere insondable du pâté chinois”. Lemasson says the name might have been invented in China, Maine

Franco-Americans know pâté chinois as a traditional “shepherd’s pie”. There’s no one reason why the French Canadians and Franco-Americans re-named shepherd’s pie.  

Le Mystere Pate Chinois

This cultural culinary variation often makes for some colorful conversation.

Regardless of where the name was invented, we’ve found it to be a delicious way to serve day old turkey.

Pâté chinois is a family favorite because we adapt it to the seasons. For example, we prepare la dinde pâté chinois (turkey Chinese pie) on the day after Thanksgiving, served along with our post Thanksgiving soup (made by boiling the turkey carcass, of course). Thanksgiving table leftovers are layered into a casserole, moistened with the bird’s drippings, topped with corn, and potatoes that are mashed with butter, salt and pepper. The casserole is cooked in the oven until bubbling hot. It’s dinde pâté chinois.

A traditional shepherd’s pie is a casserole made by layering beef, corn and potatoes. Pâté chinois is the same recipe adjusted for family tastes. Some cooks add diced cooked onion along with the meat and others put cheese on the mashed potato topping.  Nevertheless, if it’s a casserole layered with meat, corn and potatoes, then it’s a legitimate pâté chinois...  

Lemasson wrote a French language book titled “Le mystere insondable du pâté chinois”. It’s a tribute to the casserole, which also includes recipes from several chefs.

Maine is actually given the credit for possibly being the source of the pâté chinois name. Lemasson attributes the name’s origin to French Canadians who once migrated between living, and working in China (Maine) and Quebec. They enjoyed eating shepherd’s pie enough to bring the recipes back to Quebec, where they renamed it pâté chinois, because they first learned to eat the casserole in China, Maine. It’s nearly impossible to prove this theory, but it makes sense.

Lemasson says pâté chinois “est le plat national du Quebec” (is the national dish of Quebec). It’s a popular family recipe in Maine and Quebec because it’s simple to prepare and the ingredients create a complete hearty meal.

Our family varies the meat we add to pâté chinois. We’ll change the meat between sautéed chopped or ground steak or use cooked seasoned sausage. Cooked venison is another creative alternative for the meat layer, especially when it’s mixed with ground pork or beef. Pâté pate can even be a vegetarian recipe by replacing the meat with lentils or roasted pine nuts spiced with garlic and olive oil.

At Thanksgiving, we prepare la dinde pâté chinois, with leftover turkey.

Our family recipe:

Franco American Pate Chinois avec la dinde

La dinde pâté chinois:

Although any 2-3 quart casserole dish works, I prefer to us a 10 inch round cast iron skillet. Preheat the oven to 375 F degrees.

3-4 cups of chopped dark and white trimmed cooked turkey meat

1 box of prepared turkey stuffing mix or about 2 cups leftover dressing

¾ cup leftover turkey gravy

1 (16 oz) can whole kernel or creamed corn. (Corn lovers might also mix these together)

3-4 medium potatoes cooked and mashed with butter, salt and pepper

Melt 1 TBLSP butter in the cast iron skillet. Spread the prepared stuffing in the bottom of the skillet. Top the stuffing with the chopped turkey. Layer the stuffing and turkey with corn, spread around to cover the turkey.  Pour the turkey gravy over these layers. Carefully spread the mashed potatoes over the layered ingredients creating a potato crust. Bake in the 375 degree F oven for about 45 minutes until piping hot.

Serve in mini casserole dishes.  Bon appetit.

More information about c pâté chinois is at this website:

About this Blog

Juliana L’Heureux is a freelance writer whose articles about Maine’s Franco-American history and culture have appeared in Portland newspapers for 25 years. She serves on the Maine Franco-American Leadership Council.

Juliana and her husband Richard live in Topsham ME. Feel free to contact her at

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