Bienvenue a Québec

Something exciting happened the other day; Frédérique, a friend of ours from Québec (now living in Christchurch and working for the New Zealand Immigration Service!) invited us over for home-cooked traditional Québecois food! Having someone else cook for us is a first for Operation Dumpling, but hopefully (*hint, hint*) it won't be the last.

Québec is a province of Canada, but don't let that fool you, they aren't Canadian... well not according to Fred anyway! They have a fierce pride for their unique province, and, from what Fred tells us, they identify as Québecois or 'Quebeckers' rather than as Canadian per se.

National politics aside, let's discuss something vastly more important - food!

Frédérique (we just call her Fred) was already partway through cooking when we arrived. Sharon and I hovered in the kitchen and drank wine whilst Fred did the actual work and told us stories about Québec, its food and some of its customs.

Fred was cooking us pâté chinois for dinner. It is often more affectionately know as 'Chinese pie' and is similar to English 'Shepherd's Pie'.

Pâté chinois, despite being dubbed 'Chinese pie' is not a Chinese recipe at all. Legend suggests that during the building of the North American railroads in the late 19th century, the Chinese cooks would commonly make the dish as a cheap alternative to Shepards Pie. Today, pâté chinois is a common dish eaten by many people in Quebec, that is popular because it is cheap to make and simple to prepare.

It is a fairly simple recipe that has layered ground beef with sauteed diced onions at the bottom, creamed corn in the middle with mashed potato on top, finished off with a sprinkling of paprika. It is served and eaten with a healthy dollop of ketchup.

Fred's commentary on the dish's history:

"Apparently it's a cross between the French 'hachis parmentier' and the Irish 'shepherd's pie', it appeared in cookbooks in the 1920s - in a variety of shapes and combinations involving meat and rice or potatoes, layered and baked. Again, a cheap meal and a good way to eat leftover meat.

Food historians can't explain the appearance of corn other than one day, someone must've had a serving of corn on their plate where there was already some pâté chinois and thought 'Wow, this is really tasty!'... But they do know the corn would've been added after WWII, when someone started selling the first canned corn in Québec...the addition of creamed corn in the middle suddenly made this a uniquely Québec dish, not French or Irish anymore - especially since corn wasn't typically grown in Europe at that time. Corn therefore represents our 'americanity', our distinct Québec culture.

Pretty cool, though maybe not as exotic as the railroad workers' story!"

View the video of us making Chinese pie!

Cheap, easy and oh-so-tasty!

For dessert we had something really quite amazing – pouding chômeur or 'poor mans pudding'. It is another classic Quebec recipe, which apparently originates from the depression era and is made from ingredients that were cheap and available (at that time) - cream, butter, sugar, flour and an UNBELIEVABLE amount of maple syrup.

It was an exciting dessert to watch being made. Sharon, a transplanted Canadian, was just about beside herself about the amount of maple syrup that was being used (in fact she was almost as excited as the time she discovered the New World supermarket in Dunedin stocked imported A&W root beer). I was wondering if I was going to get any sleep this week after the anticipated sugar rush I was going to receive upon consumption of this dessert - but I was willing to find out!

View the video of us making poor man's pudding!

Big jug o' mapley goodness!

Licking the beaters

The pudding is a fairly simple recipe, similar to a chocolate self-saucing dessert (except it uses a bucketload of maple syrup). While she was making the pudding, Fred told us about the Quebec tradition of going to 'sugar shacks' (cabanes à sucre) in early spring when maple sap is harvested from the trees and festivals are held where there is an orgy of food served with maple syrup. One of the most traditinoal is the dish known variously as Tire sur la neige where hot maple syrup is poured on snow and then eaten after it cools.

butter, sugar, flour, cream and maple syrup = goodness in a bowl!

Oh crikey that looks goooooood!

So gooey, so saucy, so delicious

The dessert did not disappoint. It was hot, gooey, and incredibly sweet and syrupy. I highly recommended it. But not if you're on a diet because LORD ONLY KNOWS how many calories it must contain.

I am happy to report that, even though we were loaded up on sugar, we still managed to sleep fairly well that night. Fred however, later told me she was bouncing off the walls on a sugar high until 2am. She did say it was well worth it though!

Interestingly, right after our Quebec evening at Fred's, she sent me a message saying that both pâté chinois and pouding chômeur had just been voted as Quebec's most traditional food dishes! She also was kind enough to forward her recipes for each, which we've copied below.

Bon appétit and à bientôt!

Brence & Sharon

Pâté chinois

A very approximate recipe (because, well, who needs a recipe for pâté chinois? who DOESN'T know how to make pâté chinois?)

- 400gr-ish ground meat (mix beef, pork, veal if you can get your hands on it)
- a small onion, finely chopped
- a pinch of ground cumin
- 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped/crushed
- salt & pepper
- 1 tbsp oil

1) Heat oil in a heavy-based skillet, cook onion until softened, add cumin and garlic, stir for a minute, add meat, salt & pepper to taste, and cook until brown, stirring.

- 500gr-ish potatoes (4 or 5 medium-sized ones)
- 1/2 cup milk
- a couple green onions, chopped
- chicken stock or milk, and butter
- salt & pepper

2) Peel and cut the potatoes, boil until soft. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the milk with the green onions in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, take off heat and let stand. When the potatoes are cooked, mash, add the hot milk. Add more milk (or chicken stock for a healthier version) until you like the texture - it should be fairly stiff. If you want, add a couple tbsp butter, salt and pepper to taste.

- a large can of creamed corn (in NZ, AVOID Pam's and Wattie's at all cost), or a small can of regular corn, drained, mixed with one of creamed corn.

3) Heat oven to 180ºC. In a loaf pan, layer the cooked meat, cover with the creamed corn, then with the mashed potatoes. Make artful marks on the potato top, put a few shavings of butter and sprinkle with paprika. Cook in oven for 30ish minutes, or until it bubbles on the sides.


Pouding chômeur

- 540ml (18oz) maple syrup (= 1 can)
- 540ml (18oz) heavy cream
- 125ml (1/2 cup) butter, at room temperature (or microwaved for 20sec a couple times)
- 250ml (1 cup) sugar
- 2 eggs
- 500ml (2 cups) flour
- 10ml (2 tsp) baking powder
- a pinch of salt
- 125ml (1/2 cup) milk

1) Pre-heat oven to 200ºC (400ºF)

2) In a large heavy-bottom saucepan, bring the maple syrup and the cream to a boil - being careful it doesn't boil over and spill the sweet goodness. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, then take off the heat.

3) With a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs and beat for 2min. Sift and mix the flour, baking powder and salt together. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk.

4) Pour the cake mix in a large casserole dish (32 x 23cm). Cover with the maple/cream sauce, and bake for 30-35 minutes.

* The pouding-chômeur can be made in small individual ramequins. You can even put a few raspberries in the molds before pouring the cake mix in!

** this should not be consumed any later than 5pm if one expects to get any sleep later on.
0 comments Posted by B on Wednesday, June 25, 2008