Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Chinese Pie (isn't this Cottage pie?)

I belong to more than a few foodie type groups on Facebook.

The groups I prefer are the type where all the members list the things everyone is making for dinner. No chit chat, no drama, just lists, the odd recipe and some pictures of the tastiest morsels. I participate (contribute) regularly in 3 of them and hope I pull my weight. I tend to post pictures of the final product and since I'm bad at writing actual recipes when I cook, I tend to throw a link to this blog instead of dutifully typing out exactly what I did. I rarely know what I did. I just do it.

Yesterday, a man said he was making Chinese Pie. ?? What the heck is Chinese pie. I looked it up and they said it originated in Quebec. HEY, I grew up in Canada and I've never heard of Chinese pie. I kept Googling and after reviewing the first 45,873 hits of the exact same thing, I decided that tonight, for dinner, it was Chinese pie night. I think it's Shrove Tuesday and we should be eating pancakes but we can do that tomorrow... today is Chinese pie.

Apparently, Chinese pie is ground beef, layered with corn and mashed potatoes, then baked. Well, isn't that Cottage Pie? Cottage pie without the vegetables? I'm so confused. Some recipes had creamed corn which makes me wretch at the thought so I stayed with the versions that use straight up corn.

I decided that on this bad day I'm having, Chinese pie seemed the perfect meal. I had beef, corn and potatoes so that's a solid bonus. I can't see how this isn't going to be bland and awful. Seriously, I'm a snob for veggies and herbs and seasonings and stock. I can't understand how this won't be a dry, powdery blob on my plate.

Although, that being said, there's really nothing bad if it's under mashed potatoes so here we go. I've never made this before so we're going through the first time together.

CHINESE PIE (Tracy's version?  is it my version simply because *I* made it?  I say yes)
(I was accused recently of not giving credit for a recipe I wrote and posted. Well, I didn't because I'd MADE UP that recipe that day and thought it silly to give credit to me, in this case; I did not make this recipe up so I duly and humbly give credit to the entire population of Quebec, the entire Chinese railroad worker population and all their descendants and relatives as well as the whole of the Internet)

Quickie instructions:

1 lb ground beef
1/2 onion (NOT in the original recipes I saw but I HAD to put it in because I'm genetically incapable of cooking meat without an onion, maybe the addition of the onion makes it my version?)
15 oz can corn
mashed potatoes (I'm going to mash 4 giant ones which I'll pressure cook)

Brown beef in cast iron skillet
Add onion and fry around a bit
Pour drained corn over it, smooth it out but don't mix
Layer with mashed potatoes (I'll make a thick layer!)
Bake until brown and delicious looking.
Eat it

Long winded, with photos and commentary, version of instructions:

Brown the beef in a cast iron skillet, i put a little bacon fat in there to help get it started and brown it up, after all I'm going to drain this so it'll just leave flavor. Ohh, look how lovely and brown. Add the onion and shush that around a bit then smooth it out.

Melt a little bacon fat in there, you know, to help get it started and brown the meat.  For those who know me in real life, you KNOW I took this bacon fat picture then immediately added more ;)  Just a bit.  I browned the meat until there were dark crispy bits.  There wasn't any fat to drain off so I didn't bother.
Add the onions and shush 'em around a bit. Pour the drained corn on it and flatten it out a bit
Now, take some potatoes and peel then, cut them up and throw them in the pressure cooker, on a trivet, over about 1 cup of water.  ONLY because I got asked how I cut.  In half lengthwise, cut off the roundy bits about 1 inch, both sides then cut the square middle bit into strips.
Cut and into the pressure cooker
Lock and load for 7 minutes.  Quick release and I just lift out the steamer basket and let them dry a minute while I toss the water out.
I'm going old school masher today. Put the cooked potatoes back in the insert, it's hot so they stay warm and mash your heart out.  I'm not even going to pretend to give you a mashed potato recipe.  It's a personal thing, everyone's is the best.  Make your best version.  I just added copious amounts of butter and milk, salt and pepper and a few grates of nutmeg to be chefy.  I made them a little looser than usual because I wanted them to spread nicely.
MASH MASH MASH then plunk it on top of the meat and corn, spread it out a bit
Yeah, I drew a fork through so it'd have peaks to go brown and valleys to hold the little puddles of butter I'm about to dot on top.  Yeah I did it.  I also sprinkled paprika on it because that's what all of the online recipes said to do, I'm nothing if not obedient. Into the oven, 400 for 30 and we'll see how it comes out.

WELL WELL, that came out BEAUTIFULLY!  The potatoes puffed up a bit and have a bit of a crust but they're soft and yielding beneath...I see successful crispy peaks and little butter kissed valleys... yeah, that works.
As per instruction, I let it sit about 10 minutes and scooped out portions.  It's not much to to look at and for reasons completely unknown, it's absolutely, totally, wonderfully delicious.  I thought it would be bland, dense and awful and I was WRONG!
Absolutely delicious.  The meat is meaty, the corn tastes like corn and the potatoes are rich and crisp and soft all at the same time.  There's no sauce but it doesn't NEED any.  Connor had some ketchup on the side because I told him I'd seen that on some of the posts.  He's not a ketchup kid but LOVED it with a little Heinz red.

I'll make it again.  Often.  As I said, Connor absolutely LOVED it and had THREE helpings!  I managed to convince him he needed to leave some for his father (after I helped myself to just a little bit more).  I'm sure he'll like it, even if he won't gush.  I think this would be great in individual servings, even jars, in the freezer, pop 'em out and heat them up.

I have to say, clean up was a breeze too, fry up and layer in the same pan and I did the potatoes in the Pressure Cooker so there was only a masher, a knife and the insert.  EASY.  We LOVE easy.

I'll take a moment to say I am pleased I didn't futz with this first time out,  I briefly thought of adding other veggies, carrots and then maybe some liquid to make a sauce or a gravy and then I realized I was trying to turn it into cottage pie, or shepherd's pie.  This isn't either of those.  It's old school, simple, good, food.

I'm a great champion of old fashioned, simple, food.  Food that takes a little time and sometimes is as easy as three ingredients baked in the oven.

I'm pleased I did this straight.  Next time, though, I'll do it exactly the same way. So, the verdict: 100% success.  Go make this...SOON!



  1. I grew up eating Chinese Pie in New Hampshire and hated it! My mom made it with Campbell's vegetable soup, no water added and then the mashed potatoes. When I was in 6th grade, they built a cafeteria at my school and I saw Chinese pie on the menu for Wednesday, I was horrified and thought I would go hungry for the day. To my astonishment, it only had corn!! I loved it and told my mom to make it that way from now on. She did. I am 59 years old and still make it but I use 1 large can of cream corn and a small can of the kernels. Comfort food at it's best. And yes, you must sprinkle paprika on it.

  2. yeah, i seriously love this stuff...