Shepherd's pie is called pâté chinois (Chinese pie) in Quebec. There are two theories as to why this dish is called Chinese pie. This inexpensive meal was introduced to Quebec railway workers by Chinese cooks in the late 1800s. Another explanation is that the recipe was brought back from China, Maine by Quebec forest workers.
Although having never made shepherd's pie before moving to the province, I had eaten it several times in the Irish pubs scattered across Boston. Shepherd's pie was never served at my family's Southern table. Pâté chinois is one of Quebec's favorite dishes and my husband's most requested.
After moving to the province I noticed him eyeing the frozen shepherd's pies on our grocery shopping trips - so I learned to make them from scratch. When we went back to the South for a visit last year, my husband and I took over preparations from my 80-year old grandmother and made shepherd's pie for everyone at a lunch gathering.
Since learning to make this pie I have developed several variations. The North African one that I am sharing today is one of my favorites. I created this recipe after purchasing a tube of Harissa paste in the international section of our grocer. I love ingredient discoveries. My British friend told me that I was the only person she knew that was interested in checking out the grocery stores when visiting other countries.
This North African condiment contains chili, tomatoes, onion, coriander, garlic and cumin. If you cannot find it locally, it is available on the Internet or search online for a recipe.
1 pound ground lean lamb
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons harissa paste
1 tablespoon spelt flour
Salt and ground pepper
1 head of cauliflower (3 pounds), stem removed
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
Fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped, to serve
Preheat oven to 425°. In a large pot, brown lamb while crumbling it with a flat spatula over medium-high heat. Drain, rinse and set aside. Wipe excess grease from the pot.
Add onion and carrots to the pot. Use a little extra virgin olive oil if needed. Cook for 5 minutes or until softened. Add 1/2 cup water. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and harissa. Stir in the flour and allow the mixture to cook for about 10 minutes or until thickened. Fill a 9-inch glass pie dish with the mixture. Set aside. Rinse pot.
To make the topping. In the large pot, bring enough water to cover cauliflower to a boil. When water boils, add cauliflower and cook 10 minutes or until tender. Drain cauliflower and return to the pot.
Add butter, milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mash until smooth and combined.
Spread over lamb mixture. Use a fork to make designs in the mash. To catch splatters, bake on a rimmed baking sheet for 30 minutes. Garnish with fresh parsley before serving.
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