French Dish (Pate Chinois)

“French Dish” is a dish that connects the three of us deeply as French-Canadians, since we all grew up eating it. It is a simple dish, but that’s what makes it so perfect for camping.

When we first realized our joint connection to the dish, we determined that it would be fun to make it in the backcountry. You may remember stories from that trip, but we’d taken fresh corn with us for it, and the weather was much warmer and muggier than anticipated, spoiling the corn before the first night. The recipe turned into a pretty sad mashed potatoes and gravy instead.

Since then, we’ve made it more successfully in other contexts, and are happiest with it as a car camping recipe. It is so quick to put together that you won’t have a problem maximizing playtime during the day and still having a hearty, special dinner to share.

French Dish


8 servings

Prep Time / Cook Time


Activity Guide

Car Camping


  • 3 russet potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled and cubed
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter
  • 2 cans (30 ounces) creamed corn
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 medium onion (about 1 cup), chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme


  • Campfire
  • Dutch oven
  • Large pot
  • Mixing spoon
  • Stove with simmer control
  • Strainer
  • Potato Masher


  1. Prepare your campfire and/or coals at least 30 minutes before starting to cook.
  2. Put cubed potatoes in large pot and fill with water. Bring to a boil and keep on active simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, set your Dutch oven on the second burner and heat up the oil at medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until they start to soften stirring occasionally. Add beef and season everything with salt, pepper and thyme.
  4. When meat and onion mixture is cooked through, turn off the heat and smooth out to make an even layer. Add creamed corn and create a uniform layer on top without mixing the beef and corn together too much.
  5. Carefully drain water from large pot and add butter and milk to potatoes. Mash until smooth.
  6. Layer mash potatoes on top of creamed corn layer in the dutch oven. If the potatoes have gotten cold or stiff, drop big spoonfuls over the creamed corn layer until it’s mostly covered. The aim is for a nice thick layer of potatoes, again not trying to mix all ingredients together.
  7. Lid the Dutch oven and place next to campfire. You’ll need 24-26 coals to bake your French Dish at 400˚F in a 10 inch Dutch Oven. Reference a Dutch Oven baking chart if you’re using a different size Dutch Oven.
  8. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating Dutch Oven and lid about 10 minutes in, until potatoes are slightly browned on top and entire contents are piping hot.

3 thoughts on “French Dish (Pate Chinois)

  1. A cousin of Shepherd’s Pie?

    So an easy (and not as gourmet) substitute is Potato Buds, Frozen Corn in a bag (or mixed veg), Ground Beef crumble & onion (possibly pre cooked & frozen or dehydrated).

    The 1968 version of this was a can of potatoes, a can of corn, and a can of chili but don’t ask me why we always backpacked with tons of can goods, army surplus steel canteens and mess kits and canvas bottomless tents.

    The foil packet version is onion layer (as the sacrificial veg layer), ground beef mixed with onion and corn and then sliced potatoes on top. After cooking add some Colby or cheddar. (* Foil cooking should always have some sort of sacrificial vegetable layer that doesn’t mind getting a little scorched, like cabbage, onion, peppers, etc.)

  2. OMG, I grew up eating Chinese Pie too! My Montreal-born grandmother made this for us (in New England) and now I make it for my family (southern transplants). So yummy. (though I always found the name hysterical because its not even remotely close to Chinese cuisine. What’s that aboot?)

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