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Festive meatloaf

Every family has its classics! I don’t know about yours, but in my home growing up there was Dad’s pizza (every Saturday night) and Mom’s meatloaf. It must have been nice for my parents to prepare these meals, knowing they’d get eaten up in no time.

My mother’s meatloaf recipe could be found in a big yellow cookbook, its pages worn and torn by time and the love it had been given. You might even know it: Jehane Benoit’s Encyclopédie de la cuisine Canadienne (Encyclopedia of Canadian cuisine). There was everything in this book; it was the Bible of family cooking. And on page 98 (of the 1963 edition), there was the recipe for my mother’s oh so succulent meatloaf. Tender and juicy meat with a sweet and spicy tomato glaze: it was excellent!

I find it fascinating that we enjoy these complex and elaborate recipes when we go to the restaurant, and yet find so much comfort and enjoyment in such a simple dish at home. Because let’s admit it, the meatloaf has a very humble background. Many countries have their own version, often made with leftover meat, offal, spices and bread. A bit like Scottish haggis. For us, the recipe arrived with the French, then evolved with the English, to finally become a typical Québécois dish around the 1920s-1930s. During the war and the economic crisis, meat was scarce, but everybody still needed to eat. So to offer a nourishing meal, mothers had the idea to add eggs, milk and bread or cereal to their mixture of meat and spices. The family meatloaf was born.1

It may be simple, but good preparation is still key, otherwise it can quickly become dry and unpleasant.

Jehane Benoit used beef in her meatloaf. My mother never did. Oh wait, she did just once, only to try it and realize she never would again. Unless you pick a fatty ground beef, the result will be too dry. Ground veal gives excellent results, as does ground pork. If you want to use white meat, go for ground chicken instead of turkey for the same reason as mentioned above: when cooked, turkey renders a much drier result. To spice up the taste of your meatloaf, add a portion of sausage meat to your ground meat… you’ll see, it’s delicious!


The choice of meat definitely has a major impact on taste and texture, but the added ingredients to make the mixture homogenous are what make the recipe incomparable. Bread crumbs, oats, corn cereal or fresh bread, whatever suits your fancy! The secret is to let those ingredients sit and soak up the milk before adding them to the meat mixture. One day, wanting to go quickly, I poured the milk over the breadcrumbs and waited for the bread to be just a little moist before mixing it with the meat and putting it in the oven. The result revealed that the art of cooking takes time. My meatloaf had a grainy texture instead of being moist and juicy. It tasted good, but not as good as usual. So it’s important to let bread or breadcrumbs soak up the milk or cream before adding them to the rest of the ingredients.

Spices also add character to your recipe. Nowadays, in addition to onions and garlic, we have access to an impressive variety of spices, which gives us plenty of choice when concocting a dish. With red meats, think marjoram, oregano, and thyme. For pork, try curry, coriander, and sage. If you prefer veal or chicken, go for oregano, paprika, chives or tarragon. You’ll see, the result will be superb!

And about that famous sauce that is poured on top of the meatloaf before cooking, it has a function much more important than simply adding colour and taste: it will protect your meat from getting too dry over the long time spent in the oven. That’s also the reason why a little dry mustard is often added because mustard has the property of helping prevent the evaporation of liquids. It creates a protective barrier. The traditional sauce is made with tomatoes or a mixture of ketchup, sugar and spices, but just browse the Internet a little and you’ll discover the variety of sauces that could give a festive feel to this dish that is, all in all, rather ordinary. How about topping it with a wild mushroom or three pepper sauce? Or what about preparing it au gratin, with cheese melted on top? Other funky options include a Mexican style meatloaf with a mixture of chili spices and a salsa style sauce, or a cheesy meatloaf, with your favourite cheese baked at its centre. Have you ever considered mixing in fruit? I’m thinking pork and apples with a maple sauce… yummy! Are you hungry yet?

Meatloaf is cooked slowly in a traditional oven or slow cooker, which gives it its delicious texture and allows the spices to develop their full aroma. In the oven, on medium heat, it’s ready in about 60 minutes if it’s placed in a traditional bread pan. In the slow cooker, it takes 5-6 hours on low heat.

If, like me, you like to experiment and want a mix of flavours for a special occasion like, say, Christmas, why not make a Christmas log-shaped meatloaf? I tried it! And it was delightful! I chose turkey (for a traditional Christmas feel), pork, ground beef and Italian sausage meat. I placed the sausage in the form of a roll that I put in the centre of the turkey section. I then put the whole thing on a bed of beef to create a beautiful contrast of colour and I finished my roll with a layer of pork. This created a beautiful Christmas meatloaf that I topped with a maple sauce. It’s definitely easier said than done, but the result is worth the effort, believe me! It was beautiful when sliced ​​in the presentation platter, delicious, and smooth on the palate. The sausage spice mixed with the subtler turkey taste and the sweet glaze… fantastic.

The beauty of meatloaf is also in the next day. With the leftovers, you can make a sandwich, a burger or eat it with a salad! If you do have leftovers, I bet they won’t stay in your fridge for long! Happy cooking!

1 Michel Lambert in his book, Histoire de la cuisine québécoise (History of Quebec Cuisine).

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For the love of pâté chinois!

What’s dinnertime like at your house? In my home, it can be a real puzzle sometimes. I have a boy who leans toward vegetarianism, another one who’s basically a carnivore and a man who teeters between paleo and keto. Obviously, there’s always someone who doesn’t love the meal. Unless I make pâté chinois, that is. Who knows why! This “traditional Quebec dish,” according to Le Devoir, isn’t vegetarian, paleo or keto and yet it pleases every time. Over the years, I’ve improved upon the traditional “beef, corn, potato” recipe to give it a bit of flair.

Pâté chinois was never my favourite meal. I found the one that my mom made dry and flavourless. I added tons of ketchup to make it palatable (sorry Mom—you make the best apple pie in the history of apple pies but when it comes to pâté chinois… not so much). So you can imagine that pâté chinois was never on the menu at the beginning of my relationship. It was pushed back to a gloomy corner of my memory. When I became a mother myself and I had to find healthy dishes to satisfy different appetites over several meals, it suddenly reappeared out of thin air.

I still remember the first time that I made pâté chinois. It was well before the vegetarian concerns of my oldest and the culinary experiments of my partner. The kids ate it quietly and even asked for more. And yet, it was the exact same recipe as the one my mother used. I couldn’t believe it. What is it that makes such a simple dish so popular?

Is it the ingredients? The ease of preparation? The low cost? Maybe it’s a bit of all three. So over time I tried changing it to make it tastier, but without going too far. (I love when my kids eat without complaining!)

I started the transformation by topping it with a mix of cheddar and mozzarella to test out my idea. Yes! Step one complete! Next I tested out the same idea but this time with Reblochon (I’ve always liked the way this cheese tastes with potatoes). Now what to do with this bland meat? How about preparing it with a good brown gravy? Now, I’m not going to list off all of my experiments. Whether they included mushrooms, store-bought sauce, homemade sauce, BBQ sauce or a spicier sauce, I basically let my imagination run wild for some mostly successful results. I even dared to serve vegetarian versions with lentils and smoked tofu bits. Once they got past the shock, they loved it! My favourite is the one with sausage meat instead of ground beef: same texture, exceptional taste. The great thing about sausages is the variety of choice, meaning they can satisfy all tastes.

 Pour l’amour du pâté chinois! 

I remember once trying an hors d’oeuvre version with a slice of sausage, a mini corn patty and some mashed potatoes. At Christmas I also tried an unusual version, to say the least, that I was quite proud of. After baking the potatoes, I cut them in two and emptied them. I mixed the mashed insides with cream cheese. Then, I lined the skins with ground meat, corn and potato, and topped them with melted cheese. It was tasty and fun at the same time. My guests liked the idea but my kids told me they preferred the traditional version.

Speaking of tradition, did you know that no one really knows the origin of pâté chinois? Jean-Pierre Lemasson wrote a whole book about it in 2009 called Le mystère insondable du pâté chinois (“The Unfathomable Mystery of Pâté Chinois”). It has some close relatives, such as hachis parmentier from France, shepherd’s pie from Scotland and cottage pie from Britain, but its origins are hazy and there are several theories out there.

The most often cited theory is that the primarily Asian workers were fed mostly beef, potatoes and corn during the construction of the pan-Canadian railway in the 19th century.

Another theory states that the dish comes from China pie, a local specialty of the village of South China in Maine, where many French Canadians went in the 19th century when there wasn’t enough work on this side of the border.

Some even refer to pemmican as an ancestor of pâté chinois: a dish of meat, fat and dried berries. Others like to think that it comes from the spare rib (“échine” in French), corn and turnip pie eaten when Canada was first colonized. From pâté d’échine to pâté chinois—just one step apart!

What really throws me off is the word “chinois” (“Chinese”). Because of the corn I would’ve thought it would be called something like Indigenous pie. Why “Chinese”? Because of the colour? Because of the city of Lachine (“China”), named after a misguided expedition by Cavalier La Salle and possibly the origin of the infamous pie?

Maybe the answer is even simpler than all that but we don’t know. Not yet, that is!

Anyway, keep that in mind the next time you add corn when making hachis parmentier. I’m curious to learn about your family recipes. What small detail does your family love? My father-in-law always eats it with a marinade, fruit ketchup or zucchini ketchup. Share your ideas and suggestions with us and… bon appétit!