March is certainly coming “in like a lion” for many of us in the Northeast. My laptop is registering 26 degrees today, and we’ve been falling into the teens for most of the first week of the month. Comfort food is still on my mind, and helps take off the chill, to be certain. March is green not only for Spring a few weeks away, but St. Patrick’s Day just before; and reminds me of many delicious Irish dishes like Guinness Stew, Colcannon, Irish Soda Bread and of course Shepherd’s Pie. WhileShepherd’s Pie is a cozy comforting dish that can be enjoyed anytime of the year, it strikes me as being somewhat “seasonal” with St. Patrick’s day around the corner. It’s a dish that can be tweaked to your own desire and taste as well. Earlier this week my fellow blogger Rinku Bhattacharya gave hers an Anglo-Indian spin.
In my research of this universally loved comfort food I learned it’s a dish that has been made for over two hundred years. First called Cottage Pie in the late 1700s, it evolved into Shepherd’s Pie by the end of the next century. The base meat ingredient can be beef or lamb, or a combination of both. All depending on who you ask, and what you prefer; but generally it’s beef.
When I queried my Irish friends to give me some inspiration on the dish, all sighed and remarked of fond memories of mothers and grandmothers making it. One friend swears by a gravy powder called Bisto which can be found in the internet and at Irish grocery stores in Yonkers. The others said a good beef stock and wine was the way to go. In the final analysis I chose the latter, but did get the Bisto to give it a try for another time.
The following recipe is an adaptation from one that comes directly from a dear old Irish friend Alan Bowen, of County Cork, Ireland. We’ve been friends for many years. In my lively exchanges with him over email recently I asked if peas and mushrooms were something authentic from say 100 years ago? To which he replied: “There is authenticity, and there is a good plate of food … your choice!” With that I abandoned the notion of trying to capture a dish that was made 200 years ago and pressed on.
The key to any good cooking is prep. This is a recipe that will take about an hour of active time; you want have everything ready before you start, so you can multi-task a little.
While you are cooking the potatoes and steeping the milk for them, you can work on the filling. I found that a large skillet is the best way to go. You might be inclined to use a dutch oven (which Alan suggested he uses), but the skillet will save you some time when you start reducing your various liquids. Reducing at each stage is key, that is what will give you the rich flavor you need to make this dish successful.
In the end you should be able to gently push the filling with the spoon and have it hold together. Add the peas and parsley last to help keep some integrity in their texture and color.
“To cheese or not to cheese,” that is the question. Half of the people I asked said yes and half no. I can’t imagine most dishes would suffer with a good cheese, so I decided if I was going to add the cheese on top, why not use an Irish one?
In the end I was quite pleased with the outcome. After 30 minutes in the oven the filling came out bubbly and the potato top took on a beautiful golden color and had a nice crisp crust.
While I try my very best to bring you quick and easy Seasonal Chef recipes, this one rates easy, but not quick. All told about an hour and half. What you can do is make it ahead and bake it off when you are ready to eat. I should also note that from my original dish we had leftovers a few days later and it tasted even better. Below is my recipe.
I hope you give this one a try for your upcoming St. Paddy’s day feast, and please let me know how it turns out!
Maria’s Shepherd’s Pie
Serves 6 – 8
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour and 20 sminutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
This recipe is adapted from my dear old friend Alan Bowen, of County Cork. Who better to turn to for comfort food of Ireland, than an Irish friend? Shepherd’s Pie is truly the ultimate in comfort food. A rich filling is covered with soft whipped potatoes then baked in a pie plate. Don’t let the ingredient list dissuade you. You probably have 90% of the ingredients in your pantry right now. This Shepherd’s Pie is a perfect Saturday morning project that will be well worth the effort in the end.
3 large Idaho potatoes, about 2 ½ lb, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
2 cups milk, save ¼ cup for the filling
3 garlic cloves, smashed slightly
Kerrygold Dubliner cheese, optional
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, ¼” dice, about 1 ½ to 2 cups
2 garlic cloves, minced
Ground black pepper
4 oz cremini mushrooms, ¼” dice, about 1 cup
1 ½ lb lean ground beef, 90/10
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup wine
1 cup good beef stock
¼ cup milk, (from the potatoes)
2 carrots, cut in ¼” rounds, about ¾ cup
1 – 15 oz can of petite dice tomatoes
1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup Worchestershire sauce
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
¾ cup frozen peas, thawed
1cup fresh parsley minced, divided
1. Chop (prep) all of your vegetables first: potatoes, onion, garlic, mushroom and carrots.
Place the potatoes in a small stockpot and fill with cold water covering about 2” an add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until they are very soft, about 20 minutes. Set a colander in the sink.
2. In a small pot put the milk and garlic over medium low heat. Bring to just about a simmer and then turn off the heat and steep the milk. Remove the garlic just before using the milk.
In a large 13” non-stick skillet, over medium heat, melt the butter and add the onion, garlic and ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes.
4. Add the beef and season with a good pinch of salt and pepper, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon. Cook until all of the pink disappears, about 5 minutes. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of fat.
5. Check the potatoes at this point, they should be done. Turn off the heat, drain them in the colander and place back in the pot.
6. Stir in the flour to your meat mixture. Turn up the heat slightly, to medium high, and add the wine, beef stock, ¼ cup of the garlic-steeped milk and carrots. Combine well. Let that reduce for about 5 minutes. It’s important to burn off the alcohol otherwise your meat will have an aluminum aftertaste.
7. While the liquid is reducing turn back to your pot of potatoes and add 1 cup of the garlic-steeped milk, ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper and whip with a hand held mixer for 2 minutes. Add another ½ cup of milk and mix for 2 more minutes. Use the remaining ¼ cup of milk if necessary. Your potatoes should be smooth, light and fluffy, but not watery. Taste for seasoning and set aside.
8. To your bubbling meat add the tomatoes, tomato paste, Worchestershire and thyme. Allow it to continue cooking until it’s thick, about 10-15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°.
9. Turn off the heat and add the peas and ½ cup finely chopped parsley. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Your filling should be glossy and thick. Place in a 10” pie plate. Carefully scoop the potatoes over top making peaks with the back of a spoon. Using a fine microplane or grater top the potatoes with grated cheese.
10. Bake for 30 minutes and broil the last 5 to get a golden brown crust.
Remove from oven and sprinkle with the reserved parsley. Let it rest for 5 minutes before digging in.
Cooks’s Note: Cook time includes stovetop (50 minutes) and oven baking (30 minutes). The most ideal pan to use is a 13″ non-stick skillet. The size gives you optimal surface area to brown the meat and reduce the liquid.
Lamb can easily be substituted for the beef, or even a half and half combo.