Shepherd’s Pie


Shepherd’s pie, or cottage pie, originally solved the problem of using leftover meat in a new dish. Cottage pie was the original name for this dish made of meat and vegetables with a mashed potato crust. The term “shepherd’s pie” didn’t appear until 1877 and since then the terms have been synonymous. That said, food snobs may point out that shepherd’s pie implies that lamb or mutton is being used, and that the term cottage pie should be used with other meats. It may interest you to know that the traditional recipe for St. Stephen’s Day Pie uses turkey and ham, and Cumberland Pie is nearly identical to cottage pie, except for an additional layer of toasted breadcrumbs.

begin with potatoes

The recipe I used for my cottage pie is from The Best International Recipe, brought to you by the food-perfectionists at Cook’s Illustrated. The recipe does not appear to be online, which may mean it isn’t popular enough to have made it onto anyone’s food blog. This conclusion, to me, is improbable given just how delicious it is.

But back to the food. I admit, the recipe did call for ground lamb, which I replaced with lean ground beef, but I cut no other corners. Oh, except that I added corn.

tomato paste, veggies

lean beef

It seems to me that there are several keys to making this a really delicious dish:

  • Using a good-quality wine in the gravy. One that you wouldn’t mind drinking with dinner. It is tempting to use poor quality wine in cooking, but good wine always makes a difference.
  • Getting the gravy just right. You don’t want to reduce the liquid too much, because it will be partially absorbed by the potatoes. Leave it just slightly thinner than you think it ought to be.
  • Fluffy potatoes: Rebecca does not abide lumpy masked potatoes. And why should she, when it’s so easy to make them cloud-fluffy? Take the extra 5 minutes to break out the hand mixer and whip those babies up!

Serves 4 – 6

  • 1.5 lbs ground beef or lamb
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced .25in thick
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 mined garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp minced fresh thyme, or 1/4 tsp dried
  • 1 tsp minced rosemary leaves, or 1/4 tsp dried
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 2lbs russet potatoes peeled and sliced 3/4 in thick
  • 2 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 450. Cook the meat in a heavy pot or dutch oven until no longer pink. Remove meat and drippings, but leave about 2 tbsp of rendered fat in the pot. Add the onion, carrots and a pinch of salt and cook until browned, about 9 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for another 30 seconds. Stir in the flow and stir until incorporated for another 1 minute. Whisk in chicken broth and wine o deglaze the pan. Add in the lamb and drippings, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, and rosemary and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste, along with frozen vegetables.

Prepare the mashed potatoes as you normally would, using a hand mixer to maximize fluffiness. Stir in the butter and cream and season with salt and pepper before whipping. In a shallow casserole dish or deep pie pan, transfer the meat and vegetable mixture. One large dollop, at a time, transfer the potatoes to different parts of the pan, like icebergs in the Arctic. Using a large spoon, smooth them together until a uniform shell covers the filling and the edges of the pan. Bake on a cookie sheet (because it WILL get drippy) for 30 minutes.

I just don’t know what is much better than bubbling beef-wine gravy and crispy potatoes. I never wanted this smell to leave my house.


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