St. Paddy’s Day will soon be upon us, which means a wearin’ of the green, the Dogtown and Downtown parades, and some Irish food and drink to see us through the weekend. You might want to do more than eat a pistachio ice cream cone, green pancakes or a tinted smoothie to celebrate.
Sons and daughters of the ol’ sod will likely cook up a pot of corned beef and cabbage or a loaf of soda bread. But here’s a dish that Irish pub crawlers the world over enjoy, one that’s sure to warm the cockles of your heart: Shepherd’s Pie. The meaty-vegetable concoction topped with mashed potatoes is so named because it contains lamb. Mid-westerners are traditionally beef-eaters rather than lamb-lovers, so the dish is called Cottage Pie, or Cowboy Pie, when made with beef.
Many a Version of Shepherd’s Pie
I read Alton Brown’s take on the old favorite. Alton has never let me down, so I was inclined to his recipe from the git go. I read through some of the 400 comments on the dish—more than 90% were favorable. I like reading the comments, because you find hints from others who have cooked the recipe.
Most thought that lamb was the perfect meat to use, but at $12 a pound, using ground beef, venison, or a combination seems a better route. I added some chopped celery and increased the amount of potato topping. Next time I’ll replace the fresh thyme and rosemary with a half-teaspoon of dried herbs de Provence and add some grated cheese atop the potato layer.
The filling and topping can be made up in advance, stored separately, brought to room temp and assembled when ready to cook. This is a dish the whole family will enjoy from the picky eaters to the lamb doubters.
Irish Shepherd’s Pie
For the potatoes:
For the meat filing:
- 1 tsp. freshly chopped thyme leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, and cook until tender, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Place the half-and-half and butter into a microwave-safe container and heat in the microwave until warmed through, about 35 seconds. Drain potatoes in colander and return to saucepan. Mash potatoes and then add half and half, butter, salt and pepper and continue to mash until smooth. Stir in the yolk.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. Place the oil into 12-inch saute pan and set over medium high heat. Add onion and carrots and saute just until they begin to take on color, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and stir to combine.
Add lamb, salt and pepper and cook until browned, approximately 3 minutes. Sprinkle meat with flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute. Add tomato paste, chicken broth, Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, (or herbs de Provence instead of fresh thyme and rosemary) and stir to combine. (The amount of herbs depends on your taste; my preference is for smaller amounts.) Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10-12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly.
Add corn and peas to meat mixture and spread evenly into an 11 by 7-inch glass baking dish. (I used a 12-inch cast-iron skillet.) Top with mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a rubber spatula. Place on parchment-lined, half-sheet pan on middle rack of oven and bake 25 minutes or till potatoes begin to brown. But under broiler toward last to hasten browning. Remove to cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serves 6.