January 11, 2009

Shepherd's Pie or Cottage Pie...

I was searching through my digital photos this morning and realized almost everything I make, or at least take pictures of, is comfort food. I’m really good at making comforting, rich dishes. I’m really NOT good at making salads. I’m OK at preparing vegetables. I think as the New Year begins, it’s natural to sort of take stock of the kitchen and your cooking personality. I haven’t really said it out-loud until now, but I might as well face facts. I’m mashed potatoes and gravy. My husband is a salad with blue cheese and pears. Hopefully, together we make a great dinner. And because we're all making resolutions, I hope to become a little more salad and less gravy this year.

All this brings us to this post, which is about how I make a really great Shepherd’s Pie. I’ve actually learned from Gordon Ramsey’s F Word TV Show that what I make is actually called “Cottage Pie” since I use ground beef. In the past, I have used all ground lamb, half ground lamb and ground beef, and all beef. No reason you can’t use whichever you prefer in this recipe. I don’t eat very much lamb, so its rich taste is a little much for me in this dish, but its up to you.

As you could probably guess, I think it is essential that there be gravy to bind the meat and vegetables together. I’ve seen and tried recipes that just call for a bit of broth, but then you have the ground beef swimming in bland liquid. Imagine tuna noodle casserole with just broth and not cream-of-whatever soup?! Ghastly!

A few tips I’ve learned over my many attempts at Shepherd’s/Cottage Pie:

1. Basically formed of 4 components (mashed potato, ground meat, vegetables, sauce), season each one well!
2. Make stiff mashed potatoes. Add a bit of milk and butter, but just a little milk at a time. These should be stiffer potatoes than you might want to eat alone. Loose mashed potatoes turn into soup in the oven…this one I learned the hard way.
3. Cook the vegetables to their desired doneness before you assemble the casserole and bake.
4. Lots of fresh herbs are key – don’t skip these. It brightens up the flavor.

Shepherd’s Pie or Cottage Pie

1.5 lb ground beef; or ½ lb ground lamb + 1 lb ground beef
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 cup frozen green peas
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups beef broth
¼ cup Dry Sherry, or white wine
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
½ tsp dried marjoram
½ tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

2 lbs potatoes, Russet or Yukon Gold, diced into 2-inch cubes
splash of milk
2 Tbsp butter

Mashed Potatoes:
Place the diced potatoes into a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, cooking 15-20 minutes until tender. Drain and put potatoes back into the hot saucepan. With the heat off, let the dry out in the pan a few minutes. Add the butter and a splash of milk and mash. Add a little more milk as needed, but keep them stiff.

Shepherd’s Pie filling:
Heat a Tbsp of olive oil in a large stainless steal sauté pan, preferably with sides, over medium heat. Add the diced onion and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized and carrots are tender but not falling apart. Add salt and pepper halfway through cooking. Remove vegetables to a plate.

In the same pan, add the ground meat. Cook over medium high heat, breaking apart the meat with a wooden spoon into small chunks. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper. When cooked through, remove to a plate.

In the same pan, make the gravy. All those meat and vegetable browned bits are on the bottom of the pan and will help enrich the sauce. Add 2 Tbsp of butter to the pan over medium-low heat. Once melted, sprinkle in 2 Tbsp of flour. Cook the flour until lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add the Sherry or white wine, stirring to deglaze the pan. Slowly add the beef broth and whisk vigorously to incorporate the flour. Bring to a boil and stir until thickened. Add the fresh and dried herbs to the gravy.

Add the cooked ground meat and vegetables back into this pan with the gravy. Stir in the frozen peas.Pour this mixture into the bottom of a greased 9x13 baking dish. Top with large spoonfuls of the mashed potato. Smooth out evenly to cover the entire dish. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes until bubbling hot and potatoes have slightly browned on top.