Sun. Dec. 12, 2010
Last week I saw a picture of shepherd's pie in a Williams Sonoma catalog, and I ultimately began craving a hot plateful of this comfort food classic. This traditional English or Irish meat and potatoes pie is quite popular here in New England, and as far as I can tell it is a well used go to meal in Newfoundland kitchens. With both Newfoundland's and New England's connection to Ireland and England, this should of course come as no surprise.
I don't know why but for whatever reason, I have rarely had shepherd's pie. I guess it just wasn't something we had much. While I always see it on the menus of restaurants and pubs, I always end up ordering something else. After seeing that picture last week though, I knew I had been missing out. Before tying my hand at making this old world dish, a little research was in order. My elementary understanding of shepherd's pie was that it consisted of well-seasoned ground beef mixed with onions, carrots, peas, and other vegetables, topped with mashed potatoes, and sometimes with or without cheese. In actual fact though, by definition, shepherd's pie contains lamb, and its beefy cousin is referred to as cottage pie. Whatever. The dish likely originated not by using fresh ground meat (beef or lamb), but instead by using leftover cooked meat. Since I was using beef and not lamb, I decided to give the historical character of the dish some homage by using slow cooked chuck roast, which I braised with vegetables and shredded which in essence mimicked the leftover meat element (only much better I think since I gave it a lot of TLC).
Once I had the meat figured out, I needed to determine how I would pick the other ingredients. To the meat mixture I chose to add pearl onions (mini onions you can find in the frozen vegetable section of your grocer), carrots, peas (the classic New England variation uses corn) and garlic, with additions of beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, red wine, a little tomato flavour and herbs. The potato layer consisted of mashed potatoes. I kept it fairly simple, but made them light, creamy and flavorful by adding a little butter, milk, garlic, some Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper. Lastly, the question of whether or not to add cheese on the top, was not even a question at all. Keeping with the English theme, I chose cheddar, and an orange sharp aged cheddar at that.
The batch I made was enough to make two medium sized casseroles, and might just fit in your largest lasagna dish. As you can see in the pictures, I used two smaller pans, but this recipe would also work great if divided into individual gratin dishes...pub-style. You can also freeze either the beef and vegetable mixture, or freeze a fully assembled pie and thaw and cook when you're ready. I have to say, this was one of the tastiest and most satisfying dishes I have had in a while. It was so good in fact I had it for supper, lunch and supper again over two days, second helpings not included. Here's how I did it.
3 lb chuck roast (or use ground beef and saute with veggies instead of slow roasting)
3 large carrots, diced
1 lb pearl onions (or two large yellow onions, diced)
4-6 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup beef stock
1/4 cup red wine
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup of chili sauce (or ketchup)
Dried herbs (or fresh) such as savoury and thyme
1 cup of frozen or fresh green peas
About 2-3 lbs of potatoes (8 medium)
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup evaporated milk or milk
Grated Parmesan cheese
Grated sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Directions: Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a large heavy-bottomed pan or Dutch oven, heat vegetables over medium-high heat. Trim excess fat and silver skin from chuck roast, and cube into pieces no larger than 2 incheswide. Adding a few pieces at a time, sear the beef in the hot oil. Cook the beef in small batches to keep the oil hot as you want to brown the beef and not steam it. Once all the beef is browned, return it all to the pot and add onions, diced carrots, garlic and season with salt and pepper. Add about 1 tbsp of dried herbs (more if fresh) such as savoury, thyme or rosemary. Mix well and deglaze the pan with the Worcestershire sauce, red wine and beef stock. Add the chili sauce or ketchup, stir, cover, and cook low and slow in the oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove from the oven and using a pair of forks, shred the beef, pulling it apart. The excess liquid should get reabsorbed into the tender beef. Add the peas. This entire process can be done the day before (as I did) and assembled into pies the next night prior to supper.
For the topping make your favourite mashed potato recipe. I boiled my spuds in some salted water and mashed them with a little butter, milk, salt, pepper, parsley, grated Parm and some leftover roasted garlic cloves. They were light and fluffy.
To assemble the pies, spread a layer of the meat and vegetable filling on the bottom of whatever dish you like to use. Try to get at least an inch of filling. Top with hot mashed potatoes, spread with a butter knife and top with as muchcheese as you think you deserve. I was a good boy last week so I went down the extra cheesy road. I recommend that route! Bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 30 minutes. Let rest a couple of minutes before slicing and eat your heart out. This pie is deadly! While I put a lot of extra work into this version by searing and slow cooking, and shredding the chuck roast, I think it was the way to go. However to be fair, I plan on making a weeknight friendly version with ground beef or ground lamb (or even meatloaf mix, which has ground beef, pork and veal) just to see if the extra work is worth it. I'm sure it will be good as well. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, feed your cravings!
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About Me...The Wicked Newfoundlander
I'm originally from Newfoundland, Canada, and very proud of it! I moved to upstate New York in 2007, and I spend much of my time working and playing throughout New England. Besides my wife, our dog and hockey, I'm passionate about food. I love to cook and create great tasting food. I also love tasting and critiquing food, and comparing regional cuisine (notably Newfoundland and New England dishes).