By Todd Goodyear
I grew up in a home where we ate pretty well everyday regular meals - you know, made with ingredients that you buy at the grocery store. Some friends of mine, then and now, eat off the land and water on a more regular basis than we ever did. Now don’t get me wrong. We had our share of moose meat, rabbit, trout, fish and the occasional, very occasional, meal of seal meat. But I don’t recall ever, not even one time, eating lamb.
I do remember making the trip to the local grocery store, the Co-op, every two weeks to help pick up the groceries. Help was needed when the buying for a family of seven. I was always told by Mom and Dad it would be cheaper if they paid my board then to feed me… not much has changed. So it was more like feeding eight. I don’t ever remember seeing lamb of any form in the store like we see it now. These days there’s lamb chops, rack of lamb, leg of lamb, minced lamb, cubes of lamb, and the list goes on and on. Maybe in those days, lamb was more of a buy directly from the farmer, and it was not something popular that you could easily find in a grocery store at the northern tip of the Baie Verte Peninsula. That’s my rationale about it, anyway.
In any case, we simply did not buy it or cook it and I can’t recall ever eating it, at our house or anyone else’s.
However, I have cooked it a few times in the past few years and, yeah, it was good, but it wasn’t really a hit. So why did I choose Irish Shepherd’s Pie for this column? Well it’s March. St. Patrick’s Day is smack dab in the middle of the month, and I’m sure families all over are likely indulging in many things Irish. In preparing for this dish, I learned that if you use lamb it’s shepherd’s pie; if you use beef, it becomes cottage pie. Go figure.
This dish derived from families making a meal out of little bits of food that seemed worthless, leftovers. It became a staple and people enjoyed it so much that it hit the public like quick-fire. Still to this day it is one of the most loved meals in Ireland. I hope that you make this dish and feel the same way.
Irish Shepherd’s Pie
Makes 6-8 servings
For the meat mixture:
2 lbs ground lamb
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
4 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
1/2 cup Guinness beer
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup beef broth
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 cup frozen peas
For the potato topping:
4-5 medium potatoes
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup fresh butter (not margarine)
1 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated cheese, cheddar or Parmesan
Peel potatoes, cut in chunks and place in a boiler; cover with water add a little salt. We will boil potatoes in a few minutes.
Place saucepan over medium high heat. Add oil and onions, and sauté for 5 minutes. Add crushed garlic; sauté for 1 more minute. Add celery and carrot, and cook until softened. Add ground lamb, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks. Cook for 10-12 minutes or until browned.
At this time, turn the potatoes on high heat and boil.
Add beer to the beef mixture and cook for 2 minutes while scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Sprinkle mixture with flour and stir to coat; cook for 1 minute. Add beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook until carrots are tender and liquid is reduced by at least half. Stir in frozen peas, remove from heat, set aside and prepare potato topping.
Pierce potatoes with sharp knife or a fork to check for tenderness. Drain and set pot back on low heat and shake them around a little to remove excess moisture. Mash potatoes in the pot and add the milk, butter, cheese, garlic powder, salt and pepper. The potatoes should be really smooth and creamy to easily spread on top of the meat mixture, so add more milk and butter if necessary.
Place the meat mixture in a 2-quart baking dish and smooth the top flat with a spoon. Add the potato mixture and smooth all over (wetting your spoon with water or milk will help with this process).
Bake in a 400°F oven for 30 minutes or until potato browns. Remove from oven and let rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.
• If the lamb has a lot of fat, remove most of the fatty liquid after browning.
• Don’t reduce the liquid too much or your pie will be dry after baking for 30 minutes.
• Always, always cook with confidence!