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From the heart of the Scottish countryside, rich with pastures and farms, comes a hearty dish perfect for this time of year: Shepherd’s pie begins with cooked, ground or diced lamb or mutton. Sometimes vegetables are included as well. Gravy is mixed in and then for the coup de grâce, it’s all topped with mashed potatoes. The mixture is placed in a baking dish and baked until the potato layer browns and forms a crust, hence the “pie.”
English meat pies go back to at least the Middle Ages. But shepherd’s pie didn’t originate until the 18th century when potatoes started becoming popular in Great Britain. Indeed, the term “shepherd’s pie” didn’t enter the culinary nomenclature until the 1870’s. A similar recipe is cottage pie which uses beef instead of lamb. Either way, these dishes were a traditional way of using up leftovers, especially after serving a roast for dinner the night before. Nowadays, shepherd’s pie is so loved that it’s made on its own, without having to wait for available leftovers.
“Shepherd,” naturally refers to the use of lamb in the dish. A lamb is a sheep under a year old while mutton comes from an animal over two years of age. Mutton has a stronger and deeper flavor but lacks the tenderness of its younger doppelganger. However, since the meat is ground, the tenderness is not as much of an issue. The crux of the matter here is taste. For a deeper, gamier flavor, go with the mutton. The shoulder and leg meat are both good choices for ground lamb or mutton.
Shepherd’s pie is classic comfort food for the fall and winter. It goes best with a cold night, warm company and a full-bodied, dry red wine. Or perhaps you would prefer a stout Irish beer such as Guinness. Either way, all roads lead to a deeply satisfying seasonal meal.
· 1 large onion, minced
· 1 small carrot, minced
· 1 small stick celery, minced
· Salt and pepper to taste
· 2-3 tablespoons butter
· 2 pounds ground lamb
· 1 ½ cups gravy (see recipe below)
· Mashed potatoes, (see recipe below)
· 1 egg, beaten
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
Sweat the onion, carrot, celery, salt and pepper in the butter until soft, but not brown. Sweating, as opposed to sautéing, is performed with lower heat and seeks to merely soften the ingredients, not caramelize them.
Add the ground lamb and cook until the meat is done, about five minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and mix in the gravy.
Place the meat mixture in a 1½ -quart baking dish.
Top with the mashed potatoes.
Brush the potatoes with the beaten egg.
In addition to adding more flavor the egg will impart a nice sheen which will facilitate the browning of the pie.
Bake for 45 minutes or until the potato layer is browned.
· 3 tablespoons butter
· 3 tablespoon flour
· 1 ½ cups canned beef broth or homemade stock
· Salt and pepper to taste
For the gravy, you have a number of choices depending on the level of convenience you prefer. The easiest way of course is simply to use canned gravy. For semi-homemade gravy, you can make it yourself using canned meat broth. If you’re adventurous and really want to make it from scratch, prepare a homemade stock. For either of the latter two, here’s the method for the gravy:
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.
Add the flour and stir for a minute or two to cook out the floury taste and mix the flour with the butter.
Using a whisk, slowly pour in room temperature broth or stock, continuously whisking until the liquid is fully incorporated. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer, still whisking, and cook for another minute or two.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
If you like, you can finish it with some chopped thyme or parsley as well. If you desire a very thick gravy, begin with a little extra butter and flour.
A gravy can also be made from the drippings of a roast. The recipe is the same except the meat drippings are substituted for the butter. However, the drippings also contain water and thus, are not as high in fat as straight butter. If you’re left with ample drippings, you can always boil them down a bit to concentrate them.
· 6 Idaho potatoes peeled and chopped into a large dice.
· 8 ounces heavy cream
· 4 ounces butter
· Salt and pepper to taste
Bring the potatoes to a boil in salted water and simmer until tender.
Pass the cooked potatoes through a food mill or a ricer.
Add the cream and butter to the potatoes, mix until smooth and cook on low heat for a minute or two to evaporate any excess water.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Taste the potatoes for additional seasoning first as they will absorb some salt from the salted water they were boiled in.
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