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Food Column Deadline Shepherds Pie

Shepherd’s pie 

St. Patrick's Day is approaching, Irish dishes seem like the right thing to do.

What's the difference between Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie? Shepherd's Pie contains lamb and is an Irish specialty. Cottage Pie is English and contains beef. Both have mashed potatoes on top, and occasionally on the bottom as well.

This version of Shepherd's Pie calls for ground lamb, readily available in most supermarkets. If you have a tight relationship with your butcher, ask him or her to grind it fresh — why wouldn't you?

This pie was actually created as a way to use up leftover lamb, probably over a century ago. It's completely worth making even without leftover lamb, so let's proceed with our ground-meat version. But do think of this recipe any time you make a roast of lamb, whether it's a shoulder or leg or loin. Try hard to make sure there are leftovers, and then dice them finely and use them in this comfort-food pot pie.

Shepherd's Pie

Serves 6

45 minutes start to finish

4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and halved (abut 1 1/2 pounds)

Kosher salt to taste

1-1/2 pounds ground lamb

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1/2 cup chopped fennel

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup whole milk, divided

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn

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1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the potatoes in a medium-size saucepan and add cold water to cover. Salt the water, then place over high heat until the water simmers. Lower the heat to medium-high and continue to simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, spray a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium high heat. Add the lamb and cook, stirring frequently to break up the meat, until brown and crumbly, about 5 minutes. Turn into a colander and carefully wipe out the skillet.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in the same large skillet over medium high heat, and when it is melted, sauté the onion, carrots, fennel, garlic and thyme, and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes until the vegetables are lightly golden and tender. Add the flour and stir until it coats the vegetables, about 1 minute. Stir in the lamb, and then 1/2 cup of the milk and the broth, and cook until the mixture comes to a simmer (there's not a lot of liquid; it absorbs quickly into the lamb mixture), stirring occasionally. Stir in the corn and peas, and season with salt and pepper. Add the Worcestershire sauce and continue cooking until everything is well combined and hot, about 3 minutes. Turn the mixture into a 9-inch, deep-dish pie pan.

Drain the cooked potatoes. In the saucepan that you used to cook the potatoes, heat the remaining 1/2 cup milk and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter until barely simmering. Put the cooked potatoes through a food mill or ricer, or use a potato masher to mash and add them to the simmering milk. Stir in the cheese, season with salt and pepper, and stir to blend well, until the cheese is melted and incorporated. Spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the lamb mixture in the pie pan. Use a spoon to make nice wavy peaks and valleys in the potatoes; the peaks will then get nicely browned and beautiful in the baking.

Bake for 15 minutes, until the top is set and a bit colored. If you want the top a little more browned, you can run it under the broiler for a minute or two, but keep a close eye on it so it doesn't get too brown. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

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