Learning about food, photography, and writing. Sharing what I find.


Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shepherd's Pie Warms My Heart

There are few American comfort foods that I actually crave. I'm not much of a Tuna-Noodle Casserole girl and my mom never made American Chop Suey. Rather, I lean toward other cultures' comfort foods: (Real Italian) Spaghetti, Meatballs, and Sausage; piping hot Miso Soup; and good old Irish Shepherd's Pie.

I especially like to think about how a dish like Shepherd's Pie came into being. It is so obviously a dish of necessity rather than snobbery. So, if you prepare it with this in mind, the flavors will be rich and your mind will flash with images of rolling Irish pastures (Okay, maybe not really, but you'll have a full, warm belly at least—something invaluable in the perpetual rain and gloom on those rolling hills).

When a friend requested a good Shepherd's Pie recipe, it was a chance for me to simulate some of the many delicious versions I've had on both sides of the Atlantic. We start with the basics:

A cheaply and easily acquired fresh herb—Parsley.

Then we fill in the nutritional and flavor blanks with the most basic of roots and veggies (Celery, Carrots, Onion, Garlic, and Potatoes).

These are things in virtually every refrigerator and sitting in crockery on every counter around the world. Here's how to put it together into Shepherd's Pie, a great Irish tradition.

Full Ingredient List:

1 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine (not cooking wine, instead use that last little bit from dinner the night before. I used Pinot Noir)
2 lbs. lean ground lamb (I am so glad I found lamb to use. Yum, yum, yum. You can always use ground beef, but it just isn't the same)
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 packet of brown gravy mix (this is really for thickening purposes, so you can just used flour or corn starch instead. Be sure to compensate for flavor-loss with a little extra salt, stock, or Worcestershire sauce)
1/3 cup beef stock
4 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped

5-6 red potatoes, quartered
1 Tbs. kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 Tbs. butter

Preheat the oven to 400ยบ.
Start with the dicing. Keep the pieces small and uniform. These guys are the supporting cast, not the lead.

Warm the Butter and Olive Oil over medium heat.
Add in the Carrots, Celery, Onion, and Garlic.

Sautee until soft and slightly browned (season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste).

Mix in Tomato Paste and Wine evenly, stirring until alcohol smell dissipates and mixture thickens slightly.
Add Lamb to pan and cook until no longer pink (During this process, start water and Kosher Salt boiling for Potatoes.  Add them into the water when it starts to boil).
Once the lamb is browned, stir in Worcestershire Sauce, Gravy Mix, and Beef Stock.
Simmer the lamb filling on low heat while you drain the cooked potatoes.
Allow potatoes to steam in the colander for a few minutes, until the edges whiten slightly (thanks to my Daddy for this great mashed-potato trick!). Back in the pot, mash the potatoes with the Heavy Cream and Butter.

Once you have mashed them roughly, use a standing blender or an immersion blender to whip them to a very smooth consistency (this makes piping easier and gives a nice contrast to the heavier filling).
Drain off all fat from lamb filling (if any).
Stir in chopped Parsley, reserving a pinch for garnishing the finished product.
Transfer filling to baking dish.

Place potato topping in a pastry bag with a "star" frosting tip at the point. Pipe the potatoes to cover and seal the entire dish.

Place entire dish, uncovered, into oven and bake for 25 minutes or until bubbling around all edges. Place under broiler to brown the potatoes for about 3 minutes.

Sprinkle the top with the remaining chopped parsley.

Serve piping hot with sweet baby peas as accompaniment (I was going to put the peas in the pie, but then I forgot them on the counter. Putting them on the side is quite nice, though. They add a little sweet, clean flavor to the richness of the pie and they won't be over-cooked this way, either!).

So yummy. I hope you enjoy it, Kathy (and everyone else)!


  1. grace, this looks DELICIOUS. i think i might be making it soon.

  2. Oh Grace this looks so good! Even though Mom and I just got back from Lenny's (with MaMen PopPop, Cam AND Maizie) and both devoured a slab of swordfish, we could "sidle up" to some of this for pre-dessert!!! Keep 'em comin' darling! Love you! Daddy

  3. 'Forgetfulness' is the new mother of invention. Not being a huge fan of mushy peas, I enjoyed the bursting sweetness of these on the side. Peas that please are more like these.

    This dish went in my mouth, down my throat, into my tummy, then to my muscles, bones and brain. The leftovers... went into the fridge. I am a happy, healthy guy.

  4. Thank you for saving the leftovers for me! This was the perfect lunch for jetlag recovery day.