Some of the new versions of Shepherd's Pie turning up lately are inspiring me to add more of these homey casseroles to our menu. Today, I'll share some of my tips for making my traditional lamb version.
There are as many recipes of this as there are cooks. I don't really follow a recipe, I just make it! But here's a basic version from Alton Brown, and a historic version from Williamsburg, if you prefer measuring and following directions.
We like to grind our own meat but you can cube it, buy it ground, or make the dish with leftover lamb. Good old Wikipedia says that the term shepherd's pie or cottage pie was in use as early as 1791 and was a way to use up leftovers. You'll also see many variations for this type of dish listed at that link.
Like so many homey dishes, this one begins with sautéed onions and garic.
Tip 1: For a lamb pie, I add some rosemary and thyme to the mix.
Tip 2: Of course, I make extra garlic and onions for another day or use some of my Cooks Treasure: Sautéed Onions & Garlic from the last time I cooked up a batch.
Next, put in the ground lamb and sauté it, adding a bit of wine and then stock to make a nice, rich gravy for your dish.
Tip 3: Up to this step, you can also double or triple your meat mix and then freeze the excess for another pie on another day. I don't like the result when I freeze a completed shepherd's pie but freezing the meat works well and takes up a lot less space in my small freezer.
Tip 4: I learned to add a layer of carrots to my shepherd's pie from the wonderful crew at Angel Foods in Provincetown. They make their version in a loaf pan if that works better for you.
Tip 5: To avoid cleaning an extra pan, I drop a sieve full of carrots right into the pot where the potatoes for the mashed-potato-topping are boiling away.
Tip 6: Just before I spoon the meat into my buttered casserole, I add a healthy sprinkle of frozen peas. The heat from the meat will thaw them most of the way and the time in the oven will finish the task. Plus, by adding them frozen they don't overcook.
Tip 7: You can lighten the calorie-count in mashed potatoes by mixing in only a small amount of butter along with as much 2% yogurt, as needed, to make them creamy and rich tasting. In the photo on the left, you see me adding some of the boiling liquid from the potatoes to make them flow well and heighten the potato taste.
Tip 8: Adding a handful of chopped chives or scallions to the potatoes will enhance both color and flavor.
Tip 9: Layers not only make your dish prettier, but also assure that everyone gets a bit of everything in each serving.
Bake your pie until the top is golden, serve it up, and enjoy. Then, think about what you'd like to try as your next version of shepherd's or cottage pie. My plan is a vegetarian version with roasted root vegetables in place of the meat, and a tradtional Irish Fish Pie.
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Words: Penny Cherubino
Photos: ©2013 Ed Cherubino
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