Several weeks ago, I planned to cook a meal for one of Bob's friends, who prefers meat and potato style meals. I remembered a recipe for Sheperd's Pie from the Cook's Best Recipe cookbook. That seemed a good choice, because I love any excuse to make mashed potatoes. I don't know if there's some kind of genetic reason for loving them so much (I'm largely of Irish descent), but love them I do. I would choose mashed potatoes over any dessert. Unfortunately, I missed my chance to make this dish when I came down with a miserable case of conjuntivitis . But, yesterday I decided to go ahead and make it, mainly to get rid of the ground beef in the freezer, and to make the mashed potatoes.
Normally, Sheperd's Pie is made with lamb, but Cook's replaced it with ground beef. In Britain, using the ground beef would make this a cottage pie, as I understand it. Frankly, I think I would have preferred it with the lamb, because that has more flavor. But, Cook's came up with a way to make the beef taste "beefier"--by adding soy sauce and tomato paste, which did seem to spike the flavor. Of course, to me the most important thing was the mashed potatoes. These aren't regular taters either. They're stiffer than the usual breed, which made them a much better topping for this dish.
This really is an ideal dish for people who don't want to mess with many veggies. Basically, you have onions, carrots, green peas, and the potatoes. I started off sauteeing the onions and carrots in a little butter.
The potato topping is rich and very stiff, so that it holds up very nicely. Begin by spooning the potatoes around the rim of the baking dish and smoothing it down around the rim, sealing the meat mixture in, so that it doesn't bubble any of the juices out.
Heap the rest of the potato mixture on top and smooth it into a dome. Using a fork, make lines across the surface and paint with a beaten egg. The egg forms a nice crust that helps the topping hold its shape. Bake in the oven, and run it under the broiler for a couple of minutes.
One thing that bothered me was all the beef fat in the meat mixture. I'm not crazy about beef fat, as it seems to aggravate my acid reflux more than other kinds of fat. But, after I scooped out the first serving, the fat seeped out into the bottom of the dish, similar to what happens with meatloaf. I used some paper towels folded into a pad to sop up the oil, and soon it wasn't seeping grease anymore.
I didn't know if I would like this dish, because the meat mixture seemed rather bland to me as I was cooking it. It seemed odd not to be adding garlic or other flavorings to it. But, I discovered that the addition of the mashed potatoes seemed to make the whole thing work. Bob was quite happy with the dish, and he isn't a meat and potatoes man at all. This is quite a substantial dish. It's hearty and filling and I imagine that children would like it a lot.
Sheperd's Pie (Cook's Best Recipe)
Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 medium carrots , peeled and chopped fine
2 pounds 85% lean ground beef
Table salt and ground black pepper
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup beer
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1 cup frozen peas
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes . peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
2tablespoons unsalted butter , melted
1/3cup heavy cream , warmed
Ground black pepper
1 large egg , beaten
1. For the filling: Heat butter in large skillet over medium-high heat until foaming. Add onion and carrots and cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add meat, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook, breaking up meat into small pieces with wooden spoon, until browned, about 12 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste and cook until paste begins to darken, about 1 minute.
2. Add cream and cook about 1 minute. Add broth, beer, soy sauce, and thyme and simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture is thick but still saucy, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in peas, adjust seasonings, and transfer to broiler safe 2-quart casserole dish.
3. For the topping: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Bring potatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and water to cover to boil in large saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain potatoes, return to saucepan, and mash potatoes with butter and cream until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Spread potatoes over filling, using spatula to smooth top. Brush with egg and drag fork across top to make ridges. Bake until filling is bubbling, about 15 minutes. Turn on broiler and cook until top is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes. Serve.