In college, I took a full load of classes every quarter and I worked 30 hours a week waiting tables at T.G.I. Chotchkie’s. I only partied on Thursday nights at an Irish pub in Costa Mesa, California, called The Harp Inn, which is still there. Back in the early ’90’s, a now well-known Irish band called The Fenians played there (a fantastic band still http://www.thefenians.com/ ), and my friends and I debauched systematically with the help of Guinness and Irish whiskey, dancing to and singing the traditional Irish songs. The Harp even had a table reserved for us and, in retrospect, I probably could have funded my child’s college education with the amount of shots I bought for myself, lifelong friends, and the band.
Sometimes I would show up early when the band was setting up, and I would get some dinner. The Harp is not a traditional Irish pub, but it tried in a cute way, and maybe it still does. It was here that I had my first Shepherd’s Pie. It’s basically a ground beef stew topped with mashed potatoes and crisped under the broiler to give it a crust.
The two times I’ve been to Ireland, I was sure to get it when I could. It’s a staple there, and if you make it because of this post, I think you’ll understand why. Like many Irish and English dishes, it’s comfort food, meant to warm you on a brusque, rainy night, or to line your body for an evening heavy drinking.
Seasoned ground beef and veggies cooked in some way is the base of many dishes in a lot different cultures, as I will explore as time goes on. The best part about all of them is that they’re usually cheap to make, they’re filling, they’re creative, and they’re comforting. Without further ado, let’s take a stroll down Broadway, meaning not long for to stray…
Like most of my recipes (except family ones or the few I’ve thought up), I find them in a book or online, and then I mess with them a bit. I try to give credit to the cooks that have inspired me. This dish is no different. The original recipe is here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/danny-boome/mummy-boomes-traditional-shepherds-pie-recipe/index.html
I love this partly because of the name, Mummy Boome’s Traditional Shepherd’s Pie. It HAS to be good, doesn’t it? Still I do make some changes in my version.
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled, halved and quartered lengthwise, and sliced 1/2″ thick (they should look like quarter moons, dude)
2 celery stalks, sliced 1/2″ thick
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 pounds lean ground beef or lamb (I use only beef) *Note: Costco has a 5-pack of 90% lean ground 1lb. beef chubs in their frozen section for $15 or so…totally worth it.
3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup beef broth
1 cup peas, frozen or fresh
Mashed Potatoes (recipe later)
Preheat the oven to 400°.
In a large non-stick skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat and add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook this for 10 to 12 minutes, until they start to brown.
Add in the tomato paste and mix it all together well.
Add the ground beef (or lamb), crumbling it as you add it, and cook it for another 10 to 12 minutes until it’s not pink anymore.
Next, add the Worcestershire sauce and the broth. Get this to a simmer and let it cook for another 10 minutes. It should look like this:
Mix in the peas at this point.
3 to 4 lbs. of whatever potatoes you got goin’ on, peeled and cubed into 1″ chunks (russets or white ones work best…but to use the red skinned ones for some visual sexiness would kick ass…I’ll try that next time.)
a few tablespoons of margarine or butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup o’ milk or cream (what you choose depends on your level of indulgence)
1 cup cheddar (the Boome recipe calls for aged English cheddar, and I know he’s right, but I had run-of-the-mill supermarket cheddar tonight, and it was great too.)
Get a pot of salted water boiling well, add the potatoes, and get them mashable, about 15 to 20 minutes (to check, take a chunk of potato out of the water and a fork should split it apart easily, leaving crumbs and residue on the fork)
Drain the potatoes and add the rest of the ingredients. Use a masher or electric mixer to get them fluffed. Important! You want these taters to be firm rather than soft because you will want to shape them into peaks on top of the Shepherd’s Pie.
Get a 9″ x 13″ baking dish (or something equivalent or whatever you have in terms of baking dishes…that’s what the Irish would do), spoon in the beef mixture, and make it an even layer:
(Note: I added the peas right after this, hence the omission here.)
Now spoon on the mashed potatoes, and do it like you’re frosting a cake or you will mix up the beef melange with it too much. In other words, spoon dabs of it all over and then gently spread it out until you’ve used all of the mashed pots.
This is the fun part. Take a fork and run it all over the potatoes to give it texture. Make peaks and stuff like that so it will crisp up. Here’s what mine looked like before the oven:
Stick this in the oven for 20 minutes. In the last 3 minutes, turn on the broiler and get the top even crispier. Be careful not to burn it, so glue yourself to the oven window and watch it until you get that tingly sensation in your nether regions. This is what I took out this evening:
To serve this, take a big ol’ serving spoon and dig to the bottom and try to lift it out like a pie. It’s supposed to be a bit of a pile, so don’t get OCD about it, Cake Boss. Here it is:
You can serve this with green beans or a veggie, of course, but this is pretty filling on its own. Believe it or not, if you notice the recipe, it’s not that bad for you, either…just don’t eat half of it in one sitting.
This serves about 6 people, from my reckoning.
Drink: Weirdly, Chianti. Italian begins with an “I”, and so does Irish, so it makes sense. My rationale? Italian wine is meant to be drunk, not to be stored and gawked at. This dish is meant to be eaten and enjoyed, not to be overanalyzed by Anton Ego. Guinness would be ideal but, alas, I had none.
Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.
© Jon Marino, 2012