Shepherd’s Pie

We had dinner with friends earlier this week and the hostess made shepherd’s pie. I haven’t eaten it in years and was reminded how much I enjoyed it. Since it’s a faux pas to go back for a third helping, I decided to just make my own version of the dish over the weekend.

I went off of this recipe but made a few changes. Here’s everything you need.

Shepherd’s Pie

Meat Filling

  • 2 pounds ground lamb
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 cup button mushrooms, quartered
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1½ cups beef stock
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary (fresh)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley (fresh)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mashed Potato Topping

  • 2½-3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • salt and pepper to taste

Shepherd’s pie might seem complicated, but it’s really just a thick stew with mashed potatoes on top. And even though I’m not a purist when it comes to food, I do think you need to use lamb for the filling. It’s called shepherd’s pie for a reason. If you used beef, wouldn’t it be better described as cowboy’s pie?

Sadly, I couldn’t find any ground lamb, so I had to buy a lamb roast and grind it myself. It’s a bit of a pain, but this step means I get to control the texture. You just chop the meat into two-inch cubes, remove any tough fat or sinew, and partially freeze the meat for about twenty minutes. Then you just put it through the grinder. You could do this step in a food processor, or you could probably just go to Whole Foods and buy some overpriced pre-ground lamb and skip this whole mess.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Next, you chop the carrots, celery, mushrooms, onion, and garlic.

In a four quart, oven-safe dutch oven, sautee the vegetables (except the garlic) in olive oil over medium-high heat until softened. Throw in a few grinds of the pepper mill and a big pinch of kosher salt. Next, add the ground lamb and brown until all the fat is rendered.

When the lamb has cooked through, pour off the fat and return to the heat. This is when you add the tomato paste and garlic. It’s important to brown the meat properly. Up until this point, the lamb has been boiling in its own liquid. Now’s the time to develop some crust. You want to stir occasionally to ensure that everything browns evenly. While the meat is browning, chop the fresh herbs and add them to the pot. Next, mix the beef stock, red wine, and flour in a cup.

When the meat starts to stick to the bottom of the pot and burn, add the liquid. Scrape up the brown bits off the bottom. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for five to ten minutes to reduce the liquid a little and thicken the sauce.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and put it in the oven (if you have an oven-rated handle). The meat filling is pretty much done at this point, but why not let it simmer in the oven until the mashed potato topping is done?

Get a big pot of water heating on the stove. Meanwhile, peel and chop the potatoes into even-sized cubes.

When the water comes to a boil, toss the potatoes into the pot and simmer until they’ve softened, about twenty minutes. Pour off the water, add the half-and-half and butter and mash thoroughly. Season to taste with a few big pinches of salt and freshly ground pepper.

Pour the meat mixture into a buttered, oven-safe dish and level with a spatula. Next, spread the mashed potatoes over the meat and level until smooth and even. Finally, use the tines of a fork to scrape a pattern into the potato topping. This is important to develop a brown, crunchy texture. Most people just scrape a cross-hatch pattern. I made a circle. I’m crazy like that.

Pop it in the middle of the oven and bake uncovered for about half an hour. After the thirty-minute mark, set the oven to broil and place the casserole dish just beneath the heating element. Broil it until the ridges in the topping turn brown and crispy. Don’t walk away. Don’t even close the oven door all the way. This will happen fast. When the top starts to crisp, take the dish out of the oven. Let it cool for a few minutes and then serve.

Shepherd’s Pie
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