by Gabriel Hall
You probably weren’t surprised the last time you perused through the menu at your local English/Irish pub. Its ubiquitous offerings probably read the same no matter which bar you were at: Beef pie, chicken and leek boxty, bangers and mash, roast beef possibly stuffed in Yorkshire puddings and other hearty foods that are primarily meant to prevent you from falling down after your 12 th pint.
Perhaps the best alcohol counter agent and the most common item served at pubs is the shepherd’s pie. That beautiful starchy layer of mashed potatoes is guaranteed to absorb any alcohol that you can conceivably ingest while the moist gravy filled layer of seasoned beef provides the protein goodness that makes everything just right in your spinning world. Stop right there and think carefully for a second.
What does a shepherd herd?
The last time I heard the pericope of the Good Shepherd, Jesus certainly wasn’t talk about moving cows around the pasture, nor does the statue of the Good Shepherd at the Vatican depict a guy with a side of cow slung around his shoulders. Shepherds herd sheep; hence a shepherd’s pie should be made out of lamb or mutton.
So why has everyone resigned themselves to making a shepherd’s pie with beef? There are many answers, chief among them being the cost and availability of beef vs. lamb. Making it with beef isn’t a bad thing, potatoes and beef go together very well and the taste of beef is preferred here in North America.
I’m getting pretty nitpicky but it’s the OCD in me. If something is called a shepherd’s pie, then it should have something to do with shepherds. It’s just like stewing rabbits with carrots, or driving a Mercedes SLS on the autobahn. It just makes sense.
LVG’s Shepherd Pie
- 8 large potatoes
- 3 heads of garlic
- Brick of reggiano
- Sea Salt
- 200 ml 2% or high fat milk
- ½ cup of butter
- 3 lbs ground lamb
- 2 medium onions
- ¼ bag of mushrooms
- ½ bag of frozen veg
- 500 ml beef stock
- Dried Thyme
- Dried Rosemary
- Vegetable oil
Take the top off the bulbs of garlic, put into a small tray, sprinkle with salt and drizzle with a little olive oil and bake in a 400F oven for 30-45 minutes or until the garlic is soft and brown. Remove and let it cool.
Cut the potatoes into equal sizes pieces. Boil in salted water until soft. Drain and add ¼ cup butter while the potatoes are still hot to ensure that it melts and distributes evenly. Start mashing the potatoes and squeeze in the heads of garlic. You should be able to just grab the bulb by the bottom and squeeze, it should easily pop out of the husk.
Grate in a good amount of reggiano and continue to mash the potatoes until your desired texture. Add some milk if the potatoes are a bit dry to ensure you have a moist, spreadable texture. Set aside.
Chop two onions. Wash and chop the mushrooms into small, bite sized pieces. Heat a pan, add some vegetable oil and sauté the onions and mushrooms until well caramelized. Add some sherry to deglaze and pop in the ground lamb. Ensure the ground meat is sufficiently cooked. Set aside.
Make a roux from ¼ cup of butter and a few tablespoons of flour. Whisk while cooking to burn off the flour flavour and give it a bit of color. Add 500 ml of beef stock and the herbs. Continue to whisk to allow the gravy to thicken up and incorporate the flavours of the herbs. When it reaches the desired thickness, pour into the meat and mix well.
Pour the meat and gravy mixture into a large pyrex baking pan. Fill about 2/3 to ¾ of the way. Top with the mashed potatoes. You can either spread it on with a spoon, or if you’re feeling fancy, fill a big ziplock freezer bag with the mash, cut a corner off, and use it as a piping bag to pipe the mash on top of the meat.
Sprinkle the top with cheese if you prefer and bake in a 400F oven for 20 minutes before serving. If you like a crusty brown top on your mash potatoes, turn on the broiler and brown the top before serving. I tend not to do it as it dries out the mash a lot.