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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Shepherd's Pie

I've never made a shepherd's pie before.  In fact, for some strange (and truly unfathomable) reason, I never used to like it growing up.

And, although there appears to be some contention over the difference between shepherd's pie and cottage pie, I choose to still just call this a shepherd's pie.

From what little I can glean, it seems that one should only be used if it has lamb (shepherd's), whereas the other more universal moniker (cottage) can be applied to any meat filling.

Well... I'd never heard of 'cottage pie' before, so whatever.

This is what I've always known as shepherd's pie, so you'll just have to forgive me if you think I'm using the term incorrectly.


Phew.  Now that that's out of the way...

To the pie!

Firstly, this is not some healthy version of a Shepherd's pie.  Nor is it a 'quick' version of a Shepherd's pie.

This is a full-on full-of-awesome Shepherd's Pie as rich and authentic as I could make it.

So if you're looking for healthier or quick versions, look elsewhere.  If you want the most delicious version, well... I'd be flattered, but you could stay here.  No, honestly, there are few occasions where I think I've pulled off a dish masterfully such that I could point people to my own methodology/recipe... but this might be one of them.

So feel free to emulate this one.  It's got the Culinary Spatter stamp of approval.

For the uninitiated (or painfully un-British) of you, essentially a Shepherd's Pie is a meaty stew topped with a mashed potato crust, and then baked golden.

What's not to love about that right?

So let's get down to it.

First off, I'm using just some regular cubed chuck.  Stewing Beef it's called.


The chunks of beef are usually a bit larger than I prefer, so generally I like to cut them up a bit.  Make them all more uniform in size.

Coat them with a touch of avocado oil, a dash of salt and pepper, and then quickly sear them for as short a time as possible as is necessary to invoke browning.

Like 2 minutes per side kind of thing, I'd say.


Then dump them unceremoniously (or ceremoniously if you care to infuse pomp into your cooking... I do not... but "to each their own"...) into your slow cooker (or dutch oven if you don't have a slow cooker).

mmmm... still steaming...
Now we get working on the sauce.

The workhorse of this dish.

Do not skimp on this, and do not take any shortcuts.  I am a devout sauce-proponent, and I will defend, ardently, the virtues of making sauces from scratch, using all natural, non-processed, fresh ingredients.

So, we're going to start with a mirepoix, and saute that in the gribbly pan so as to soak up all that goodness.

Unlike many of my dishes and sauces, I do not want to mince these veggies.  We're just going to chop them nicely and neatly.  And uniformly.  If you can manage all the pieces to be roughly the same size, that's great.

Into the pan!

Because we're dealing with some firm veggies like carrot and celery, this gets a good deal of attention.  I'd say about 10-15 minutes on medium before everything is nice and softened.  Not mushy, or anything, just nice and tender.

BTW - the garlic you see above, I just added straight to the pot.  I didn't want it to get too 'nutty' in flavour, so I just minced that and threw it in as-is.

But, once the mirepoix is ready, that gets added and mixed in to the slow cooker pot.

And now to the FUN part.  At least, I consider this to be fun.


Roux-making time.

Generous pat of unsalted butter to the same pan.

Scrape it about (if you're using non-stick, obvs not to use metal utensils) to get any remaining gribblies incorporated.

Whisk in the flour.

I know I just admonished the use of metal utensils on non-stick, but here's the skinny: for one, this pan isn't super great anyway, and for another, I'm always scooper dooper careful with it.



Roux is done after a few minutes of 'cooking' the flour, and it gets nice and golden.

Now, I'm kind of cheating a little bit here, with this sauce.  You see, I have in my possession a rather delicious portion of leftover french onion soup.

This was really delicious, and all-natural homemade, so it's technically not cheating or anything, it just saves me a few steps.  The floaties are just a bit of congealed fat (this was straight from the fridge) and the reason they're green is just cause this was heavy on the fresh thyme leaves!

So, if you're NOT lucky enough to have some amazing leftover french onion soup, you're just basically using beef broth.  A couple cups of regular beef broth.  Don't go for reduced fat or reduced sodium broths people.  There's a time and place for healthy eating, and I'm the kind of cook/eater who would just far rather abstain than have a half-assed version of something.  So when I do use something that should be beef broth, I say just USE BEEF BROTH.


Anyway, that's what this was basically, just with a shit tonne of caramelized onion and fresh thyme.

Whisk that in over medium-low heat, and let it acclimate.

It usually takes several minutes for the roux to thicken the liquid.  Plus you'll want to keep an eye on the mixture to make sure your balance is right.  Too much roux to liquid and you'll be pasty, too little and you're runny.

A perfect balance is one where the sauce is velvety smooth and has a shimmery shine to it.  Just like this:


So that's ready.

Dump it into the slow cooker with everything else!

Add a (small) dash of worcestershire sauce and stir the whole contents gently.

Many people LOVE worcestershire, but myself I find it quite dominating, so I generally opt for the 'less is more' idea.

But I do like adding at least a little.  Especially to beef-based gravies and stews, as it adds some nice caramel colouring.

Anyway, put the lid on that and let it blip away for the afternoon (like 4-6 hours).  We want the beef to be nice and tender, after all.

So... <time passes>...  :)  About an hour before you're ready to serve, start making the potatoes.

Peel and chop a large amount of potatoes.  Myself, I think this was about six large ones.

Plop those into a very large pot of water and boil.

This takes a good while, I'd say 20 minutes at least.  When tender and fully cooked, drain the water and then put the potatoes back into the pot.

Now, I know you're already an expert on mashed potatoes.  Yes, I do.  You told me, remember?  That time... and then that other time...

But... we're not really making your average mashed potatoes here.  We're making a potato crust.  And it's a little different in a few crucial ways.

First, some seasoning.

Nutmeg is key here, and should be the dominant flavour, but I've also got some oregano, salt and pepper for complementary flavours.

Toss that in, and then add a generous amount of butter and half-and-half cream.  Like about 100ml.  Which seems like a lot, but there are a lot of potatoes there.

Mash thoroughly.

Now here's a tricky bit.  Separate an egg yolk, and stir that in.  Yup.

Once the potato topping is ready, take a minute to get a few other things prepped.

Preheat your oven to 400°.

Some peas (frozen is fine).

Some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano.

And then a lightly buttered casserole dish.  A large one.  Mine was a bit too small, but the next size up I had would have been WAY too large, so I tried to make this do.

I love my Emile Henry bakeware.  I've made sure to colour coordinate as well, cause I'm OCD.  Whatevs.  Reference previously (and abundantly) mentioned penchant for kitchen porn.

Take off the stew and carefully pour it into the casserole dish, and then stir in your cup o' peas.


Give that a stir, carefully... and you've got a delightful stew if you want.  But, we're not done!

Potato Crust time!  <drool>

So, this is actually a little tricky.  Perhaps more than was needed in my case, because my vessel was inappropriately small.

But I read (and can confirm this works well) that you should begin at the edges and work your way towards the middle.

Basically, build up a little bit of a 'shore'.

This helps keep the liquidy bit where it's supposed to stay, and also prevents your potatoes from just joining the mix and essentially making one big bowl of potato soup.

After some careful spatula technique, I managed to smooth it nicely, and keep the edges (relatively) neat and 'tucked-in'.

You can see I've already guessed that my dish is going to boil over.  Indeed, a mindfully-placed baking sheet has gotten my oven out of many a potential mess over the years.  :)  Pun intended.

Top with that cheese.  Normally I'm such a rabid fan of cheese (yes, I said rabid.  Cheese is the only reason I can not fully adopt a vegan diet) that I don't like to dictate what type should be used for what purpose, but there are some exceptions.  This is one of them.  Parmigiano Reggiano people.  You might be able to get away with some Asiago or Romano here, but we want the dry and slightly nutty cheese here on purpose.

Don't forget to add another generous dash of black pepper.

Next step?  Bake the shit out of that for about 30 minutes, or until the edges get brown and golden.  It's OK at this point if the centre isn't totally browned yet.

You can see the epic boil-over action that happened here.  Can you imagine cleaning that from your oven? 


Now flip your oven to broil, and set the whole thing under the flames for a few minutes, but do not take your eyes (or nose) off of it while broiling.  Really this should go without saying, when broiling you can not divide your attention, but you really will feel like a schmuck if you mess this up.  So just don't go anywhere.  Watch that Shepherd's Pie people.

And after several minutes of careful and controlled broiling, you will be rewarded with an amazing-looking, perfectly browned meat-pie-of-decadence.

Mmmmm.... See how parmigiano reggiano 'melts' ?  It doesn't get all wet and greasy the way some cheeses higher in MF and humidity do.

Anyway, let that bitch cool down before cracking into it.

Really.  I know it's hard, especially if it's late in the day and you're hungry and tired and Bettie yelled at you again and you got three extra memos for attaching the new cover sheets to your T.P.S. reports and you just. absolutely. need. to shovel this comfort food into your gaping belly like yesterday.

You will get burned.  Just a few minutes more.

Trust me, it will still be very piping.  Can I use the word 'piping' as an adjective on its own, or does it only make sense when placed with 'hot'?  I mean, there is a verb form... like piping icing on to a cake... or piping a connection between Alberta tar sands and Chinese oil tankers (completely destroying the Great Bear Forest in the process, of course) kind of application... but I want to use 'piping' solely as an adjective.  


This is the kind of thing you can think about while waiting for delicious pie to fill your shepherd's hole.

Cause when it's plated...

There really WON'T be any time for much other considerations.