It’s just turned the 1st of December, and nature has acknowledged this fact by making it cold and damp. Great. The heating is now on and the deflating of the chimney balloon so we can light the first fire of the season cannot be too far away now. And thus, thoughts turn towards seasonal comfort food the likes of which we haven’t seen since the last winter finally buggered off to make way for the spring to push through. And for me, this time of year always fills me with nostalgia for dinner around the table in the family home in Bristol when I was a child.
From now to about February, it was like the kitchen was a giant blanket keeping us warm and well nourished. Around the table was where I learned at an early age the difference between Shepherd Pie and Cottage Pie: Shepherd Pie is made with minced lamb and Cottage Pie is made with minced beef. How will I remember? Easy, Shepherds herd sheep. And no, I can’t explain why the other one is Cottage Pie and not Farmer Pie or Cattleman’s Pie. So just remember that Shepherd’s herd sheep and that’ll get you by!
It still aggravates me a little to this day when I see Shepherds Pie masquerading on a menu as Cottage Pie or the other way round. I can’t help it. I like things to be factually unambiguous!
Anyhoo, whether its full of sheep or cows, these “pies” topped with fluffy mashed potato are staple dishes in houses across Ireland and the UK. It’s one of the first things we learn to make – either by watching mum or by making it in Home Economics classes (week 1, Spaghetti Bolognese, week 2 Shepherd’s/Cottage Pie). When a dish is something you have eaten your whole life it becomes second nature to make it and maybe after a while we forget to pay attention to how we make it and maybe it ends up losing some of its potential flavour along the way. By taking a little care, and making a couple of small changes my Shepherd Pie is transformed into something that can only be akin to a mothers’ cuddle…dramatic I know, but I guarantee that this will make you happy and that you’ll temporarily forgive the fact that it’s winter because it means you can eat things like this again!
If you do have the time for a longer cook, I would recommend using a cut of lamb from a working joint that diced and cooked even slower to release even more fantastic flavour into the pie. This method though means that we can still knock up a right good tasty dinner mid-week in well under an hour, start to finish!
Ingredients (serves 4-6):
For the pie filling:
- 500g organic mince lamb
- 2 carrotts, peeled and small diced
- 2 parsnips, peeled and small diced
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 2 tbsp of finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
- 1 Knorr gravy pot (jelly gravy stock)
- 1 tbsp of Meadowsweet Jelly (from The Wild Irish Food Foragers and Preservers, on Facebook only so you’ll have to contact them directly or find a local reseller / market)
- Plenty of freshly cracked black pepper
- Maldon sea salt to taste (the gravy pot will be salty already so be careful and don’t over salt)
- 200ml of hot water
- 2 tbsp of tomato puree
- 100g frozen peas
For the mash:
- 1/2 celeriac bulb peeled and chunked
- 4 baking potato sized floury spuds, like Maris Pipers etc.
- Black pepper
- Parmesan cheese
- Heat some rapeseed oil in a oven proof casserole dish. Add the minced lamb and cook out until browned. Using a slotted spoon take out the cooked meat and place on some kitchen paper, but keep as many of the meat juices in the pan as possible.
- Into the meat juice (add a little more oil if needs be) add in the shallots and garlic and sweat on a low heat until softened.
- Increase the heat a notch or two and add in the carrots and parsnips and stir through coating everything in the meaty, garlicky juices to get started.
- Add in the fresh herbs and stir through.
- Add in the tomato puree and stir through, cooking it out for a couple of minutes until it is dissolved.
- Add the minced lamb back in and the frozen pease.
- Add in the Knorr gravy pot and add water. You don’t want the water to drown everything out, just enough so the gravy pot can be well dissolved, the vegetables can cook and the meat can cook through thoroughly and take on the flavour of the stock.
- Spoon in the Meadowsweet jelly, and crack in a generous amount of black pepper.
- Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, in a large saucepan add a 2 cups of water and place in a steamer basket.
- Add in the chunky chopped potatoes and celeriac (it’s important that they are cut so that they cook quickly but all at the same time). Remember that celeriac will cook far quicker than potatoes, so the potatoes need to be chopped smaller. But because you are steaming and not boiling it means you can chop everything into quite small pieces (say about 5cm cubed pieces) as they won’t get water saturated and go mushy. Steam until cooked through and completely soft.
- Uncover the pie filling and stir. Turn up the heat again and leave uncovered now for the sauce to reduce and thinken.
- When the potato and celeriac is cooked through, tip out the water from the saucepan and tip the potatoes into it.
- Add in a couple of knobs of butter and begin to mash thoroughly working out any lumps.
- If it’s dry add in a little milk and stir through using a wooden spoon until you are happy you have the right texture for dollopping and spreading ontop of the pie filling.
- Turn on your grill to high.
- Season it up with black pepper and a small bit of sea salt and, when the pie filling sauce has thickened, commence the aforementioned dollopping and spreading of the mashed spuds. Keep it textured as these bits will catch slightly when you put it under the grill and go a lovely golden colour.
- Grate over the top of your mash potato some Pecorino cheese and place under the grill until your cheesy mash filling has gone golden brown.
- Take to the table complete with serving spoon and serve up generously onto warmed plates with some steamed kale and some chunky bread with butter.