Thursday, 13 September 2012

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's pie, cottage pie - you know, it's all a bit "you say tom-ay-to, I say tom-ah-to" as far as I am concerned. I know that, technically, it should be called shepherd's pie if made with lamb mince and cottage pie if made with beef, but honestly, life's too short for such minor quibbles... We always called it shepherd's pie no matter what it was made from, so I'm going to continue in that vein for this post. Feel free to use your own preferred term in your head as you read, and of course feel free to make which ever version you prefer, use beef or lamb mince, as you wish. 
Anyhow, I posted on our Facebook page yesterday to say that I'd made shepherd's pie for dinner - wow, I got a lot of likes! Now, I know most people already have their own recipe for shepherd's pie, but I thought I'd give you mine, to give you some ideas to adapt into your own recipe.

I won't pretend that shepherd's pie is the quickest dinner in the world; although not in any way difficult, it does take a bit of time and is a bit of a faff, cooking meat and potatoes first and then cooking it all again in the oven. However, it is a "two dinner" dish, in that I definitely get two days out of it.

The original recipe I used was a made up version - and you know, it was never that great; either too tomato-ey (bolognaise with mash on top would be one description... yuck! If I want bolognaise, that's what I'll have! Not some weirdy hybrid thing) or else way too much gloopy gravy swimming around the plate - ugh.

So off I went to check out my favourite source for "basic" type recipes - Delia Smith of course. I followed her recipe slavishly for a few years. However, as the mini-DinnerLadies weaned onto solids and became fussy (yes, I know it was of my own making and now I'm having to undo all my own mistakes - let the parent who has not made a single error in raising their own offspring judge me) I realised that cheese encrusted leeks was never really gonna be a runner for us! I was also never convinced with the addition of a ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon in the dish - it's extremely little, so I went with it to enrich the flavour, but I could always taste it and really, mains-meets-dessert is never a good taste. I loved the turnip though, so that made the final cut in last night's version.

Silver service shepherd's pie
Then, at our Lidl press event we attended a couple of weeks ago, I tasted celebrity chef Paul Flynn's version, available from the Lidl Ireland website and in-store on recipe cards. Wowzer - gorgeous! He included parsnip in the mash and bacon bits / lardons in the meat sauce. Of course, I couldn't find my recipe card when I was creating last night (and never thought to look at the website - in my defense, I was running late... nothing new there!). I knew there actually was a pack of lardons in the fridge (available in Lidl in a handy double pack - no fridge should ever be without them) and a couple of aging parsnips in the vegetable rack, so I thought I'd risk it. I did used to always include lardons (or "chopped up rasher", as it was known back in the day!) in my bolognaise, but that had long ago fallen foul of the fussy mini-DinnerLadies in the past. But we've done so much work recently with the girls and food and had such success that I thought I'd risk it again, especially as the pieces are big enough to be picked out, if needs be.  I only used half the pack, in case (I didn't want to spend the evening searching through cooked dinner looking for random pieces of rasher!), but I got away with it. However, they were lightly smoked so quite strong in flavour and so I was glad I'd only used half the pack. I do however still blitz the vegetables - small steps here with these girls!

A last quick word regarding grated cheese on top - I do love this, but my children actually don't, it gets too hard I think, so I leave it off. Also, I really think that if you are making it to last two days, you should leave the cheese off - re-heated melted cheese is hard and nasty, in my opinion. As we eat later than the girls, I tend to just grate some cheese on the adults' portions before popping them in the oven to heat through for about 10 minutes before serving.

Anyhow, enough of the waffle - here's the recipe...

Shepherd's / Cottage Pie 

(With thanks to Delia Smith, Paul Flynn and Lidl Ireland)
Sarah's Shepherd's Pie
  • 700g minced lamb or beef
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 4-6oz turnip (a large slice)
  • About 4 small mushrooms
  • About half a 125g pack lardons
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon mixed herbs
  • 1 level tablespoon plain flour
  • 400ml beef stock (made with one stock cube)s
  • 1 tablespoon tomato purée
  • 900g (2lbs) potato
  • 2 or 3 parsnips, peeled and chopped roughly
  • Grated cheddar (optional)
  • salt and pepper, and oil for frying, and some butter for the potatoes
  • Preheat the oven to 200C, and you will also need a large baking dish - I used a rectangular 32cm x 24cm enamel dish but slightly smaller would've been fine
  1. Firstly, pop a large saucepan or "le creuset" type casserole pot on a medium heat and warm some oil, while you blitz the vegetables in a food processor - do them in stages, as they won't all fit at once. I do the onion and celery together first (as they take the longest), scrap into the pot to start frying gently along with the bacon bits, while getting on with the rest of the vegetables except the parsnips, adding to the pot as you go along, cooking them for a good 5 minutes or so, until  softened, then remove to a bowl
  2. Turn up the heat on the pan and brown the meat (in batches, if your saucepan isn't big enough), using a spoon to break the meat up
  3. While the meat is browning, stick on the spuds - if you are using Ireland's favourite floury potatoes (golden wonder, rooster, queens) you are really better off leaving them whole and in their skins, then peeling afterwards, otherwise they get too water-logged. If you are using a waxier variety (desirée or king edwards, for example), you can peel them and chop into chunks. Either way, they will take about 20-30 minutes boiling (I find  Roosters, the reddish ones that are most common in the supermarket, need a good 30 minutes or even more, boiling gently to avoid them breaking out - do NOT stick a knife in to check them, then they will break out. Trust me and leave them 30 mins at least on a gentle boil)
  4. With about 10 minutes to go on the potatoes, add the parnsips to the potatoes
  5. Once browned, season the meat well with salt and pepper and return the vegetables to the pot, adding in the herbs as well
  6. Stir in the flour, to soak up the juices, and then gradually add the stock bit by bit until all incorporated
  7. Stir in the tomato purée, stick a lid on the pot and let it bubble gently on the lowest heat for 20 minutes
  8. When the potatoes are done, strain (and if using floury potatoes, pop a sheet a kitchen paper on top for a couple of minutes, to absorb some of the water), then peel the potatoes, season with salt, pepper and a knob of butter, and mash with the parsnips. Don't add any milk to the mash, as you want it firm enough to sit on top of the meat sauce
  9. When the meat is ready, spoon it into the dish and then distribute the potato on top (do this lightly, don't throw it on with a big spoon and a heavy hand, or it will sink)
  10. Sprinkle grated cheese on top (if using) and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes
Now, what to do with all that leftover turnip?! You can use any mix of vegetables you like, of course, but I think the turnip gives a delicious depth to the sauce, and a sweetness. I never add peas - I still hold it against peas that, as a slightly fussy child, I was constantly told that everyone likes peas.... well, I didn't, so there! Plus, there's no hiding them, they are green and obvious - and if the fussy Small People start looking at the peas and trying to remove them, then they'll find the bacon bits, and then spot the carrot flecks - at which stage, I probably loose the will to live.

The last word goes to the elder of my two mini-DinnerLadies, who is 5½. She scraped her plate and finished first for the first time in her life (she is a phenomenally slow eater), pronounced it all delicious, asked why we didn't have it more often and then said, "you're the best cooker, Mummy". What more could a mother ask for?!

Sarah xx