From Too Many Chefs -

October 21, 2008
Shepherd's Pie: converting the conservative heathen one dish at a time

shepherdspie.jpgMoving from a central Paris apartment to a bungalow in a village of 1600 inhabitants (one shop, four pubs) has meant a lot of lifestyle changes, obviously. It has been much easier to eat locally and eat well than it would be in a city: our organic vegetables arrive each Friday from a local farm and the milk has to be tasted to be believed. We now drink Sussex beer instead of Chablis wine (mostly). We eat sausages and go to the fish and chips van on Tuesdays. And one other Great British Tradition that I've adopted is the Sunday Roast. I started out slowly, with a chicken. The Critic adores roasted chicken and roasted potatoes, so he hardly noticed that it was a Sunday and - for once - the entire family was sitting down to a meal together. Well, no, that's actually a lie: it's hard not to notice when you are being forced to eat with a picky three year old and his messy toddler brother. But he didn't know it was part of a greater plan. Next up, was a leg of lamb, because our friend Mac offered to get us a half a lamb from a friend of his. And then last Sunday I made my first attempt to roast a real British pork with crackling. (I've been reading about this for years, unable to try my hand in France because the roasts are larded instead.)

This drive for a Sunday roast has several points. Firstly, as mentioned, I want our family to sit down to dinner together at least once a week. During the week, the Critic works late hours and so it's not feasible. But once a week, darn it, the TV is off and the children and I will face each other and their father over a dinner table. Secondly, I love making roasts. In the world of cooking, roasting a bit of meat is the simplest way to make the most flavorful food. No fancy techniques, just good quality ingredients a few spices and time are needed. And lastly, a Sunday roast nearly always fosters a few more meals later in the week. The leftover chicken meat was made into chicken pies and the carcass was boiled to make broth. I used the broth in a risotto for myself and the children while the Critic was away in St. Lucia. (Don't ask, I'm not sure I've forgiven him yet.) The lamb yielded about a gallon of broth, which is in the freezer, to be used later this week with barley, I think, in a soup. Or maybe white beans and kale. And the leftover lamb meat furnished us with the best shepherd's pie I have ever made. Seriously. Not only did the Critic and I love it, but our conservative food-challenged three year old ate a huge helping. His brother, a.k.a. the Hoover, of course loved it too. So I am now adding this recipe to the small, but important list of "child-friendly" recipes on this site. One dish at a time, we shall overcome...

Shepherd's pie for the heathens

I didn't measure the amounts in this pie very precisely, I'm afraid. But the beauty of the recipe is that you can tweak it to your own idea of perfection. My idea of perfection includes a generous amount of rich gravy, so if you have more than a cup, by all means throw it all in and reduce the lamb stock accordingly. We had one cup left, so that was what I used.

600 g roasted lamb meat, finely chopped
600 g potatoes
2-3 onions
1 cup gravy
1 cup lamb stock
2 Tbs flour
salt and pepper to taste
one sprig of rosemary, chopped finely
a lot of butter and a splash of milk*

Pre-heat the oven to 200c. Peel and cube the potatoes and put them in a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Peel and chop the onion. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large, deep frying pan and soften the onions in the butter. You might want to add a little salt to speed up the process. Add the minced lamb and stir. Add the flour and cook for a few minutes. When the mixture is truly dry and starting to stick to the pan, add the stock and use a spoon to deglaze, scraping up any bits of flour or onion or meat that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. When it's all bubbling and starting to thicken, add the gravy. Stir again and add the rosemary. Allow to simmer for a few minutes and then taste the gravy to determine whether you need more salt or pepper or both. Or maybe rosemary: it's a strong flavored herb and so I paradoxically tend not to use enough of it initially out of caution.

Turn off the heat on the meat mixture and turn your attention to the potatoes. As soon as they are tender, drain them, add lots of butter* and salt and a splash of milk and mash away. If you have a potato ricer, now might be the time to use it. It will make your mash smoother than silk and you don't need to worry about how the potatoes are cooling down because they'll be going into the oven soon anyway. Once you have smooth, buttery mashed potatoes, set them aside.

Butter the inside of a baking dish. I used a deep soufflé dish, but actually a lasagna pan or oval baking dish is more traditional. Pour in the meat mixture. Top with the creamy potatoes. Use a fork or the back of your spoon to make a pretty pattern. Slide it in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top has started to brown and show off your pattern and the inside is bubbling. It's always a good idea to put a sheet of aluminum foil on the floor of the oven to catch any drips, in fact.

Allow it to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. The tender lamb meat is by this time falling apart so easily that a 17 month old can gum it quite happily. And the three year old will be enticed in by the aroma of lamb and onion and the promise of creamy mashed potatoes. A meal to make the entire family happy.

* I am sorry, but I cannot be bothered to weigh the butter as I beat it into the mashed potatoes. Just add to your heart's content, secure in the knowledge that however generous you are, I probably used more.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at October 21, 2008 11:30 AM


And when you've mastered steak and kidney pie I'll come straight over on Eurostar, knife and fork in hand.

Posted by Dumdad on October 21, 2008 at 11:37 AM

Dumdad, I haven't yet tried to make a steak and kidney (the Critic is not a fan) but I can make a pretty mean steak and ale pie - is that good enough?

Tipsy Englishman's Lunch

Posted by Meg in Paris on October 21, 2008 at 4:34 PM

I love shephard's pie, but I add peas and corn!

Posted by Kelly on October 21, 2008 at 5:32 PM

Nope, there must be kidneys!

Posted by Dumdad on October 22, 2008 at 6:31 AM

My husband loves Shepherd's Pie and this sounds like such a gut and heart-warming recipe! Wonderful!

Posted by Sheetal on October 22, 2008 at 12:03 PM

I made this recipe last night and it was a hit!

I made a chicken version (blasphemous, I know), since I had leftover chicken and chicken broth from home-made chicken soup the night before. I also used 1/2 sweet potato and 1/2 regular potato for the topping, and added chopped baby carrots, chopped french beans and sweet corn to the was thoroughly delicious!

My husband and I both thank you...he says he's willing to eat this meal as often as I'm willing to make it ;-)

Posted by Haley in WA on October 30, 2008 at 12:21 PM

I beg to differ on the topping, though I haven't tried this recipe. I was disciplined for adding too much butter to the mashed potatoes - it can make it slippier and elastic (gummy) instead of light and fluffly. More milk, I was taught. what do others think?

Posted by LeoVille on November 2, 2008 at 10:49 AM

LeoVille, you may be right but if so I haven't hit the critical point yet with my potatoes. I once had the slippery gummy potatoes you describe but it was the first (and last) time I followed an ex-boyfriend's advice on mashed potatoes and used an electric beater.

A truly embarrassing Thanksgiving as I was the new girlfriend being introduced to old friends and managed to mess up a pretty simple essential dish!

Posted by Meg in Paris on November 3, 2008 at 4:31 AM

Hi Meg !!!

Thank you so much for reminding me about such things. It'd be a perfect thing for my two finicky eaters. My mother used to make an amurican version for me when I was growing up, wonderful stuff!

xo, Biggles

Posted by Dr. Biggles on January 10, 2009 at 4:35 PM