Friday, February 09, 2007

Cold Comforts #1 - Shepherd's Pie

I could not bear to think of my American friends shivering through another winter of arctic conditions without the comfort of some traditional dishes from the North of England. So here we go with the first of a series of recipes that add a new dimension to the phrase "hot and substantial." Now Shepherd's Pie is confusing on two counts, first it is not truly a pie, there being no pastry involved and secondly a lot of people mistake it for cottage pie (it is Shepherd's Pie if made with lamb or mutton and Cottage Pie if made with beef.

Traditional Shepherd's Pie can be bland and dull so we will be zapping this up with a few additions to the basic "school dinners" recipe.

Now, as the famous Mrs. Beeton might have said, "first catch your shepherd..."


Ingredients (to serve 6 to 8)
2 lbs. Potatoes (mashed with a little milk or butter)
1 medium onion
2 carrots
1 stick celery
1 to 1½ lbs. minced (ground?) lamb or mutton
a small clove of garlic
2 tablespoons (2 Ounces) tomato puree
equal amount of water
Salt, Black Pepper to taste
½ teaspoon each, Thyme & Cumin
A shake of Worcestershire or Soy sauce.

Heat your oven to 200 Celsius, 400 Fahrenheit

Peel, the potatoes and set them boiling. There will be plenty of time to prepare the rest prepare before they are ready to mash.

Mince or finely chop the onion, carrot and celery and gently fry them in a little of your favourite oil or fat.

Once the onion is translucent set the vegetables aside and fry the lamb with the garlic until it is brown (traditional British chefs would recommend not doing this, but if you don’t the meat will look grey and unappetising.)

When the meat is browned stir the tomato puree and Worcester / Soy sauce into the water and add it to the lamb.

Add the thyme, cumin, salt and pepper and return the vegetables to the pan.

About now the potatoes should be ready to mash with the milk and butter.

Let the meat simmer while you do that.

Put the meat and vegetables in an oval baking dish (it doesn’t have to be oval, but somehow it looks better) Now lightly spread the mashed potatoes on top and fork the surface into a "ploughed field" pattern (kids of all ages like it like that) and bake at the top of the oven for 30 minutes.

British cooking has a reputation for blandness. It was not always so - before the Protestant reformation enjoying one’s food was not considered sinful. Do not skip on frying the vegetables and meat here, it improves the flavour immensely and follows the method described in Elizabethan cookery books.

To make Cottage Pie simply substitute beef for lamb.

A very tasty vegetarian version can be made with a soya based meat substitute


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