Naturally, my first dish is quite possibly my best, but definitely a favorite of all of the families I’ve ever cooked it for. Shepherd’s Pie, or cottage pie, is more truely a “technique” than a recipe.
So what’s the difference between a technique and a recipe? Well, it’s simple really: a technique is a way of putting types of ingredients together while a recipe is a very specific collection of ingredients that blend together to make a whole new substance and flavor. Hmmm, maybe this will work better: if you can still identify the ingredients separately, then you have just made a technique; when the finished dish resembles nothing like the individual ingredients, then you’ve just made a recipe.
So back to Shepherd’s Pie: leftover meat, vegetables, potatoes. Yup, that’s it. Literally. So how does this work? Tonight’s Shepherd’s Pie is very traditionally American in the meat and potato layers, but perhaps a bit different in the middle veggie layer.
So start with a sprinkling of olive oil in your hot hot pan and toss in one rather large onion, roughly diced. Of course, if you like a finer textuer, use a fine dice. Whatever. You might also use an earthily flavored oil (rosemary, garlic, sage) as well as shallots and/or garlic at this stage. (NOTE: if you use fresh garlic, wait til you are almost done cooking the onions so you don’t risk burning it).
What you want to do is carmelize the onions, or turn them brown; at least, that is my preference. Others may just sweat them until they are clear.
When you get the onions where you like them, crumble in 2 lbs of meat. Here’s where that technique thing comes in handy. Secret: it doesn’t matter what meat you use, whether it’s ground, shredded, chopped, fresh/raw, or leftover from last week, as long as you like it. In the US, ground meat (beef or lamb) is the most traditional.
Okay, so I tossed in 2 lbs of 12% lean ground beef, sprinkled that lightly with salt and liberally with pepper and thyme. Use a spoon and break it up, browning it completely and mixing it well with the onions as it cooks. When you’ve nearly got all the pink out of the pan, sprinkle in about a quarter to a half cup of worchestershire sauce (use this GF/CF/SF recipe). This will help to deglaze the carmelized onion bits and stuck on browned meat from the bottom of the pan. I like to let the whole mixture simmer in the sauce for about 5 minutes for that delicious sauce to get into all the meat and keep it moist.
Okay, the first layer is done and ready for the baking dish. Now, because two of my family hate vegetables and the other two love them, I make two 9×9 pans of pie. Only one will get the next layer of veggies.
So, true to form, tonight I used some fresh veggies that are coming to the end of their shelf life in the veggie crisper: some brussels sprouts (aka baby cabbages) and baby carrots. Brussels sprouts are super easy to cook and come out tasting like sweet cabbages when cooked in the skillet. Just cut off the root end, peel off any yucky leaves, slice the whole little head in half and place in the skillet (yes, with a drizzle of olive oil) cut side down. And just leave them there, place each new one as you clean and cut it. Yes, I said it, just leave them sitting there, alone, untouched, unloved. Trust me, you won’t regret it. After you’ve cut up the carrots and thrown them in the pan, stir it all around a bit. Oh, yeah, don’t forget the salt and pepper…just a light sprinkle.
Okay, all done with that layer, so onto the meat it goes in the pan. Just the one pan, remember, for the veggie lovers.
The final layer is mashed potatoes. Well, tonight, I’m taking a page out of Sandra Lee’s semi-homemade book and using instant potatoes: Betty Crocker butter and chive instant potatoes, to be exact. Now since you are going to bake all of this when the layers are done, don’t even bother with boiling water, etc. Just mix hot tap water with the other ingredients and mix up the potatoes. Spoon them into the pan(s) and use your spoon to smooth them out into a nice layer.
If you are a garnish kind of person, go to town. I’ve enjoyed a number of toppers including roasted garlic, various herbs (parsley, chive), different cheeses, but my favorite topper has always been horseradish chedder…mmmmmmmm.
Last step: shove the whole pan in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Now see all that juicy, saucy yumminess just oozing out onto the plate. Imagine the full, rich flavor of the beef complimented by the tangy worchestershire sauce, the lightly sweet brussels sprouts and carrots (now that they are fully roasted), and the smooth, buttery potatoes. This supper is well-paired with a Guiness beer or a spicy Malbec wine.
Casserole Reminder: make ahead of time and freeze until you are ready for it. This is a casserole, people. And all casseroles can be made up in double batches so you can freeze one for a later date. Same amount of effort for double the reward!!!
Weight Watchers PointsPlus: this makes 8 servings with each serving being 7 points.
- 1 very large onion
- 2 lbs meat
- fresh or frozen veggies of your choice (need 2-3 cups worth)–briefly sautee or microwave-steam fresh veggies, place frozen directly onto cooked meat
- 4 cups mashed potatoes (that’s 8 half-cup servings)
- seasonings and toppings of your choice