A few years ago, my husband, who is of mixed race, discovered that he is mostly Irish on one side. In honor of his heritage, I set out to learn some recipes typical of Irish cuisine. So along with soda bread, corned beef and cabbage and a few others, I learned to make shephard’s pie, which quickly became Dan’s favorite and the dish most requested by my family and friends.
It just so happens that it is also the perfect meal for the current state of our economy. I’m sure many people are starting to notice that I make a lot of ground beef. To be honest, it’s not my favorite but there are two reasons that I use it so much. 1.) It is usually the most affordable meat in the grocery store, and we stock up when it’s on sale. 2.) Dan can’t get enough of it!
This may not be completely traditional but here’s what my recipe has morphed into over the years:
Thyme (fresh or dried)
Bay Leaf (fresh or dried)
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Frozen Veggies (I usually use peas and carrots or mixed)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Potatoes (whatever you use for mashed)
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Cheddar Cheese (I use extra sharp)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. You can also shred up your cheddar cheese now so, it will be waiting and ready when you need it.
Start by peeling and chopping your potatoes, I usually allow two potatoes per person. Place them in a pot and just cover with water (I know they say to use cold water but, I never do, and my mashed potatoes always come out delicious).
Put them over a high fire and bring to a boil. Once the water is at a rolling bowl, add plenty of salt to the pot and allow to cook until fork tender.
While the potatoes cook, begin the meat mixture. First, in a large skillet heat just a touch of olive oil over a low to medium fire. While the oil heats, chop the onion and mince the garlic (for about 3/4 lb. of meat I used 1/3 of a medium onion and one large clove of garlic). A microplane comes in handy for the garlic but, the fine side of a box grater or good knife skills will work too. Once all the onion is chopped add it to the skillet and allow to begin softening. A few minutes later, add the garlic (it will burn if you put in too early or if the fire is too high). Stir the veggies to throughly coat with the olive oil and allow everything to soften up but, not brown. Note: as I’ve mentioned before, I like to season every layer of a dish so, at this point, I do lightly season the onion and garlic with s&p.
When the onions are just translucent, add the ground beef, break it up with a wooden spoon, and allow to brown on one side before turning.
After the meat is browned on one side, turn it and break it up a little more then, add your seasonings. Salt and pepper, paprika, thyme (no need to chop just pull off the tiny leaves and toss ’em in), bay leaf, tomato sauce, and hot sauce.
Stir everything to combine.
If there is lots of excess grease in the pan, be sure to drain it off as, it will make your potatoes runny once it’s baking. (Plus, who needs all the extra fat?)
Allow the meat to gently simmer while you finish the potatoes.
When I make this dish, I use my standard mashed potato method. It’s a little different but, my mom taught me this trick when I was a teenager, and it has proven very handy and time saving. I put butter (1-2 tbsps, depending on the number of potatoes) to a mug and add a crushed clove of garlic to the butter and then put it in the microwave until the butter is melted and the garlic is toasty (don’t walk away from it, the garlic can burn before you know it if you’re not paying attention), start with about 30 seconds, until you know exactly how long your microwave takes to toast up the garlic. Here, we are essentially roasting the garlic.
I then add my milk to the same mug so that the heat of the mug and the butter will warm the milk, just a bit. At least in my thinking, ice cold milk will cool down the potatoes too much.
Here’s where your multi-tasking abilities will be tested. By now, your potatoes probably need to be removed from the heat and drained. It is also the time your meat mixture needs to be finished off.
So, quickly drain the potatoes in a colander and cover with a paper towel (so you don’t lose too much heat and moisture). Then, add a generous glug of red wine to the meat and stir to incorporate. Add your veggies to the pan (whatever amount is to your liking, I prefer lots).
At this point, you can lower the heat and cover while you mash up the potatoes.
Return the drained potatoes to the pan, pour in your butter mixture and begin mashing. If your masher is effective, it shouldn’t take too long to get them mostly smooth.
Add salt and pepper to taste and as much shredded cheddar as your heart desires.
Stir with a spoon until the cheese is well-incorporated. Note: I like to leave the potato pan on low while I’m preparing them.
You’re almost to the finish line now! You can turn off the potatoes and the meat. Then pour your meat mixture into a casserole dish.
Top with the mashed potatoes and drag the tines of a fork across the potatoes (just for texture’s sake).
Sprinkle more cheddar on top of the assembled casserole.
Place the prepared dish into your oven and allow to bake until cheese and potatoes are browned and bubbly (if you need a shortcut, you can also stick it under the broiler).