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Not To Be Forgotten — Shepherd’s Pie


Here it is, One Badass Shepherd’s Pie.  It all started, as jellypress readers know, when I announced my search for the kind of shepherd’s pie that a beloved nanny cooked for my family when I was a child. When I finally figured it out and brought it to a friend’s potluck 50th birthday party, party-goers were drawn to it like moths to porchlight and the entire pot’s contents was consumed in fifteen minutes flat, despite the availability of four other main dishes.

It wasn’t too hard, to be truthful as most shepherd’s pies are made basically the same way: meat, either lamb or beef, is seared, then vegetables and herbs are added followed by a spoonful of flour and deglazing with wine, broth, or worcestershire sauce (and sometimes all three) while potatoes are mashed with butter and milk which are then used to top the stew. The whole pot gets baked until the bottom is bubbly and the top is browned. All I had to do was cull the recipes until I grokked the basic pattern, then used the flavors I love in stews to concoct the one that I remembered from childhood. You can read the old recipes we dug up along the way. 

I did make one unorthodox addition. Want to know what it is? Here’s the recipe:

One Badass Shepherd’s Pie
Note: The optional addition of celery root, though not traditional, adds a bright flavor to the mashed potatoes and the stew. Try it!

1 T. olive oil
2 pounds of boneless lamb stew meat, cut into one-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, chopped
5 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
1 pint mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 large shallot
salt and pepper to taste
1//2 t. dried thyme or 1 t. fresh thyme, chopped
1 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup beef broth, and more if necessary
1 T. tomato paste
1 T. worcestershire sauce
1 large celery root, peeled and cut into matchsticks (cut the root into slices, then stack them and slice into sticks) optional but recommended
6 medium yukon gold, or yellow baking potatoes (or your favorite potato for mashing)
4 T. sweet unsalted butter
1/2 cup or more milk (lowfat is fine, even skim, depending on how much fat you like in your mashed potatoes)
1/2 cup or more chicken stock
1 T. or more olive oil, enough to flavor potatoes
frozen or fresh peas, optional

1. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot (preferably an ovenproof one) over medium-high heat. Add the meat and let it brown on all sides, stirring, about 5 - 6 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrots, mushrooms, shallot and salt and pepper to taste, and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the flour and stir to combine. Let the mixture cook until it thickens and reduces, and the flour and meat juices begin to brown on the bottom of the pot. Don’t let it burn, but do let the flour and juices brown, stirring and scraping the bottom as needed. This is where the dark color and flavor of the gravy will begin to develop. When the juices reduce until the bottom of the pot has brown bits of flour and reduced sauce clinging to it, deglaze the pot with the wine, broth, tomato paste and worcestershire sauce. Scrape the bottom of the pot once the liquids are in there to incorporate all the brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and let the stew cook about 15 minutes more, adding more broth as necessary to keep the mixture moistened. It should be the consistency of stew - liquid but not thin and soupy. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
3. Meanwhile, steam the potatoes and the celery root in a covered double boiler or covered in the microwave oven until they are tender when pierced with a fork. Set aside about 1 cup of the celery root to add to the stew. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk or in a bowl with a masher, mash the potatoes and remaining celery root together, adding the butter, milk, chicken stock and olive oil until the potatoes are the consistency of buttercream frosting - able to hold their shape but not too thick and dry. The proportion of broth, oil, milk and butter in the potatoes is really up to you. For more healthful mash, add more broth and olive oil and use skim milk. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Press through a food mill if you have one and desire smooth mashed potatoes. Otherwise they will be chunky.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Transfer the stew to an ovenproof container, add the reserved celery root, and the peas if using, and top it with the mashed potatoes, spreading the potatoes evenly with a spatula. Bake for 20 minutes until the stew is bubbly and the potatoes are browned. Serve immediately.

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Kudos to the cook *and* the photographer--this dish looks scrumptious *and* gorgeous! Much prettier than my mother’s shepherd’s pie; I can’t wait to try this recipe!

    – TheMuffinMom (January 31 2010 at 3:03)

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