On a cold and wet day, leading into Spring, and we're having a few of those right now, this Shepherd's Pie will be your favourite go to comfort food, a nutritious feast of lamb and vegetables and lots of gravy, topped up with creamy mashed potato baked until it is golden and crispy, and drizzled with butter and grated parmesan. I don't generally follow a recipe when I make this pie at home, drawing on what's already in my head, but when I started to write it up, I realised there are quite a few steps involved. However, the lamb mince can be cooked in advance the day before, or even frozen, and assembled with the potato just before baking. The best part is that once it's in the oven there's no other prep work needed. Just pop it on the table for everyone to enjoy. Because I've made Shepherd's Pie more times than I can remember, I was wondering if this lamb recipe was actually blogworthy, that is until I made it this time, and all over again I fell in love with the piquant deliciousness of the dish. Simple as that.
September is Spring Lamb season here in Australia, and that's right now, when the best lamb should be on offer for the consumer, so now is the time to start planning some lamb meals. Just to clarify, Cottage Pie is made with Beef and Shepherd's Pie is made with Lamb. There, that's settled. Except for the difference between using lamb or beef, they are basically the same recipe. So I hope it doesn't confuse you if I say, a Shepherd's Pie made with beef is a Cottage Pie, and a Cottage Pie made with Lamb is a Shepherd's Pie. The type of mince is interchangeable. And as beef mince is generally more reasonably priced than lamb, I can understand why a Cottage pie would be the preferred option. However, I just love the unique flavour of lamb mince in a Shepherd's pie.
With the cost of meat and fresh vegetables skyrocketing now, how do families with children afford to buy enough food for nutritious meals? With this in mind, I based this recipe on 500 g of lamb mince and added lots of vegetables so that this meal feeds 4-5 depending on meal portions. I am always a bit reluctant to categorically say how many people a main meal feeds, as it depends on meal portions so I always say this as a minimum, however to play safe this fed three of us comfortably for the main meal and then there was enough leftover to feed us all for lunch again the next day, so with all of the vegetables added, this feeds 6 people.
I like to taste as I cook to get the seasonings just how I like them, however by the time I have finished cooking, it is difficult sometimes to really know how it tastes. Do you find that? So Mr. HRK often very obligingly does a taste test for me at the end of the cooking time, and generally he is happy with the result. The quantities in this recipe suit my tastes perfectly, I like a little sharpness in the gravy that the Worcestershire sauce gives.
With the weather forecasters predicting a wetter than normal spring for us here in Queensland, and Winter on the way in the Northern Hemisphere, there are going to be plenty more opportunities to make this delicious dish. I've been making Shepherd's pies and Cottage pies for as long as I can remember cooking, and before that it was a favourite of my Mum's on the dinner table during cooler weather as well. I heard Taylor Swift say in a speech the other day that everything old is new again! If this can apply to music, I believe it can also apply to cooking, just not tripe, please.
Feeds 6 people
500 g lamb mince, or beef mince
1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, strings removed and finely chopped
125 g mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 chopped red capsicum
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon mixed herbs (or if you grow the fresh stuff, 2 sprigs fresh thyme and 1 small sprig rosemary, leaves finely chopped, add 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley as well if you have it)
1/4 cup (25 g) plain flour
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine (optional)
1 cup beef stock
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon tomato sauce (or use tomato paste if you prefer)
1 bay leaf
1 cup frozen peas
Salt and pepper
Mashed Potato crust ingredients
1 kg potatoes or (I used about 5 big ones for this recipe) peeled and cut into 3 cm cubes
2-3 tablespoons grated parmesan
1 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup (165 ml) whole cream milk
Fresh thyme leaves to garnish if you have them
The basis of a delicious and flavoursome mince, soup or stew is the soffrito, which means fried slowly, and is the combination of slowly sauteed onions, garlic, carrots, and celery.
Heat the oil in a large frypan to a medium heat, and add the onion and garlic, and cook until the onion starts to look a little transparent. (You may need to lower the temperature, so the onion doesn't cook and brown.) Add the carrots, celery, capsicum and the herbs. Cook all of this on a gentle heat for about 3 minutes until softened. All of the vegetables will be turning sweet at this stage.
Increase the heat on your hotplate to high, add the lamb mince. Cook, breaking it up with a spoon along the way, until the meat is browned and all of the ingredients are nicely mingled.
Add the tomatoes, red wine, tomato sauce, beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, mushrooms, peas and bay leaves. Stir well. All the ingredients should be in the pot at this stage. Bring this mixture to a rapid simmer on a medium heat. Cook for about 30 minutes, keeping an eye on it and stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces and all the vegetables are cooked. At this point we haven't added any flour for thickening.
Thickening the lamb mince mixture:
I prefer to make a mixture of flour and water to add for thickening, starting with 1/4 cup of plain flour and adding enough water to form a smooth paste. By the end of the cooking time, the amount of liquid determines how much flour paste to use. On a low heat, add this paste gradually to your mince mixture until it is the consistency you like. It will thicken up very quickly. It's important not to thicken it too much so there is still a lot of rich delicious gravy. However, the consistency of your mince after thickening is what it will be after the end of the cooking time for the pie, so ensure it is thick enough, we don't want lamb soup. I've added this amount of flour to play safe, but I don't always need to use it all, or I might need more. You will need to be the judge.
Place the mince in your pie plate, cover and refrigerate. It's important that the pie mince is cold or at least cool, before adding the potato. If you are running short on time, pop the dish into the freezer to cool down, while you are making the potato.
The Potato Layer
Preheat oven to 180 deg. C/350F.
Cook the potatoes in salted boiling water until soft. This will depend on the size of your cubes or slices however about 15 minutes is the minimum to cook them. Definitely test them after 15 minutes.
Drain the saucepan, then return saucepan to the stove, steam dry the pot for about 30 seconds to remove any water, then add enough milk to the pot to cover the base, about 2/3 cup. Bring this milk to the boil in the pot, remove the pot from the stove immediately. Add the butter, a little white pepper, and start mashing. This method always ensures a creamy potato. It's important that the potato is spreadable and smooth, but definitely not sloppy. Too much milk and water left in the pot will make it sloppy.
Spread the mash onto the pie. The potato needs to be hot so that it spreads well onto the cold mince. I use a fork to draw squiggles onto the surface of the potato, which ensures all of those little peaks will crisp up and brown up. My friends, this is an essential step, and is a tradition going right back to the Shepherd Pies I remember as a child. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese or any other grated cheese, and drizzle with a little melted butter.
Bake your pie for 35 minutes, until golden on the top, and the mince will be bubbling around the edges. I always place a baking tray on the bottom of my oven to catch any overflow, just in case a little bit drizzles over the edge. That is quite normal.
Leave it to cool for 5 minutes on a cooling rack, sprinkle with thyme leaves if you have them and serve, with a side of green broccoli or whatever vegetables you have on hand. However, that's not totally necessary when the pie contains so many hidden vegetables.
- Red wine, yes definitely as an option
- You will have noticed that I mentioned to remove the strings of the celery. I had no idea that the strong strings of the celery can aggravate a sensitive gut, until I visited a dietician recently. I had started to take the easy path of not destringing celery, of not peeling cucumbers, thinking that we should be eating every part of the vegetable that nature has provided us with. However, there are dietary aggravators which we can do without, particularly as we get older, so I'm going with my newly acquired knowledge, however it is up to you.
- My Mum used to place a layer of seasoned sliced tomato on top of the mince, before adding the potato, which we all loved, however cooked tomato in this kind of recipe can be a bit divisive so I haven't added it to the ingredients or method. If you aren't adverse to cooked tomato give it a go, you will be pleasantly surprised. I am smiling to myself as I write this, as I know which of my friends and readers will be grimacing at the thought of the tomato, ha, ha.
- The cooked mince needs to have plenty of flavour, so add a touch more sauce and seasonings until it suits your taste. Or pull in another adult in the house who isn't doing the cooking and give them a fresh taste to see what they think. Potatoes are cheap to buy, so load up the potato topping I say. Everyone loves the mashed potato with the crispy crust.
- Some cooks prefer to add the flour for thickening to the mince mixture before adding the sauces, stock and wine. I've just always done it the way I described above. I don't think it makes a lot of difference. Either way, extra water or stock can be added if necessary for the perfect gravy, or it can be further thickened.
- It's preferable to cook the mince mixture in advance so that it can be refrigerated before assembly. This makes it easier to layer the potato crust onto the mince.