I have a friend who introduced me to Shepherd’s Pie about 10 years ago. It was her signature dish, and when I saw the current issue of Cook’s Illustrated my memories flew back to those simpler years in Hoboken, New Jersey. I was surprised by the long length of the ingredient list, and while they are common enough, with such a long list you’re sure to need a special trip to the supermarket. In my case it was 4-ounces of white mushrooms, scallions, carrots and port. Overall, the pie took more effort than I had thought; making the mashed potatoes, browning the vegetables and meat in many steps, then broiling the final pie. However, it is not daunting; everything is straight-forward with no special skills or techniques. In the end Chris Kimball’s recipe was very good, I give it 3-1/2 stars; delicious, well-balanced. A solid recipe for classic Shepherd’s pie, but not so exceptional as to surpass the memory of my friend’s Shepherd’s pie.
While I just got back power two days ago after Hurricane Sandy; I lost two 80-foot pine trees and spent 11 days without power; this recipe also reminded me how fortunately I am. The area where I lived in Hoboken was exceptionally low-lying and the damage was exceptionally devastating. My friends have virtually all moved out of Hoboken, it seems to be a transitional town, everybody staying and enjoying it for a few years before the headaches eventually become too great. But I feel for all those who have moved in, as it could have just as easily been me and my friends who were hit so hard.
- Chris Kimball says not to use beef that is fattier than 93%, but I tempted fate and used the 80% lean ground beef that was already in my refrigerator. I cooked it separately so that I could discard some of the extra fat, before combining the other ingredients.
- I didn’t have a 10″ broiler-safe skillet, so I used my 12″ skillet to cook the meat, then assembled the pie into a Pyrex pie plate.
- I didn’t melt the butter separately as instructed in the recipe, I just allowed the residual heat of the potatoes to do it for me.
Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 4:45 PM. Finish time 5:30 PM.
Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:
1-1/2 lbs 93%-lean ground beef
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons water
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2-1/2 lbs russet potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg yolk
8 scallions (green parts only)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
4-oz white mushrooms
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, pressed
2 tablespoons Madeira or ruby port
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups beef broth
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons cornstarch
- In a medium bowl, combine the beef, 2 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and baking soda. Allow to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.
- In the mean time, Peel your potatoes and cut into approximately 1″ cubes. Put potatoes in a medium saucepan, adding just enough water to cover, then add 1 tablespoon salt. Set over high burner, cover, and bring up to a boil. Reduce to medium-low, and continue simmering for 10 to 12 minutes. The potatoes will be done when a paring knife doesn’t meet any resistance. Empty potatoes into a strainer and then return them to the same saucepan for about 1 minute until all the surface moister has dried. Remove potatoes from heat and stir in butter.
- In a small bowl, mix together your milk, egg yolk, then mix into the potatoes. Thinly slice the green parts of 8 scallions, add to potatoes and season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper. Cover saucepan and set aside.
- Chop the onion and mushrooms. Peel your garlic cloves. Peel and chop your carrot (to be used in Step 6)
- Using a 10″-skillet that is safe to eventually put into the oven, pre-heat vegetable oil over medium burner until it’s shimmering. Add onion, mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; saute for 5 to 6 minutes. Add tomato paste and press garlic directly into the skillet; continue to cook for 2 more minutes. Add Madeira or Port and continue cooking for 1 minute. Mix in flour and continue cooking for 1 minute.
- Add 1-1/4 cups beef broth, 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, 2 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf, and 2 chopped carrots. When it comes up to a boil, reduce the burner to medium-low and add ground beef in 2″ chunks. Cover the skillet and cook for 12 minutes until the beef is cooked through, using 2 forks to break up the meat half-way through cooking.
- Stir cornstarch and remaining 2 teaspoons water together in bowl. Stir cornstarch mixture into filling and continue to simmer for 30 seconds. Remove thyme and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Set an oven rack to be 5″ from the broiler, and pre-heat while assembling the pie. Put mashed potatoes in a large Zip-lock bag and cut of a 1″ opening in one corner, then pipe the potatoes into an even layer over the filling. Use the back of a spoon to smooth out the potatoes, ensuring that all the meat is covered. Finally use the tines of a fork to make ridges over the entire surface, in whatever pattern you like.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, put pie on-top and broil for 10 to 15 minutes until the potatoes are golden brown, rotating the pie half way through broiling to ensure even browning. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.