Running a week late is about as “on schedule” as I ever seem to get. It’s something about the nature of my job where everything is an emergency and everything needs to be done stat-stat-statty-stat-stat and once I get home it’s just impossible to maintain that level of urgency.
But in any case, without much further ado, as promised, here it is. My super-rockin’, crazy tasty, way kickin’ shepherd’s pie. Just in time for St Patrick’s Day. Next year, that is.
Except you won’t find a crumb of lamb in it. Just beef. So, I guess more accurately it should be called Rancher’s Pie. Or Cattleman’s Pie. Or Wrangler’s Pie. Or…
To begin, make beef stew.
Now, if you have some leftover beef stew in the fridge, excellent. Leftover stew makes the best shepherd’s pie, not to mention cutting down your prep time by about three hours! (Literally).
But if you do not happen to have some leftover beef stew just languishing in your refrigerator, begging to be made into shepherd’s pie, why then you will just have to start at the beginning!
I always start a stew by browning the meat in a little olive oil.
Brown is good. Brown is flavor.
I like to wait to salt stew meat until it’s thoroughly caramelized. In my experience salt draws a lot of moisture out of the meat, which causes it to steam instead of brown. And then the juices burn to the bottom of my pot before the meat gets a chance to turn crispy and delicious! So I wait. Spread the meat out in a single layer and leave it alone for several minutes. When it is thoroughly caramelized and perfect, the meat will release easily from the bottom of the pot. At this point, turn and repeat until the meat is browned on all sides!
While the meat is browning, dice up a large onion and some carrots. About three medium carrots oughta do it.
After the meat is completely caramelized, dump it onto a dish and set it aside. If there is an excessive amount of grease in the bottom of the pot (say, more than a tablespoon or so), pour it off and pour in a little fresh olive oil. Dump in the carrots and onions with a light sprinkle of salt and give ’em a good stir. Then let ’em sweat!
While the carrots and onions sweat and get soft, mince up some garlic.
A lot of garlic.
Like, six or eight cloves.
Or less if you don’t absolutely love the garlic. But I do love it, so I use a lot of it!
Keep in mind we’re going to put some garlic in the smashed potato topping too, so if you are one of those people who believes you can actually put too much garlic into something, you may want to hold back a bit here.
I’m not one of those people.
Next, dump ye the garlic and the meat (along with any juice that has collected in the dish) back into the pot and sprinkle ye all of it with salt.
Then stick your face over the pot and give yourself a garlic ‘n meat facial!
And now things will start to get really exciting.
Pour in a cup or so of dark beer. We just happened to have a tasty Irish stout on hand (it being St. Patty’s Day and all).
I poured in half of this 16 oz can, and it was just the right amount. You really taste the beer and it added tons of rich flavor, but it wasn’t so much that the stout flavor became overpowering. You may need to adjust the amount you add based on how powerful your stout is and how much beer flavor you really want your stew to have.
Next, just to kick up the spice and add some much-needed tang to cut through all the richness, dump in a 10 oz. can of diced tomatoes (or tomatoes with hot peppers if you want things a bit spicy!)
This is not a typical Shepherd’s Pie.
Next, pour half a 32 oz. box of beef stock over the whole thing.
Note: If this were going to be regular, plain ol’ stew for eatin’ stew, I’d just dump the whole box in. Since it’s going to get covered in mashed potatoes and baked, I wanted the stew to be thicker and a little less soupy. Plus, we’re going to use some of the rest of that broth when we thicken the stew in a bit!
Stir all this up, throw a lid on it and let it simmer on medium low for a couple of hours. The longer the better, really. Check the stew every once in a while to make sure the liquid hasn’t cooked away. Pour in more broth or water if it dries out and starts to scorch. If you were going to add any dried herbs (Thyme, Bay, Rosemary or Sage would all be extra delicious!) here’s when you would want to do it.
I didn’t. And I regret it.
About an hour before dinner time, start preheating the oven to 400°.
Now it’s time for the potatoes!
Now, you could use plain old mashed potatoes if you have some on hand. This is a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes! However, I happened to have a three-pound bag of these gorgeous little multi-colored fingerling potatoes on hand, so I decided to do something extra special!
Aren’t they pretty, with all the red and purple and gold and pink? I just love fingerling potatoes. They are so fun, and colorful, and sweet, and tender!
Dump them all into a pot and boil ’em up until tender (about 20 minutes). Drain them and let them sit in the pot with the lid on for a few minutes to dry out.
Meanwhile, mince up a couple more cloves of garlic.
I ended up using just about a whole head of garlic total in this recipe. Some might say that is too much garlic. I would not.
I’ll leave it to your discretion. To get just a mild, light touch of garlic flavor, you could cut back to 2-3 cloves in the stew and 1 or 2 cloves in the topping.
Dump the garlic into a big bowl and pour a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over it.
Garlic and oil! Probably one of the most magical flavor combinations in all of the world of cooking!
Stir this up with a sprinkle of salt, then dump in a couple pats of butter. About two tablespoons.
Now dump all those steaming hot, adorable little potatoes into the bowl!
Aren’t they sweet?
The heat from the potatoes is going to melt the butter and release all the amazing aromas of the garlic and oil. Try not to pass out.
Now give them a very, very light smash. Just sort of gently crush them enough to open up the creamy middles but still leaving nice big chunks of all the gorgeous colors!
Stir them up from the bottom to get the butter, olive oil and garlic all evenly incorporated.
I just love those gorgeous little purple potatoes. They really perk up the mashed potato topping and make it so colorful and enticing!
Pour in just enough milk to bring it all together (about 1/2 cup) and season it with salt and pepper to taste.
I love to add a little freshly grated nutmeg at this point too. Just 1/4 teaspoon gives this magical warmth and flavor to the mashed potatoes.
Now, set the taters aside and let’s get back to the stew!
I dumped in about a cup of green beans, cut into 1″ pieces
and a cup or so of frozen peas
because if I can find an excuse to add more vegetables into a meal I will. Especially a super rich and heavy meat-and-potatoes meal like this one!
Stir it all up and let it simmer while you mix 2-3 tablespoons of flour into a cup of the remaining beef broth.
Bring the stew to a boil and slowly pour the broth and flour mixture in, stirring the whole time.
Except for when you have the set the spoon down to take a photo.
But then start stirring again.
Let the whole mess boil for a full minute and the gravy will get thick and velvety and wonderful!
Pour the stew into a deep casserole and cover it with the smashed potatoes!
Try not to dive face first into the dish and inhale it all. The magic isn’t done yet!
Set the casserole onto a baking sheet covered in foil (because if you are like me the shepherd’s pie will boil over and make a mess while it is baking approximately 117% of the time) and bake until the potatoes are crispy and browned and gorgeous!
This’ll take 30-45 minutes. The crispier the potatoes are, the better! But when you take how hungry you are times how delicious this smells plus the number of hours it has been since your last meal, you may choose to sacrifice some of the crispiness in order to have some of this pie in your mouth. Now.
Don’t burn your tongue.
Here’s the recipe in a nutshell!
SHEPHERD’S (Or Cattleman’s, or Rancher’s, or Wrangler’s…) Pie
For the Stew
2-3 tbs. olive oil
1 lb. stew beef
1 large onion
3 medium carrots
2-6 cloves garlic (depending on your taste preference)
1 c. strong, dark beef (such as a good stout or porter)
3 c. beef stock, divided
1 10 oz. can diced tomatoes (or tomatoes with hot chilis)
1 c. cut green beans
1 c. frozen peas
2-3 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper to taste
In a large, heavy pot, brown the meat thoroughly in olive oil over medium heat. Remove from the pot and pour off any excess grease. Sprinkle the caramelized meat with salt.
Dice the carrots and onions and add to the pot with a little fresh olive oil.and a light sprinkle of salt. Stir and let sweat for about five minutes, until softened and translucent.
Mince the garlic and add to the vegetables in the pot along with the beef. Pour the beer, the tomatoes and 2 cups of the beef stock into the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for about two hours (or longer), until the meat is fork tender. Stir occassionally, adding more beef stock as needed if the stew dries out and begins to scorch. Towards the end of cooking, stir in 1 c. cut green beans (if using frozen or fresh add about 30 minutes before the end of cooking. If using canned add right at the end) and 1 c. frozen peas.
Stir 2-3 tablespoons of flour into 1 cup of the remaining beef stock until completely mixed in and no lumps remain. Bring the stew to a boil and pour in the flour/stock mixture, stirring the whole time. Continue to boil for one minute, stirring constantly.
For the Smashed Potatoes
2 lb. multicolored fingerling potatoes (or substitute with Little Reds or Yukon Golds)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk
salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste
Boil the potatoes (whole if using fingerlings, or halved if using larger) for about 20 minutes, or until fork tender. Drain and let sit in the pot with the lid on while you mince the garlic.
Dump the minced garlic into a large bowl and pour the olive oil over it. Sprinkle with salt and stir with a fork to loosen up the garlic. Cut the butter into chunks and add to the bowl. Dump the hot potatoes into the bowl and crush lightly with a fork or potatoe masher. Just mash them enough to open them up, leaving large chunks. Mix the potatoes gently to incorporate the garlic and oil. Add enough milk to just moisten the potatoes, but not make them creamy. Season to taste.
For the Pie
Preheat the oven to 400º
Pour the stew into a large, deep casserole dish (I used a 3 qt. casserole with a lid and had a bit of spillage during the baking, so you may want to use a larger dish). Spread the smashed potatoes evenly over the top.
Set the casserole on a foil-lined cookie sheet (just in case!). Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the edges of the potatoes are crispy, browned and delicious!
Let sit for 10 minutes before digging in.
Eat and be happy!
Happy St. Patricks Day! (Sort of…)