Saturday, 19 January 2013

Shepherd's Pie

Moved from my general blog

Special recipe request.

Shepherd's Pie, originally Cottage pie, dates back well into the history of English cooking, and was quite possibly one of the first dishes created to make use of that weird new vegetable - the potato. Originally it was any leftover meat underneath, and certainly still can be. Similar dishes exist around the world, and it should be pointed out that there is no standard or "authentic" recipe. As with all peasant food, you make it how you want it.

The basic idea is a layer of cooked meat (normally ground) with onions and any other vegetables you like, in a gravy, with a layer of mashed potato on top. This is then baked to crisp up the potato. In a hurry it can be put under the grill/broiler instead. As it's such a quick, easy dish, it's often a weeknight standby.

This is how I do it:

I take ground beef and brown it, then pour off the fat. Then I add finely diced onion and cook it in with the meat in the residual fat. Then I add black pepper, thyme, flour and finally stock. This is left to simmer for a bit.

I spread the meat/gravy mixture in a lasagne dish and cover with mashed potato. This is then baked.

Variation possibilities are endless. The typical Canadian addition is corn. I often add mushrooms along with the onion. You could add peppers or zucchini at this point too. Some people add carrots, others add tomato, it's entirely up to you, and a great way to use up leftovers. Flavourings could make it more spicy or more herby. You can add cheese to the potato.

A common addition in North America appears to be Worcester Sauce. I confess that used to bother me. There is some idea that because Worcester Sauce is an English sauce, it automatically goes in English dishes. Personally I can't stand the stuff, and in 30 years in England I never saw it added to Shepherd's Pie, ever, but add it if you like. You're the person eating it.

The only thing I will say about Worcester Sauce is that if you are trying to pretend you know a thing or two about English food, you may as well learn how to say it right. It is pronounced Wooster, as in Bertie, with the central vowel as in wood. Nothing rhymes with Wooster, alas. To be strictly accurate, if you want to show off, you should say it non-rhotically as Woosta, but that's probably asking too much.

Audio of the ultra pedantically correct way to say Worcester Sauce:

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