Shepherd's Pie

St. Patrick's Day is Thursday, and although we're not Irish (we did, however, name our firstborn Erin), I thought maybe a little shepherd's pie might be in order.  But in deference to the Irish, I will say up front that this isn't actually a true shepherd's pie, which is traditionally made with lamb.  This one isn't.  Here at the Circle B Kitchen we don't grind up lambs and put them in our dinner, so instead, I used ground turkey. Yes, we do grind up turkeys.  You could use ground beef if you like, but if we're not using ground lamb, then we really should be calling this a cottage pie.  Yes, I did do a little research on these things so as not to sound too non-Irish. But who'm I kidding?  St. Patrick's Day isn't even a holiday in Ireland (not like ours anyway) and this isn't a real shepherd's pie, so I'm abandoning all pretense of political and cultural correctness and just telling you that this is one of the best non-shepherd's pies I've ever had the pleasure of tasting.

I have to say that I was pretty skeptical that shepherd's pie was even Irish, but I found out that it is indeed an Irish thing, and it has a culinary history there of being a very practical way to use up leftover cuts of lamb or mutton in a stew-like dish and that being topped with the ever handy potatoes.  So at least I feel somewhat confident that we're in the ballpark here when we talk about Irish culinary traditions.

But those of you who have spent any time at all on this blog, know that we don't eat beef, pork or lamb. Well, to be entirely honest, The Husband doesn't.  I've been known to grab a real burger when I can, but I'm in total support of his decision to abstain from these meats, so turkey is our ground meat of choice.  If you've cooked with ground turkey much, you know that it can be a bit, shall we say, lacking in the flavor department at times, so I have worked long and hard to compensate for this and have learned some tricks which have turned what so easily could have been a rather pedestrian shepherd's pie into something quite fantastic.  If I do say so myself.

Shepherd's pie found its way onto our dinner table quite often when the kids were little, but like so many of those familiar dishes, it sort of fell by the wayside when the kids grew up and left home to make dinner for their own families.  Back then I made it with ground beef and we all loved it, so the challenge became how to take that and make it as good or even better with ground turkey.  

One of the biggest challenges with ground turkey, flavor-wise, is that it doesn't have a lot of fat, which is a good thing on many levels, but not helpful in the flavor department.  It also has more water content than ground beef, so those two things mean that browning and caramelization, ergo flavor, are difficult to achieve.  To remedy this, I pull out my old friend, Kitchen Bouquet.  

I'm guessing that many of your grandmothers are very familiar with this old pantry staple, and for good reason. It gives sort of a quasi-caramelization flavor where needed, and it's definitely needed here.

The other flavor bomb that I pulled out was dried mushrooms.  I keep a couple varieties of dried mushrooms on hand at all times for just this purpose, and I think it was sort of a genius move on my part to use them here.  I heated the chicken broth and added about 1/2 cup of dried mushrooms to it and let that sit while I made the other components of the recipe.  Before adding the now mushroom-y chicken broth into the meat mixture, I removed the mushrooms from the broth and chopped them up and then added the whole shebang to the pan.  And if that weren't enough, we're also going to add a little red wine and some worcestershire sauce.

Instant flavor.  Now, if you wanted to make this a totally vegetarian shepherd's pie, I would replace the meat with big slices of crimini and portobello mushrooms and add in some dried mushrooms and their stock and this would be totally and completely delicious.  And vegetarian.  That's a recipe for another day, but it sounds scrumptious, no?

So back to our shepherd's pie that has now been loaded with layers of flavor and meaty goodness and all that's left is to top it with some creamy mashed potatoes and call it good.  Or great.  Or cottage pie.  I think we better call it cottage pie.  Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!  Here's the recipe...

Shepherd's (or Cottage) Pie

Click here for a printable recipe

Shepherd's pie has to be one of the most satisfying and comforting casseroles of all time.  And boy howdy, this is a good one.  Don’t be put off by the lengthy recipe, it’s all pretty easy and will come together much quicker than you think.  You can use any ground meat you prefer (beef, lamb or turkey).  I used ground turkey which ordinarily may not have as much flavor as other ground meats, so I’ve given my shepherd’s pie a few tweaks to accommodate  that, which I've outlined below.   

1 pound ground beef, lamb or turkey

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 largish carrots, peeled and chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 teaspoon each dried thyme, rosemary

½ cup dried mushrooms (any mix of mushrooms is fine)

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup chicken stock (or beef stock)

½ cup red wine

2 teaspoons Kitchen Bouquet (if using ground turkey)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Mashed Potatoes

1 ½ lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice

1 teaspoon salt

2 -3 tablespoons butter

1/3 to ½ cup whole milk, half and half or cream 

Pre-heat oven to 425°F. 

Heat the chicken stock and then place the dried mushrooms in the stock to soak and reconstitute.

Spray a 2- quart baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.  Note:  the shape of your baking dish will determine your meat to mashed potato ratio.  The shallower your baking dish, the more potatoes you will need.  A deep dish will give you more meat and sauce to mashed potatoes.  Your call. 

Heat the oil in a heavy bottom pan and saute the carrots until starting to get tender, about 5 minutes.  Add in the onions and celery and saute for a minute or two then add the dried thyme, rosemary.  Let the spices cook for a minute and then add the meat to the pan.  Season with salt and pepper and then and cook the meat until done, crumbling with the edge of a spoon until it’s cooked through.

Sprinkle with flour and stir through.  Add the wine and let it cook and reduce for about 5 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce and if using ground turkey, stir in the Kitchen Bouquet.

Remove the mushrooms from the chicken stock and chop up any large pieces.  Add the stock and mushrooms to the pan, bring to a simmer and cook for another 5 minutes or so until you have a thick meaty gravy. Taste and adjust seasonings to your taste.

For the Mashed Potatoes:

Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender and smashable, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

Place the milk and butter into a microwave-safe container and heat in the microwave until warmed through, about 30 seconds.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and then return to the saucepan. Mash the potatoes and then add the milk, butter, salt and pepper and continue to mash until smooth.

Pour the meat mixture into the prepared baking dish and then spoon or pipe the mashed potatoes over the top, being sure to cover completely for a good seal.  Place the baking dish on a sheet pan lines with foil to catch any spillage.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until the potatoes have to begun brown.  Let sit for 10 minutes or so before serving.

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