Saturday, March 20, 2010

Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 6

Lamb is traditional here, but to save a few bucks, use beef chuck.  It’s what I do most of the time, and I think may even like it better that way.


For the filling:
olive oil, as needed
1 # 12 oz beef chuck or lamb shoulder, sliced into 1-inch cubes
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
1 Tbl chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp tomato paste
1 Tbl flour
1 cup red wine
2 cups beef stock
3 medium carrots, peeled, sliced down the middle, then sliced into 1/4-inch half-moons
1/2 # cremini mushrooms, wiped clean
2 Tbl chopped fresh parsley leaves
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the topping:
2 # Yukon gold potatoes
6 Tbl butter, room temperature
3/4 cup cream, warm
12 oz grated cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 bunch green onions, cleaned and thinly sliced
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

First prepare the filling: Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat for two minutes.  While the pan is heating, use a paper towel to pat dry the cubed meat.  Season the meat with salt and pepper.  Add olive oil to thinly cover the bottom of the pan and continue to heat 1 minute.  Working in 2 batches, place half of the lamb or beef cubes into the pan, one by one, leaving space between them.  Brown for two minutes, then flip over and brown for two more minutes.  Remove the cubes of meat to a side dish, then repeat with the remaining meat.  Reserve the meat. 

Add the chopped onions to the pan, and a little more olive oil if needed.  Season with salt and pepper, then sauté, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan, until the onions are tender lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Add the thyme and cinnamon, stir to combine, and sauté about 2 minutes more.  Add the tomato paste, stir to combine, and sauté about 2 minutes.  Add the flour, and again stir to combine and continue cooking about 2 minutes longer.  Add the red wine, stir to combine, and cook until nearly evaporated.  Add the beef stock and return the browned meat cubes to the pan with their cooking juices.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down to very low and cover.  Stirring occasionally, keep at a bare simmer, with just a few little bubbles escaping every second, until the meat is incredible tender.  When tender, remove the lid and simmer to reduce the sauce a bit – You want it slightly thickened, but keep enough to generously coat the meat and vegetables (you’ll add the carrots and mushrooms to this in a bit.)  Taste, and season as needed with salt and pepper.


While the stew is simmering, prepare the carrots and mushrooms: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, then add the sliced carrots.  Boil until just tender, probably less than five minutes.  Drain in a colander and reserve. 

Wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel.  Trim the bottom ends off the stems, then quarter the mushrooms.  Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat for two minutes.  Add olive oil to thinly cover the bottom of the pan and continue to heat 1 minute.  Working in 2 batches, add half of the mushrooms to the pan, season with a pinch of salt.  Sauté, stirring or tossing the pan occasionally,  until the juices are released and evaporated, and the mushrooms shrink in size and are thoroughly browned.  Remove to a side dish, then repeat with the remaining mushrooms.  Reserve. 

When the meat is tender, the sauce is reduced to slightly thick and the carrots and mushrooms are cooked, add the carrots, mushrooms and chopped parsley to the pot of stew.  Stir to combine, turn off the heat, and reserve covered while preparing the topping.

To prepare the topping: Peel the potatoes and slice into equal-sized chunks.  Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil and add the potatoes.  Simmer until the potatoes are tender, then drain in a colander.  Puree the potatoes using a potato ricer, or just mash them if you don’t have a ricer.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the pureed potatoes with the butter, cream and 8 oz (8 oz sounds healthier than 1/2 pound) of the grated cheddar.  Fold gently to combine.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper. 

To assemble: Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Now either add all of the stew filling to a 9x13-inch casserole dish, spreading it evenly across the bottom, or divide it equally between 6 large soufflé cups.   Top with the pureed potatoes and spread evenly with a spatula.  Top with the rest of the grated cheese and the sliced green onions.  Bake until the top is golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.
The entire casserole can actually be assembled the day ahead, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.  In this case, bake it at 350°F, about 45 minutes-1 hour, until it is hot throughout and the top is golden brown.  





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