One of my year-round go-to recipes is a Shepherd’s Pie.
One of my year-round go-to recipes is a Shepherd’s Pie. It's incredibly satisfying comfort food, and it checks off all of the staple ingredients in a recipe: the meat, the veg and the potato. It really need only be supplemented with rolls and butter and a nice chunky applesauce in my opinion. I have prepared several ways using different proteins, but the same method each time.
The recipe I share here is great with lamb mince, the traditional way to prepare Shepherd's Pie, beef mince, and also with turkey mince. What may seem unusual from other Shepherd's Pie recipes is the use of whole pearl onions in lieu of a diced onion, and the incorporation of a good amount of sweet Marsala wine and a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg. Marsala anything is a favorite for me. It all marries together during the stretch of recipe I like to refer to as the burn. Read on, I'll explain!
The burn will be saved from the brink of disaster at the last minute with a deglaze of Marsala wine and stock.
My good friend Janie once gave me a HUGE tip about taking tomato paste to the brink of burn, then pulling it back with a deglaze. I really hope Janie is reading this post, as I credit her with an important part of the development of this recipe and why exactly it works.
Tomato paste is one of those ingredients that despite a recipe calling for just a little, plays a significant role in that dishes final taste and overall consistency. It's concentrated which means is packed not only with super intensive tomatoey flavor, but also super intensive tomatoey sugars. I think this flavor profile is why one of my year-round go-to recipes is a Shepherd’s Pie.
This is the part where the art of cooking becomes a genuine science experiment.
In this recipe, those sugars are exploited for the benefit of the final taste of our casserole by burning them. Well, almost burning them. The burn will be saved from the brink of disaster at the last minute with a deglaze of Marsala wine and stock, thus rendering a very red tomatoey product into a luscious, sweet and savory brown gravy with lots of depth and...and...and...ooh la la.
Cipollini onions have a strong onion taste which is similar to shallots, and they are marvelous in Shepherd's Pie.
If you are able to purchase whole pearl onions frozen for this recipe, do so. The frozen pearls are easier to work with than par boiling dry only to have to then remove the skins. If however it happens to be fall and Cipollini onion season, by all means take the extra steps if you are familiar with their preparation, and incorporate them into the method, prepped, in the same way. I would however, take care to cut larger onions in half if necessary. Cipollini onions have a strong onion taste which is similar to shallots, but they are also very sweet, making them well suited to braising and roasting, and they are marvelous in Shepherd's Pie.
Ingredients for Shepherd's Pie
For the Potato Mash
4 large russet potatoes
1/2 to 3/4 cup light cream
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg yolk
For the Pie
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup whole pearl onions, rinsed and dried
3 carrots, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds lamb, beef or turkey mince
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For The Gravy
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons tomato paste
3/4 cup Marsala wine
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
1 cup fresh or frozen English peas
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
The Potato Mash
Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Place in a large saucepan and cover with cold water and some salt. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
Place the light cream (begin with just 1/2 cup, using more if necessary) and butter into a microwave-safe container and heat in the microwave until warmed through, about 35 seconds. Drain the potatoes in a colander and then return to the saucepan. Mash the potatoes and then add the light cream, butter, salt and pepper and continue to mash until smooth. Stir in the yolk until well combined.
For The Pie Filling
While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. Place the olive oil into a 12-inch saute pan and set over medium high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the pearl onions and carrots and saute approximately 6 to 8 minutes. Do not be afraid to scorch them a bit, but keep them moving in the pan so as not to outright burn.
Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the mince, salt and pepper and cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 3 minutes.
Grate the fresh nutmeg, about one half a seed, over the meat and stir to incorporate. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute or two to cook off the flour taste. Make a well in the center/hot spot of the pan. Add the tomato paste to the well and allow it to scorch. You may need to move it around just a bit, but allow a good scorch, all the while keeping it to the center hot spot of your pan.
For The Gravy
When your tomato paste has begun to brown up a bit, aka the burn, incorporate the pearl onions and diced carrots with the paste. Add the Worcestershire and thyme, and stir to combine. Remove the pan from the heat. Add in the Marsala and stir. Place pan back atop heat and add the chicken broth and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly. The sauce will continue to thicken during the bake.
Add the peas to the meat mixture and spread evenly into an 11 by 7-inch baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a rubber spatula. If desired, using the tines of a fork, comb parallel lines over the top of the mash. The peaks and valleys will brown unevenly during the bake and come out beautifully unbalanced, rustic, and golden.
Place on a foil lined half sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Casserole will likely bubble up and over, so I definitely recommend using the pan beneath during the bake. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.