Monday, October 09, 2006

Shepherd's Pie

A few years ago, I was watching Martha Stewart Living, and Australian chef Donna Hay was doing a guest spot. She made a pasta dish with arugula and asparagus (I think), and I remember being impressed by how clean and simple the recipe was. Every recipe of hers that I've seen has been the same way: basic, easy, healthy food. When a copy of her Modern Classics (Book 1) came across the desk at the library, I decided to bring it home so I could finally TRY some of her recipes.

Tonight, I had a go at Donna Hay's shepherd's pie recipe. I've made shepherd's pie before, mostly from various Rachael Ray recipes, but the 30 minute ones don't have much "depth of flavor". Rachael Ray absolutely insists that all you have to do to make something taste slow-cooked is add canned broth... and I haven't found that to be the case at all. RR's basic shepherd's pie recipe gets just about all of its flavor from a cup of beef stock and a bit of Worcestershire sauce, and those flavors don't get any chance to incorporate or develop. The "gravy" isn't cooked with the filling, so it doesn't pick up any flavor from the meat or vegetables. The liquid literally only cooks for one minute before being stirred into the filling, and then everything goes together and under the broiler for 5 minutes. The flavor gets no chance to mellow out or deepen, and the finished filling tastes like... you guessed it, canned beef broth and Worcestershire sauce. Don't get me wrong: I've had RR's shepherd's pie many times, and I usually go back for seconds. However, I know full well that it doesn't taste much like the "real thing", and that there's nothing particularly subtle or special about the flavors.

Donna Hay's recipe cooks longer and slower, and the flavors definitely get a chance to develop. The filling starts out with onions, carrots, and ground beef or lamb (I used ground beef, so technically what I have is cottage pie, not shepherd's pie). Once those have sautéed together and the meat is browned, you add tomato paste, tomatoes, beef stock, fresh thyme, and a bay leaf. This simmers for 15 minutes, then a cup of frozen peas is added, and it simmers for another 15 minutes. During this time, the liquid reduces down to almost nothing, and you're left with a thick filling that has a rich beef-tomato flavor. The assembled pie then bakes for 30 minutes. The mashed potatoes have butter, milk, and parmesan cheese, and are VERY flavorful as a result (and it's easy enough to scale back these ingredients if you're watching your sodium, fat, or cholesterol). Baking for 30 minutes browns the potatoes nicely, and gives them time to soak up some of the liquid from the filling.

Shepherd's Pie

I made a few changes to the recipe:

First, the recipe as written calls for a 14 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, but I don't really like having big chunks of tomatoes in sauces and fillings like this. I looked for a 14 oz. can of crushed tomatoes to use instead, but the smallest size I could find was 28 oz. I improvised a bit, and used an 8 oz. can of no-salt-added tomato sauce, figuring that this would give me the needed liquid without the tomato chunks.

Also, instead of adding a cup of frozen peas, I added about 3/4 cup frozen peas and 3/4 cup of frozen corn... I wanted to add extra veggies to take up some of the volume that I'd be missing by not using the whole tomatoes. A year ago, it would have been entirely frozen corn, but I seem to be getting beyond my dislike of peas.

The recipe calls for you to stir 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese into the mashed potatoes. I have a tendency to almost subconsciously cut back on sodium when I can, so I sprinkled a couple of tablespoons of parmesan over the top of the potatoes just before baking. I still got plenty of parmesan flavor that way, but with much less sodium. And I sprinkled some paprika and fresh chives over the top as well... yay for garnishing. :)

Shepherd's Pie

Something I'd serve at a fancy dinner party with important company? No. Absolutely perfect comfort food? You bet.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

so...where's the recipe? don't really see the point of a blog post full of long winded discussion without one.