As a child my favorite dinner was Shepherd’s Pie. While the dish I was served wasn’t homemade or special in any particular way, the memories of how I felt at the time and my surroundings are. Funny how taste and food have a direct line to the past, isn’t it? I remember sitting in our farmhouse kitchen, Fairy, our cat, lay curled contentedly next to the pumping heart of the Aga, while I perched at the scarred pine table absently swinging my legs and gazing into space. It seemed to me the fluorescent strip lights overhead cast a warm yellow light that cocooned us from the darkness pressing up against the windowpanes. I felt safe, warm and protected and when I look back on that moment, I wish I could make it last forever. Ironic that this too was the room in which mental illness first revealed itself to me with its capacity to confuse and confound and ultimately undo my world and everything I knew.
Perhaps that’s why we have comfort food, an evocative weapon to battle the dark swells of our deepest fears with their own mysterious power. Anyway, without further ado, here’s how you can make your own Shepherd’s Pie (and don’t get sucked into the beef or lamb debate – it tastes good with either). None of the quantities is sensitive, use what you have, you might want to throw chopped carrot and celery into yours – go ahead. If you love mash, make extra. Play around with the recipe and make it your own.
450g lamb or beef mince
a medium onion, or shallots, finely chopped
a few cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tblsp flour
1/2 pint of stock (lamb, beef or vegetable)
1 tblsp tomato puree
fresh rosemary, thyme or whatever herbs you prefer (use dried if you must but fresh is miles better)
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
a dash of Worcestershire sauce
a glug or two of good red wine
butter and milk (or cream ;-)) to add to the mash
- Dry fry the meat until browned.
- Add chopped onion and cook on a medium heat for 10-15 minutes, you want the onions to get a little colour and the meat to be well browned (but not burnt/black) with a dark, slightly crispy crust to it – this is what dissolves in your stock and imparts a rich flavour.
- Add garlic and cook for a further five minutes, stirring frequently to stop it burning – burnt garlic gives off a bitter taste that impacts the whole dish.
- Now it’s time to deglaze the pan and get all that flavour that’s sticking to it by adding the wine. Stir until evenly absorbed, then add a dash of Worcestershire sauce.
- Add flour (sifted) and cook, stirring for one minute. Gradually blend in tomato puree, herbs and stock, and season to taste.
- Cook, stirring, until mixture thickens and boils. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook your potatoes, drain well and mash with butter and milk.
- Turn the mince mixture into a 2 pint (1.1 ltr) ovenproof dish. Cover with potato.
- Bake at 190 degrees celsius (375 degrees fahrenheit) for an hour and fifteen minutes.
- Go and do something that makes you feel totally deserving of a plateful of warm deliciousness when you get back.