Shepherd’s Pie

pen_and_palate_shepherds_pie

illustration: tram nguyen

 

Speaking of dinner parties! For many years, I had this habit of inviting people over for dinner and then planning elaborate, multi-part feasts that would require me to spend hours and hours in the kitchen while everyone else hung out in the living room, starving. I tend to get a little nervous about hosting, and I appreciated the built-in escape during awkward moments – which, when I am around, there are many! This system worked for me, mostly. Despite some delays I would inevitably emerge from the kitchen, triumphant and covered in flour, with four distinct and “innovative” homemade pizzas, or whatever similarly labor-intensive dish I’d made. I would bully people into profusely complimenting me and then, at long last, we’d all eat. I got praise; my friends got fed – everyone was happy!

Then, last fall, my mom came to New York to celebrate her birthday, with my aunt and my sister in tow. I had just moved into a new apartment and was excited to show it off, so I thought it would be nice to have everyone over for a lavish birthday feast. As the clock ticked down to the dinner party, the guest list grew and grew. The more people who were slated to attend, the more ambitious I got. Ultimately, I ended up with about 12 attendees and a menu consisting of a delicious but complicated seeming menu of fancy enchiladas (recipe courtesy of Saveur) followed by Lottie + Doof’s gorgeous chocolate juniper cake with milk jam. I don’t remember what I served for appetizers, but I do remember sending my sister’s boyfriend out on a hunt for “one stale bun,” which, winningly, he scrounged up.

The enchiladas ended up being very good, and the cake was delicious, but for the first time in awhile I was so busy cooking that I barely had a chance to join the party. At the end of the night I was exhausted, and my kitchen looked like a crime scene: In addition to the disastrous mess I’d made with the (bright red) chile sauce, I had also bailed on the milk jam halfway through the process of making it, leaving a gluey, GAK-like residue congealing in a pan.

I decided I was done with this kind of dinner party.* Since then, I’ve started serving shepherd’s pie regularly. No, a shepherd’s pie is not traditionally viewed as the most glamorous dish in the world, but perhaps you should focus on overcoming your discriminatory perception of shepherds instead of worrying about that right now. Also, the pie does impress in its way, by being delicious, hearty, and flavorful. Not to mention the fact that it’s easy to make and leaves plenty of time for additional hosting activities such as gossiping and trying to convince your guests to let you join their bands.

*Except for sometimes, like this weekend, when I am planning on serving a whole elaborate tapas spread. Um, what’s the saying? Do as I say, not as I do? Actually, forget that, what a hypocritical piece of shit saying.

SHEPHERD’S PIE

1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 lb of ground lamb
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. dried thyme
½ cup chicken stock
1 large head spinach, roughly chopped
1 ½ cup frozen peas
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
½ cup whole milk
6 tbsp butter
Kosher salt

1.5 quart ceramic baking dish, preferably in a round pie shape (for vanity only)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a big pan, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil for about a minute on medium-high heat, until fragrant. Add carrots and sauté another three or four minutes. Stir in the lamb, and sauté until brown/cooked through. Drain the lamb fat and add tomato paste, rosemary and thyme, a healthy pinch of salt, and the chicken stock. Turn the heat to medium and let simmer for about 10 minutes, until the liquid has thickened. Add the spinach and peas and cook for another minute or two, until the peas are defrosted and the spinach is cooked through but not soggy and shriveled (as sautéed spinach is wont to become). Remove from heat and pour into your dish.

Peel and mash your potatoes. I don’t have any special potato-mashing implements, so I just cut them into chunks, boil until soft, drain them, and then add in milk, butter,and salt to taste and mash it all up with whatever wooden spoon I can find. This is not the ideal method, I would recommend you suck it up and buy a potato masher, but if like me you are too lazy and cheap-o, I can assure you the potatoes can still be mashed pretty easily. Also, It wouldn’t hurt to have some extra milk and butter lying around just in case you find you need a touch more as you engage in this process.

Spread the potatoes over your meat and veggie mix — the potato should be spread about an inch thick — and swirl them around beautifully with a spoon, such as you might do with icing on a cake. Pop your pie in the oven and bake until the peaks of the potato are golden, about ½ an hour. Serve immediately.

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