In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Alex and I are whipping up Shepherd’s Pie and Braised Cabbage!
Historically, Shepherd’s Pie calls for lamb, ground or in a rough chop, but tonight we’re cutting it with ground beef – veal would work, too, and if we’d found it, Alex would have included it in the mixture tonight!
Shepherd’s Pie starts with a standard mirepoix (French for onions, celery, and carrots) that gets sauteed (onions first) in melted butter. According to Alex, recipes that call for oil instead of butter aren’t truly Irish. Apart from alcoholism and potatoes, apparently butter is “the most Irish thing ever” to Alex, so using oil is cheating.
Once the mirepoix is tender, add the ground lamb and beef and cook that down until browned. Spoon in some tomato paste, and brown that, too – so far it should remind you of a pasta sauce. Pour in some beef stock, and begin adding the seasonings (fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, dried tarragon, bay leaves, salt and pepper) to taste. Simmer that all together, and then add a cornstarch slurry to thicken the mixture for the proper viscosity. You can use flour or another binder here, but cornstarch is ideal for ensuring this dish is gluten-free…Should such things matter to you.
Meanwhile, peeled and cubed potatoes are boiled away for the mash atop the meaty mixture. Once they’re at the right tenderness, rice them into a bowl, add the melted butter and heavy cream, and use a hand blender to whip them all together. (Ricing the potatoes adds a velvety texture; paired with the heavy cream, and you get a much richer topping…Although “whipped velvet” sounds more like a terrible 80’s band than a descriptor for delicious potatoes.) Alex adds egg yolks to his whipped potatoes so that the potatoes brown perfectly. (Pro tip: use a star tip on your piping bag to add extra surface area to encourage beautiful browning.)
The filling goes in the bottom of an oven-safe pan. Pipe the mashed potatoes on top, making sure that there are no gaps in the mash, and assuming you’ve already preheated your oven, you’re ready to bake the Shepherd’s Pie.
What’s a more perfect side dish to Shepherd’s Pie than Braised Cabbage?
(The answer’s nothing, so don’t worry too much.)
Start with rough-chopped raw bacon, and toss it in a pan to render the fat. Add some diced yellow onion, and cook these down in the bacon fat for flavor. Once the onions have melted down, add the sliced cabbage. (We have both red and green for visual aesthetics, but it’s your preference.) Let the cabbages melt a little in the onion-bacon-fat and slowly add chicken stock and champagne vinegar. A tablespoon of brown sugar, some pepper, little salt (careful: bacon is salty!), and the cabbage can cook down until buttery soft.
Plate up your Shepherd’s Pie and Braised Cabbage, pour yourself a Guinness, and tune into March Madness for the perfect St. Patrick’s Day.