Wednesday, 26 September 2007

'tis the season... to eat pie

For someone who enjoys cooking, and lives in hope that England does have the odd dish or two we should remain proud of, it is with some embarrassment that I admit to you that before today I had never cooked a Shepherd's Pie. It's not that I've not wanted to, I've just never found the right recipe, had enough time or ingredients. I could offer more excuses but you get the point - it's just not happened. Anyway, so to cut a long story short, today I finally did - and it was so worth it!

I feel slightly self-conscious that a lot of my recipes seem to endorse the River Cottage - it's not intentional, however it did seem to make sense that the recipe came from The River Cottage Meat Book. I have to say I was very pleased, and felt the need to share - so here you go. As I may have mentioned before with other recipes, the quality of ingredients will obviously affect the final result, and for me the addition of homemade lamb stock in place of water was an absolute winner.


500g leftover roast lamb (I used fresh mince here, which was fine)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 onions, chopped
1-2 carrots, finely diced
1 garlic clove, chopped
Any juices or gravy saved from the joint, and/or concentrated lamb stock, made from the bone
1/2 glass red wine
1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
1-2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Up to 1kg creamy mashed potato (enough to cover your dish)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Roughly chop the meat into pea-sized pieces. Use a food processor if you like but be careful to stop whizzing before you turn it into paté. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or wide saucepan that will accommodate everything. Sweat the onions, carrots and garlic in the oil until the carrots have softened slightly. You can let the onions brown just a little.

Add the meat and fry gently until nicely browned. Add the gravy or stock, plus the wine, kethup and Worcestershire sauce, then season with salt and pepper. Simmer gently for a few minutes, add a little water if the mixture looks dry. Taste for seasoning and add a little more ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, salt or pepper, as you see fit. Simmer gently for another 20-30 minutes, until the meat is tender and the flavours well blended. Do a final taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Again, add a little more water, or wine (or, as I did, stock) to loosen the mixture if you think it needs it. Whilst you want your pie to be juicy, clearly too runny is not good.

Put the meat in a pie dish and pile the mash on top (it's worth noting here that I made my mash quite dry, using just butter, and no milk or cream. The result was a brilliant crispy topping which I can heartily recommend.) Cover the meat completely and rough up with a fork (you can chill or freeze the pie at this point, for reheating later). Bake in a fairly hot oven (200 degrees C/Gas Mark 6) for 25-45 minutes - depending on whether the pie is warm or chilled when it goes in - until the mash is nicely browned on top and the sauce is bubbling up around the edges. Serve at once, ideally with minted peas.

** Warning, although this is supposed to feed 4-6 people (plus I did actually use slightly less ingredients) it didn't go quite that far. In fact, David and I pretty much almost polished this off in one sitting, but I will definitely be making it again, very soon.

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