Upon finding myself with a shit-ton of root vegetables and some leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving, I decided to make my first Shepherd’s Pie. It’s not especially difficult, but I haven’t made it, and when I get it in restaurants, it’s often oversalted and otherwise underseasoned. I did what any smart cook does when trying something new—I worked off of a recipe and then tweaked the dish to fit what I had on hand, and to correct seasonings. This recipe is based on one from Alton Brown.
For the potatoes:
Beat an egg yolk into 2-3 cups of leftover mashed potatoes. This helps brown up the potatoes in the oven.
For the meat filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 carrots, peeled and diced small (or a combination of root veg—you want about a cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 1.5 lbs ground lamb or beef
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine or sherry
1/2 cup water or stock
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs—any combination of thyme, savory, rosemary, sage, and parsley works as long as the rosemary and/or sage aren’t the primary herbs. Parsley alone would be wimpy.
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup fresh or frozen English peas
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the olive oil into a 12-inch saute pan and set over medium high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and carrots (or other root veg) and saute just until they begin to take on color, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the meat, salt and pepper and cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 3 minutes. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste, wine, water, Worcestershire, and herbs, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly. Taste, and add more Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and wine as needed.
Add the peas to the meat mixture and spread evenly into an 11 by 7-inch glass baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a rubber spatula. Place on a parchment paper-lined half sheet pan (or a Silpat, if you have one) on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Note: The flavors will intensify overnight, so if you plan to eat this for multiple days, slightly underseason.