Switch it out this St. Patrick’s Day with this recipe for lamb shepherd’s pie to take the place of corned beef and cabbage at your table.
Truth be told, we eat far more corned beef than the Irish do, St. Paddy’s Day or no. Corned beef proliferated on this side of the Atlantic because of the practice of “corning,” or salting beef in large wooden casks or tubs when beef was shipped from Europe to the New World. (“Corn” refers to the size of the salt used; it roughly resembled a kernel of corn.)
More truth be told, we also eat shepherd’s pie more frequently than the Irish. They would not even recognize our shepherd’s pie as theirs.
We generally use beef for ours; in the U.K., that’s called “cottage pie.” The name “shepherd’s pie” is rightly reserved for dishes that use lamb as the primary meat. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that recipes for shepherd’s pie (again, usually made with beef) and covered with mashed potatoes appeared, not in the U.K., but in the U.S.
To this day, the U.K. practice is to cover or wrap these sorts of “pies” in pastry rather than potatoes and, further, to utilize leftover (not fresh) lamb and only winter vegetables.
All that said, we associate shepherd’s pie with the Irish because we use mashed potatoes as the cover or, sometimes, as the base.
After preparing the mashed potatoes, here’s an easy, quick and less-messy way to get them onto the stew before baking it as the completed shepherd’s pie:
Take a large zippered plastic bag. Place the mashed potatoes in the bag, push out as much air as possible and zip it closed. Then, snip off a good-sized corner of the bag (opposite its “zippered” side) and pipe the mashed potatoes through that opening onto the stew.
Hearty Shepherd’s Pie with American Lamb
Serves 8-12; from americanlamb.com
3 pounds American lamb leg, ground or diced into ½-inch cubes
1 tablespoon oil, canola or vegetable
3 medium yellow onions, peeled, ¼-inch dice
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 medium carrots, peeled, ¼-inch dice
1 cup peas, green, whole, fresh or frozen
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 cups lamb stock
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
½ cup parsley, chopped
4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, washed
½ cup heavy cream
½ pound salted butter
8 ounces English Derby and/or cheddar cheese, shredded
In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil. Add onions, cooking until softened. Add lamb; cook until browned, then dust with flour. Mix thoroughly; cook an additional 1 minute. Add carrots, peas and corn; incorporate well. Add tomato paste and Worcestershire. Gradually add stock; bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer on low approximately 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Stir in parsley; set aside to cool.
In a pot, cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are fork tender. Drain and steam dry. In a bowl, add heavy cream and butter. Grate (or mash) potatoes, skin on; gently mix with cream and butter until semi-smooth with small chunks. Spoon the cooked lamb mixture into a large casserole pan or 12 individual casserole dishes. Spread a layer of the smashed potatoes over the lamb mixture; top with shredded cheese. Bake at 375 until an internal temperature of 165 is reached.