The shepherd’s cottage pie
Updated: Jul 26, 2021
I figured I’d go ahead and try to kick the hornet’s nest and call this a recipe “The shepherd’s cottage pie.” (Another title that very briefly crossed my mind was, ‘The shepherd’s cow pie’. For self-evident reasons, I passed on that one.) You see, folks who are undoubtedly super fun at parties rejoice in pointing out that if you don’t use lamb, you cannot call your end result a shepherd’s pie. And I get it. I used to not only be a software engineer myself, but manage multiple teams of software engineers. (Some of us are higher functioning than others.) And I’ll admit that sometimes it’s fun to beat people senseless with inescapable logic and technicalities. But one truth that I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older and hopefully wiser is that the ship has sailed on certain things. If you bake some red meat (yes, lamb is red meat too) and veggies in gravy with mashed potatoes on top, you call it a shepherd’s pie. This is because everyone knows what that is and most people have better things to do than explain that a cottage pie is just a shepherd’s pie with beef instead of lamb. I feel better now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.
Honestly, this is usually a dish that I prepare when I have leftovers to contend with. Is it going to be better if you make everything fresh and then assemble it? Of course! And I’m going to walk you through that. Just keep in mind that if you have leftover mashed potatoes or veggies, you can use those. If you do it right, nobody will notice. My menu at home is typically an ongoing rotation between having leftover protein to heat up and making a side dish or two and having leftover side dishes and making a new protein. Maybe you’re familiar with this cycle. Rest assured, my leftover game is way strong and I’ll probably have a future post about how to reheat leftovers without ruining them in a microwave.
Viking’s note: Like most humble homestyle foods, this recipe is more forgiving than your mother and mostly a guideline. You can modify just about any aspect of it to suit your tastes or what you have on hand. In the immortal words of Bob Ross, “You can do anything you want to do. This is your world.”
Can you mashed potato? Can you do the twist?
2-3 lbs peeled yukon gold potatoes
1 stick unsalted butter
¼ cup sour cream
2 egg yolks
1-2 Tbsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
Fill a large pot with cold water and your potatoes. If you’re a newbie, you may think that you’re being slick by boiling the water first to cook the potatoes faster. Don’t do that. You know not what you do. You can also add a few tablespoons of salt to the water. I’m honestly not sure if this does anything (and I’m too lazy to look it up), but I got into the habit of salting water that I'm boiling stuff in from making pasta.
Crank your burner up to high and then maybe make yourself a drink or something. It might take a little while. How long? That will depend on how much water is in the pot, your current elevation above sea-level, barometric pressure, relative humidity, energy output of your stove, phase of the moon, and probably a million other factors. If you’re pressed for time and good at multitasking, you could simultaneously handle the meat...phrasing. Otherwise, just wait. Let the potatoes boil until a sharp knife can pierce all the way through a test potato with no resistance
Once the potatoes pass the knife test, it’s time to drain all the water from the pot and add in the deliciousness. Cube up the butter to help it melt easier and toss it in the pot, along with the sour cream, egg yolks, salt, and pepper.
Beat the dickens out of this with a potato masher or handheld mixer until you have a relatively smooth and consistent texture. Hopefully you know what mashed potatoes should look like. Also taste it and adjust seasoning until you’re as happy as a little tree.
If you feel like they are too thick, you can thin them out with a little bit of milk or cream. Be careful not to cross the rubicon into soupy potatoes, there’s not really any way to firm the potatoes back up. You want the potatoes to be able to hold some shape to get the really awesome crispy bits on top of the finished pie.
Nice to meat you
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 lbs ground beef or lamb
1 yellow onion
3-4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp flour
1 ½ cups beef stock