Shepherd's Pie. Super easy, right? Except for the fact that I've only had shepherd's pie once or twice in my life and could barely remember what was in it. I started with a frame of reference of chicken pot pie, which I've made dozens of times and is pretty killer. So my first thought was beef instead of chicken, a beef roux instead of a chicken roux, but standard vegetables (carrots, celery, onions, shallots). Then my gut told me that potatoes had to be in the picture somehow. Roasted potatoes? Except I wanted it to be creamier than that. So I finally landed on mashed potatoes. An ultimately wise choice.
After thinking about this recipe for a few days I started using the name as a hint. Shepherd's pie. What do shepherd's herd? Cows? Goats? And once I had goats in my brain it struck me: LAMB. Ground lamb. This was key.
So I ran to the grocery store and bought carrots, celery, six or seven small red-skinned potatoes, a single shallot, organic ground lamb, and... pie crust. Hey, I didn't say everything had to be homemade. But I also repurposed it! I'll get to that later...
Black Sheep Shepherd's Pie
Package of ground lamb
6-7 small red-skinned potatoes
5 peeled carrots
4 stalks of celery
Half of an onion
Half a shallot
2 frozen, store-bought pie crusts (or homemade if you're feeling ambitious)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup butter
Rosemary (fresh or dried)
Thyme (fresh or dried)
Salt & pepper
Smoked Gouda (optional)
First thing's first (I'm the realest), the mashed potatoes. Wash your potatoes and only partially peel them so that some of the skin is still on them. Cut into quarters and throw them into a medium pot of water with the flame set to medium high. Let them boil for 10 minutes or so, checking to see if they're tender by putting a fork in them and ensuring it goes through easily.
While you're waiting for the potatoes to boil, start browning your ground lamb. I used a medium skillet over medium heat and put about two tablespoons of butter, browning it just a bit before adding the lamb. Once you add the meat, chop it up with a wooden spatula and keep moving it around the pan so there are no pink parts left and nothing gets burned.
Add a few pinches of pepper and rosemary to taste. We're going crazy with the rosemary and I'm really excited about it.
Once the potatoes are boiling and soft, drain the water and put the potatoes back into the pot. Add 1/4 cup butter (or margarine if you prefer), the heavy cream, about 1/2 tablespoon of rosemary, 1/2 tablespoon of thyme, and salt & pepper to taste. I only used dried herbs, but fresh herbs work well, if not better.
I used a hand mixer on a lower speed to mash them, but you can also use whatever you think will do the job to the consistency you prefer. Add more liquid if you like creamier potatoes, less if you like them a little chunky.
Once most of the meat is cooked (be careful not to cook it too much as the meat will continue to cook in the pie later), remove the meat with a slotted spoon and strain into a mesh collander if you have one. I didn't, so I put paper towels over the pasta strainer I own and dumped the meat in it so the residual oil could leak out.
It is very important to leave the leftover meat juices in the pan because we are about the make a bomb gravy out of it. Don't dump it out!
So now that we have our taters and ground lamb all set, it's time for the gravy. Take the pan and all the yummy juices you cooked your lamb in and turn it back on to medium high heat. Add a tablespoon of more butter. Once it starts to melt, add a half tablespoon of flour. With a whisk, stir the butter and flour to make a roux (a fancy name for a paste of flour and butter). When all the chunks are whisked away, add a cup of beef broth and continue to whisk. It should all become thick and creamy once it starts boiling. Lower the heat to a simmer and add your diced carrots, celery, onion, and shallots. Yes, all at once! Trust me. Add your rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, etc.
Continue to simmer the vegetable gravy for 10-15 minutes covered until vegetables are relatively tender. Turn off the burner and add all the mashed potatoes and all the ground lamb directly into the pan. GENTLY fold it all together. It is absolutely OK if it isn't combined perfectly. Take this yummy pie mixture (don't eat it yet!) and dump it into a defrosted pie crust or the pie crust you made so wonderfully.
Here's the fun part. With the second defrosted pie crust that usually comes in a package, remove it from the foil tray and bring it all together in a giant dough ball. Put the dough ball on a floured cutting board and roll it out to about a quarter inch thickness or thinner if you prefer. Place it right on top of the pie and then make five incisions at the top with a sharp knife.
Finally: throw that baby into the oven: 350 degrees for an hour. I added shaved smoked gouda on top of mine during the last ten minutes of cooking because... well... CHEESE.