Irish Cuisine — Shepherd’s Pie

Irish cuisine is shaped by the crops and animals that have been historically raised in its temperate climate.  Potatoes, introduced in the sixteenth century, have become synonymous with both the cuisine of the island and of the reason millions of Irish left — the Potato Famine of 1842 to 1852.  The Irish diaspora has left their stamp on many places throughout the world, especially the eastern United States.

Ireland quick facts:

  • Capital: Dublin (Republic of Ireland)/Belfast (Northern Ireland)
  • Population: 4,588,252 (Republic of Ireland)/1,810,863 (Northern Ireland)
  • Notable Irish: St. Patrick, Bono, Lord Kelvin, very few Notre Dame football players

To represent Irish cuisine, we chose shepherd’s pie — a gravy made of ground meat and vegetables topped with mashed potato and baked until the topping browns and crisps.  Shepherd’s pie could be claimed by any of the cuisines of the British Isles, but when we saw it in our Irish cookbook we decided we really wanted some RIGHT NOW.

Shepherd’s pie

(adapted from Real Irish Food: 150 Classic Recipes from the Old Country by David Bowers)

  • 3/4 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 Tbs canola oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbs flour
  • 1 1/2 Tbs tomato paste
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 cups mashed potatoes

Since we didn’t have any leftover mashed potatoes, we had to make some.  First, we put some large, unpeeled, evenly-sized potato pieces in a saucepan and covered with water by about an inch:


…and brought the pan to a boil on medium-high heat.  Turning a couple of times in the meantime, the potatoes were knife-tender after about twenty-five minutes and removed to a plate to cool:


Once cool enough to handle, the potatoes were peeled and put into a bowl for mashing:


With two forks, the potatoes were broken up until no large lumps remained.  Milk was then added in small portions and the mixture mashed together until the consistency was thin enough to be passed through our piping bag:


Seasoned with salt and pepper, the potatoes were reserved until needed to make the topping of the pie.

For the filling, first we browned the beef, taking about eight minutes total:


Once brown, the meat was removed and the onions, carrots, and thyme put into the skillet:


The vegetables were cooked until just soft, about five minutes:


The onion and carrots were removed from the pan, the oil and flour added:


The flour was whisked until combined and continued to be whisked for another minute or so too cook out the raw flour taste:


The tomato paste was added:


…and whisked until thoroughly combined with the flour and oil.  Then about one cup of stock was added:


…and whisked in until combined:


At this point we knew the sauce was way too thick, so we added about 1/2 cup more stock:


…which looked like it might be about enough to coat everything.  The meat, peas, and onion mixture were added to the pan and stirred in.  At this point it was again clear that we did not have enough sauce so we added the remaining 1/2 cup and were finally pleased with the results:


The potatoes were loaded into a piping bag with a star-shaped tip to add the topping.  Starting from the outside, we applied a ring of rosettes of potato:


…and continued the pattern, spiraling inward, until the topping was complete:


The pie was put into a preheated 375 degree oven for about twenty minutes until just starting to brown:


The pie was returned to the oven and the oven was set to broil for another two minutes until the topping had crisped nicely:


…and the meat gravy was bubbling up the sides a little:

filling bubblingthrough

Unfortunately, a shepherd’s pie built in this manner does not make its way on to a plate in anything resembling an attractive manner, so we do not have a photo of it on a plate.  It was, however, delicious, reminiscent of the hamburger gravy, boiled potatoes, and peas dinner that Chris was accustomed to as a child.

Shepherd’s pie was very easy to put together, and would be even more so if we had leftover mashed potatoes from another meal.  Given how wonderful a use of leftovers this could be, we heartily recommend making plenty of extra mashed potatoes, just so shepherd’s pie can be made in the coming days.


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