The weather outside so often dictates what we eat and what we crave. After several unseasonably warm weeks tempted us to believe that spring might be coming early this year, the weather has reverted back to its familiar wintry self. With breakup still a couple of months away, all of us are longing for hot, comforting food once again.
This hearty, rustic skillet meal has been around for centuries. It is the ideal cozy, cold-weather food that sticks to your ribs and warms you up all the way down to your toes. Shepherd's pie, also known as cottage pie, is to red meat what pot pie is to poultry. It was originally named shepherd's pie because it was made with lamb or mutton. There is some debate as to whether one can legitimately call it shepherd's pie if it's made with another kind of meat but I think the real spirit of the dish is to use whatever protein you have on hand. Here in Alaska, that can mean wild game like ground moose, which is one of my favorite ways to prepare it. I still call it shepherd's pie, though I think the term "hunter's pie" is probably a more fitting name in our neck of the woods.
Feel free to use what you have on hand, whether it's ground beef, lamb, venison or something else. I've even used ground turkey in this recipe a time or two with great results. Take the flavorful layer of meat and vegetables in their own savory gravy and top it with a fluffy layer of garlic mashed potatoes, finishing it off with some grated cheddar cheese. After 25 minutes in the oven, it's one steaming hot, satisfying skillet dinner to warm those chilly bones. My kids enjoy this served with some ketchup on the side, while my husband opts for a few dashes of hot sauce.
Recipe adapted from Alton Brown
For the potato layer:
1½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
¼ cup butter, melted
¼ cup milk
1 egg yolk, beaten
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
2/3 cup grated cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper
For the meat layer:
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ pounds lean ground meat of your choice (beef, moose, turkey, etc.)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 cup beef broth
½ teaspoon rosemary
¼ teaspoon thyme
½ cup frozen peas
½ cup corn
For the potatoes:
Place the potatoes in a pot of salted water, enough to cover. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmering about 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Drain.
In a small bowl, mix the egg yolk in with the milk. Mash or whip the potatoes with the melted butter and egg/milk mixture. Stir in the garlic powder and season generously with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
For meat filling:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Put a large cast iron skillet or ovenproof pan over medium heat. Add oil and, when hot, add onions and carrots. Cook 3 minutes. Toss in garlic. Cook another minute. Add meat and brown. Season generously with salt and pepper.
When the meat is brown, sprinkle the meat with flour and stir, cooking another minute. Add the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup and beef broth, followed by the herbs and vegetables. Stir until well combined and remove from the heat. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the top of the meat mixture. Sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese.
Bake 25 minutes or until the potatoes and cheese begin to brown and the edges are bubbly. Serve with ketchup or hot sauce on the side.