I grew up on Sheppard’s Pie. It is the grandddaddy of comfort foods for me. It may only be rivalled by creamed peas on toast.
The Sheppard’s Pie of my youth was inspired by the comfort food that came out of my Grandmother and her mother’s kitchens. If is food of a simpler time – and, more specifically, a simpler budget as the depression tightened her hold on many purse strings.
To this day my Grandmother can stand on her front porch in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and point to houses where the 3 generations before her lived. And this is important to this story: the Sheppard’s Pie of my youth rarely had lamb (it would have been brought in from far away) and used any ingredients from around the kitchen that one could muster. Sheppard’s Pie was more of an idea than a recipe and it continues (in my kitchen) as such today. So the proper name for today’s recipe (featuring ground deer from the fall) is “Hunters Pie” but to me it will forever be that of the Sheppard:
Ingredients (almost everything is optional)
- 3-4 large Yukon gold potatoes; peeled and cut into large cubes
- 1 pound ground venison
- vegetable oil for frying
- Paprika or cayenne (I like lots)
- dry oregano
- 3 carrots, grated fine (with a rasp)
- 1-2 onions or leeks, chopped fine
- Grated cheese (I used Old Cheddar and Gruyère)
Even more optional ingredients that were fabulous:
- 0.5 cup of roasted red peppers (we freeze them as a puree)
- 1 cup of chilli sauce (it was hanging out in the fridge and wanted to join the party)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for your potatoes.
- As the water is coming to temperature, heat a large heavy pan (I prefer cast iron) on medium-high, coat with a light layer of oil and wait until it is almost smoking.
- Add ground meat to oil – it should sizzle right away. Add it in small portions (each time you add meat you will lower the temperature of the pan so adding it gradually will allow the pan to retain its heat).
- Turn the oven to 350 degrees
- Season meat with salt, pepper, paprika or cayenne.
- Fry meat until it is well brown (your potatoes should be cooking or cooked by now).
- Add remaining vegetables (carrots and leeks/onions) to the meat and cook until tender.
- Add pepper puree and chilli sauce (these were the optional ingredients) and cook for a few minutes to reduce the liquid in them).
- The potatoes will be done when they fall apart when prodded with a knife (don’t under cook them)
- During the final moments of cooking your meat, add the garlic, ginger and oregano. Stir to incorporate and then remove from heat.
- Drain potatoes (making sure to get rid of all water). Allow them to sit in a strainer for a few minutes to complete the process.
- Season with salt and wasabi and incorporate cream and butter as you mash. Don’t worry about mashing perfectly smooth – some light chunks may remain.
- Spoon meat-vegetable combination into the bottom of heavy pot and top with potatoes.
- Use my Trick for the Best Sheppard’s Pie Topping (hint: it’s all about texture).
- Place in oven for 45 minutes.
- Top with grated cheese.
- Return pie to oven for 15 minutes; browning the cheese if needed/ desired at end with the broiler.
- Let the pie sit for 10-15 minutes before serving (don’t cheat).
This was just rocking.