The britishfoodinamerica shepherds’ pie is, we readily admit, indebted to Bob Brooks but is not quite his. It is a simple, primal dish, as it should be, even if instead of emerging from the mists of time it only dates from the middle of the nineteenth century and then from Scotland rather than South London.
This is, as Raj writers of a certain cast and caste would have explained, a dish not to be despised. Do not frip it up with sliced instead of ground lamb and by no means introduce continental interlopers like red wine. For four or possibly more.
For the topping:
- 2 big potatoes, like Idahos
- about 1½ cups yellow turnip cut into 1 inch cubes
- ½ cup milk
- 2-4 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into ½ inch cubes
- white pepper
- about 1 cup coarsely grated sharp Cheddar or other robust hard British cheese
For the filling:
- about 1½ cups peeled and diced carrot
- about 1 Tablespoon neutral oil
- about 1½ lb ground lamb
- 2 chopped big onions
- 2 Tablespoons flour (preferably Wondra)
- heaped Tablespoon minced fresh rosemary (optional)
- about 1 cup lamb or beef stock
- 1 Tablespoon Kitchen Bouquet (optional but helpful)
- ½ cup tomato sauce
- Worcestershire, as much as you dare
- freshly ground pepper
- butter for greasing
- Separately boil the potatoes and turnip until soft.
- Combine the two in a heavy pot over medium low heat and pour on the milk.
- Once the milk boils, mash the potatoes and turnips, then gently turn the butter into the mix.
- After the butter has melted, season the clapshot with salt and white pepper: Remove it from the heat.
- Boil the carrot until just soft.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
- Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over high heat until it shimmers and add the lamb, hacking away at it to break up the clumps.
- Let the lamb brown; stir it occasionally but not too much.
- Reduce the heat to medium low, stir the onions into the meat and let them soften.
- Stir in the flour and add the carrots to the mix, followed by the rosemary, Kitchen Bouquet, tomato sauce, lashings of Worcestershire and lots of pepper.
- Cook the filling until it sets, or thickens to the consistency you like.
- Grease an ovenproof dish of appropriate volume (the shape is unimportant but the depth of the filling should not exceed 1½-2 inches).
- Smear the clapshot over the filling and top it with the cheese.
- Bake the pie for about 30 minutes, until you see some brown bubbling at its edges.
- Broil the pie until the cheese turns bubbly brown, then serve it with a crisp green salad.
- In the tradition of eighteenth century food writers and fellow revanchists like Colonel Arthur Kenney Herbert, Bob Brooks is not someone to bother with measurements and proportions. They have been supplied by our test kitchen at britishfoodinamerica and are extremely flexible.
-If you prefer mashed potato to clapshot, omit the turnip. Alternatively omit it, but boil the same amount of turnip, diced, until soft and throw it into the skillet at Step 9.
-Unless you build your own, you will not find lamb stock in the United States. Both Oxo and Knorr sell lamb stock cubes in the United Kingdom.
-A slug of ale or, better, porter, enlivens the stock.
-Worcestershire, we confess, is one of our favorite flavor boosters. It may marry with lamb better than any other meat, and Jamie Oliver boils beef in a whole bottle of the stuff, which, counterintuitively, is not particularly high in sodium. So add Worcestershire to your shepherds’ pie with abandon.