There is not a living soul in the British Isles that doesn't swoon at the thought of a well made Shepherd's Pie. In fact, were we to do a poll, it would probably be the one thing that everybody can cook.
Shepherd's pie was traditionally made with the leftover lamb from a Sunday roast, looked forward to for tea on a Monday. Not to be confused with Cottage pie, which is made from beef and has actually been around for longer.
Most of us, and even back a generation, associate shepherd's pie with mince and have never experienced, let alone made, the old fashioned version with leftover lamb. We urge you to try it. Not only is it excellent kitchen management, but tastes fabulous too.
There is a perfectly natural human urge to want to make our mark on things, so in making shepherd's pie there can be a tendency to throw the kitchen cupboard at it. As you become more adept in the kitchen, you learn what to keep out more than what goes in. A shepherd's pie does not need oregano, gravy mix, or any other combination of additions; salt, pepper, and a bay leaf are about as far as you need to go. Trust in the ingredients; go too far and the palate is confronted with muddy flavours that remain confused. Pare it down and taste can do its job.
Oh, and one more thing before the recipe - carrots are for shepherd's pie, peas are for cottage. You can of course serve peas with; we would have some serious concerns if you didn't. A little diced swede is pretty good too. Use as much or as little leftover lamb as you want/need.
Recipe for leftover lamb shepherds pie
8 medium potatoes, floury type such as King Edwards, peeled and halved
1 tbsp veg oil, or leftover lamb dripping
500 g leftover lamb leg, finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp freshly crushed garlic
1 tbsp tomato puree
flaked sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Pre heat the oven to 180C before you begin...
1. Boil the potatoes in salted water until soft. Drain, place the colander over the pan, and cover with a square of kitchen roll. This sucks off some of the moisture. Do not leave for longer than five minutes though; potatoes need to be pretty hot to mash well.
2. In the meantime, heat the oil or fat in frying pan and add the carrots with the onions, bay leaf, and a pinch of salt. Cook over a medium low heat for about 10 minutes; do not let them brown.
3. Drain any excess water from the potato pan and tip the potatoes back in. Mash with a decent masher (those old fashioned ones with zig zaggy cut outs are the best), check your seasoning and add a knob of butter with a splash of milk. If you make the mash too loose it will turn to mush in the oven, but you also need to be able to spread it. so don't go overboard with the milk. Set the mash aside until the filling is ready.
4. Add the meat, parsley and garlic to the frying pan and stir to combine. Add the tomato puree and stir again. Cover the lot with boiling water and turn down the heat a little. Cook the whole lot down until the carrots are soft and half of the liquid has gone. This will thicken further in the oven and the mash will soak some up too. Don't be tempted to thicken it.
5. Pour the filling into a ovenproof dish; you do not want it too wide as then you won't have enough potato and it is a bugger to spread out. The dish in the image is about 6 inches by 9 inches. Take spoonfuls of mash and cover the top. A few spaces will be fine as they can be joined up easily with a fork.
6. Dot a few knobs of soft butter on the top and drag the whole lot with a fork to create the ridges. Place on a baking tray to catch the drips and cook for between 30 to 45 minutes. You want the top good and crisp, with almost burnt bits.
7. Serve hot with frozen peas or, at a push, green beans. Hopefully it will raining outside and the pie can really work its magic.