To-die-for Shepherd’s Pie!

The perfect supper dish!

Most of the foods I’ve written about are breakfast or dinner dishes, but I haven’t done much about supper. But wait, you say, aren’t dinner and supper the same thing? No.

I mean, really, no.

Supper is at 5:30 or 6, dinner is at 7 or 7:30 or later. Think of supper as “dinner with its legs cut off at the knees” or some other metaphor less unsavory. Supper doesn’t have folded linen napkins or candles or a date you’re trying to impress. Supper is food at the end of the day with family or a very easy-to-please friend. It’s not a show, it’s just good food, maybe with “napkins on a roll.” Tasty, comfortable. cozy. Many days of the week, I’m happy to sup instead of dine.

Now, I will say I’ve been advised that in many of these parts dinner frequently refers to the midday meal, Monday through Sunday, regardless, and that the evening meal, however lavish or elaborate, is supper, regardless. So you can have dinner of a tuna sandwich as a sternman at noon halfway to Nova Scotia and leaning over the rail, and come home for a supper of Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska. I don’t think I can get it right for everybody.

One of my favorite supper (evening meal) dishes is shepherd’s pie. It takes a little prep, but it’s still a supper dish. Last time I checked, shepherds herded sheep, not cows, so this dish is made with ground lamb. If you absolutely have to eat ground beef instead, okay, but then it becomes Shepherd’s Pie au Boeuf. Not the real thing.

Three layers of joy for 2-3 people!

Shepherd’s pie is, traditionally, three layers: a ground meat (lamb) mixture on the bottom, a veggie (usually corn) in the middle, and a top “crust” of mashed potatoes.

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We just had a few nights ago, and it was amazing.  And, incredibly enough, the entire casserole used just one thin pat of butter – about a teaspoon! Here’s how we did it:

Top layer: garlic mashies

It includes:

  • 3-4 medium-sized potatoes (we use yellow/gold potatoes)
  • garlic powder to taste – about 2 tbsps.
  • cayenne papper, to taste
  • milk – not much, about 2 oz.
  • splash of olive oil
  • chicken or beef broth – about 2-3 tbsps.
  • grated parmesan cheese – about 2 tbsps.

Note that there’s no butter in this recipe and only a small amount of milk – it’s more Mediterranean style, using olive oil and chicken broth instead, and just as delicious as the usual mashies, which tend to use a lot of butter.

Peel the potatoes and chop into thirds. Boil in water until they’re mashable. Drain the water, mash them, sprinkle in the garlic powder, cayenne pepper, parmesan, then all the liquids and mix well. The mixture should be a little on the firm side – not liquidy or runny.

Middle layer: corn

It includes:

  • frozen corn

Get out a bag of frozen corn. Just let it sit on the counter and forget about it.

Bottom layer: onions and ground lamb

It includes:

  • 1 lb. ground lamb. (We find the packaged ground lamb at Hannaford to have just the right amount of fat, which is not too much)
  • olive oil
  • 1 pat butter
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 6-8 cherry tomatoes, chopped (optional)
  • splash of chicken or beef broth
  • 1/3 packet of onion soup mix (store brand is best, I think – less salty)

About this time you can start to preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

This is where most of the fun is. Saute the onion in the pat of butter and a splash of olive oil – the butter is there to add some sweetness to the onions as they caramelize. When they’re lightly browned, set aside in a bowl.

In the same skillet, add a touch more olive oil and the ground lamb and cook over medium-low heat, breaking up the lamb into small pieces with your spatula. Add several small pieces of the chopped cherry tomatoes, a splash more of chicken (or beef) broth, and cook until meat is well-browned. Stir in the onions and lower the heat. Note that the lamb will render some fat, which you can pour off if you choose.

Now cheat. Take a packet of onion soup mix, turn it upside down, shake it vigorously so the fine powder mixes well with the dehydrated onions, open the pack and sprinkle about 1/3 of the package into the meat mixture. This is serious cheating but the payoff is worth it! Stir everything together and cook gently until the liquid reduces somewhat.

Build the pie!

In a small to medium casserole, layer in the meat mixture, about 1 to 1 1/4″ of frozen corn over it, and the mashies on top. Add another splash of broth on top of the potatoes. Cover tightly and bake at 325 for about 40 minutes. All the juices in the bottom layer will “work” up through the other two layers. Yum!

The pie should be bubbling lightly around the edges – if not, give it another few minutes.

There it is, for now.

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Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.