Shepherd’s Pie: A Complex Recipe That Offers Exquisite Taste and Texture

You can not have a spring dinner that features lamb without at some point having shepherd’s pie. So this week dinner was just that but this is no quick 30 minute meal. This is time consuming, this is painstaking patience, this is indulgence. However in my opinion it’s worth every bit of it and who better to give you the most indulgent version of a British classic than Heston Blumenthal himself. 

This recipe is yet another from Heston Blumenthal at Home. It was thanks to this recipe that I even got into making my own lamb stock but that is just one of many long processes to get this amazing dish to completion. To start though you have to know it’s best if you plan to do it over a couple days. It can be done in one day but if you don’t have a full day to work on this recipe you can break it up.

DAY 1

To begin you need to slow-roast:

  • 2 Lamb Shanks

The lamb shank is the bottom 6 to 8 inches of the leg where it tappers. This can be a very tough piece of meat because of the amount of tension and stress it’s under during the life of the animal. To best prepare it you need a long slow roast.

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Preheat the oven to 185ºF. Yup, LOW & SLOW. In a baking dish add the lamb shanks. While the oven is preheating place a small sauce pan on the stove and add:

  • 35 ¼ ounces Lamb Stock

Bring the stock to a simmer then pour over the shanks. Cover the casserole with foil and place in the oven for 9 hours!

Remove from the oven and allow to fully cool. Pull the meat from the bones (it will be so tender it will be falling off the bone.) Roughly chop it up and set it aside.

DAY 2

Begin with the Pommes Purrées. Wait, what? So this is a fancy mashed potato. This is the most fiddly bit but whatever you do don’t try to speed it up or take shortcuts. This is what makes this dish exquisite!

So what exactly is pommes purées? It is the ultimate rich and silly smooth potatoes. Have you ever had mashed potatoes so smooth that you wonder just how they did it? So smooth there’s no detectable grit, so rich and creamy that it’s as far removed from Aunt Edna’s wallpaper paste she serves every Thanksgiving? It’s not JUST about the mount of butter and milk that’s added but it’s also about what kind of potatoes you use and how you cook them.

The issue with mashed potatoes turning gluey is explained in the intro to this recipe. Here Heston explains that the issue is with the potato starch leaking out of the potatoes while cooking. To prevent this from happening you have to cook the potatoes at a VERY specific temperature. This means you need a candy thermometer and to be able to stand (or sit) next to the stove for 30 minutes without distraction or interruption. (This is even challenging for me and I don’t have kids or other major distractions. I think what I am going to try next time I do this recipe is to sous-vide the potatoes for the first step since you can hold a very specific temperature without contact monitoring.)

To make Pommes Purées bring a 4 qt saucepan of water to 162ºF over medium heat. While this is warming prepare the potatoes by peeling and cutting into 1 inch pieces:

  • 1 kg Waxy Potatoes, such as Yukon Gold

Once the water is at temperature add the potatoes and bring the water back to 162ºF. Hold the water temperature there for 30 minutes. Keep an constant eye on the temperature and keep adjusting to hold the temperature there for the entire time. At the end of the 30 minutes drain and rinse with cold water.

Rinse out the pan of any remaining potato. Add salted water this time and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook until soft and falling apart. Drain then return to the pan placing them over a very low heat to dry them out.

In a large bowl add:

  • 300 grams Unsalted Butter, room temperature, cubed

Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer over the butter and mix together. Pass this mixture through a fine mesh sieve to get rid of any remaining lumps.

In a small microwave safe measuring cup warm:

  • 240 grams Whole Milk

Add the warmed milk to the potato mixture and stir smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. For the Shepherd’s Pie add in 30 grams whole grain mustard. Set aside until ready to use.

This process can also be split up over multiple days. If splitting up over multiple days do everything just before adding the butter. Cool, cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to move on. Then heat and dry the potatoes on the stove again then rice over butter and so on.

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Moving on with the Shepherd’s Pie; begin with placing a sautee pan over medium heat and brown:

  • 1 lb Ground Lamb

If it gets too wet pour off the fat to allow it to continue to brown. Once all the meat is well browned scoop out with a slotted spoon into a bowl lined with paper towels. Add the chopped meat from the shanks. Set aside.

In the pan you sautéed the meat add all the lamb stock and reduce till it’s about a cup. Now, I hate recipes that say reduce by ¾. What does that even mean? How do I know what ¾ is? So, I approach this buy reducing the stock until it looks like it’s getting close to a cup of liquid. I then pour it into a clear measuring cup that has both a handle and a spout. If I am over I return it to the pan and keep reducing. I am shooting for about 8 ounces.

While the stock is reducing start on the veggies. In a clean pan sauté the:

  • 170 grams Onion, diced
  • 200 grams Carrot, peeled and diced (I uses a quart jar of canned carrots from my garden and cooked down with their liquid until most of the liquid had evaporated.)
  • ½ Star Anise

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Once the veggies are soft remove the star anise and add in:

  • 85 grams Celery, finely sliced
  • 165 grams Button Mushrooms, finely sliced

Continue to sauté until most of the liquid has evaporated. Pour in:

  • 125 grams Red Wine, I like something like a Malbec

Reduce until the wine coats the vegetables like a thick syrup. Set aside.

If and when at any point the stock has reduced to the 8 ounces pour back into the measuring cup and add:

  • 2 Sprigs Rosemary
  • 2 Sprigs Mint

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About 15 grams each, tied together, submerged in the stock. Let steep for 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes remove and discard the mint. In a small bowl add:

  • 1 teaspoon Cornstarch

To that add some of the stock just to make a slurry. Then add back to the remaining stock. Mix well. Add the meat mixture to the veggies, season with salt and pepper, and mix together well. Add:

  • 150 grams Frozen Peas

Pour the stock over the meat and veggies and mix together well.

Pour the contents into a baking dish and level out with the back of a spoon. Top with the Pommes Purées. For an extra fan touch you can pipe the potatoes onto the the pie.

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Bake in a 355ºF oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Enjoy!

Shepards Pie

 

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