Shepherd’s pie in miniature: A sure symbol of good luck
Article and photos by Lisa Crockett
I have, as far as I can tell, no Irish blood. I don’t have red hair, green eyes, or particularly good luck. In March though, everyone is a bit Irish. I’ve perfected a handful of delicacies from the Emerald Isle that I cook just once a year on the same day I wouldn’t dare leave the house wearing anything but green.
I love a plateful of corned beef and cabbage, steamy and comforting. Irish soda bread comes together in a flash and serves as a delicious accompaniment to Irish stew. Colcannon is a sneaky (and delicious) way for me to add some greens into a meal of meat and mashed potatoes. My favorite Irish dish of all, though, is shepherd’s pie. A shepherd’s pie is something of a wonder. It’s a one-dish meal that incorporates meat, starch and vegetables in a toothsome, satisfying balance. This year I’ve made a version that’s not only delicious, but pretty on the plate, too.
Potatoes are central to life in Ireland, and they are the crowning glory of this particular dish. In addition to being yummy, shepherd’s pie is also a perfect way to use leftover mashed spuds, which seem often to linger in my fridge. Whether you reserve this delicacy for March 17, or eat it on a variety of occasions – perhaps Pi day, a faux holiday on March 14 (3.14) in honor of the mathematical constant that represents the ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter – shepherd’s pie is traditionally piled in a pie plate or other large-ish vessel and topped with a mashed potato crust on top. The version I like best includes ketchup in the meat mixture – this is likely to be sacrilege to some, but I think the sweet tanginess imparted by ketchup makes it infinitely craveable and delicious.
This recipe starts like so many other tasty dishes – with a mixture of carrots, celery, and onion sauteed quickly in olive oil. Some recipes skip this step and use a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, but I think the extra few minutes it takes to chop up the veggies pays off in the flavor of the final product. The one area where I do cut corners is in the pastry crust. I always use a pre-made refrigerated crust simply because I think they’re pretty tasty and it simplifies this recipe, but a homemade crust would work well if you have a favorite. A pastry crust isn’t strictly traditional, but it gives the final pie a wonderful richness. It also allows for the pies to be made into individual servings and baked in a muffin tin, which is cute (a leprechaun-sized entrée!) and also makes for a less sloppy presentation. Cooled to room temperature, the crust also turns this from a knife-and-fork meal into something that can be eaten with one hand, making it a lovely addition to a St. Patrick’s Day buffet.
These shepherd’s pies can be assembled ahead of time and baked just before serving, or they can be fully baked and stored in the fridge, then reheated one at a time or eaten cold. Like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, these little bites of goodness are bound to bring good luck, and maybe even a kiss for the cook, even if you’re not really Irish.