Simply the best version of this farmhouse classic - velvety smooth with a luscious cheesy mash topping. Comfort food at its best.
Red sky at night, shepherd's pie tonight... as the saying should go. And as the autumn nights draw in and the skies redden that little bit earlier each day, it becomes shepherd pie season. And if you are going to have a shepherd's pie, please let it be this one. It's a version of a recipe that my very good friend Vee gave me a while ago and I say 'version' because I can't find the original, but this is what I remember from it, and it works. And that's because there is one major secret to this recipe that means it'll work however you otherwise tweak it. And that secret is time. And also a whole a bottle of red wine. So two secrets, but sort of in tandem. Anyway, the resulting meat filling is so luxuriously velvety and succulent that it's worth the whole bottle of plonk you'll need to make it. Please try this recipe, ballsy as it feels to be pouring in entire bottles of wine, even if there is no red sky tonight.
Ingredients - serves 4
Glug of olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
400-500g organic lamb mince
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 large carrots, grated
Handful fresh young thyme, finely chopped
1 bottle red wine
1 pint meat stock (ie chicken, lamb or beef)
2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Several large Maris Piper potatoes
Milk and butter to taste
Grated Cheddar cheese
Big squirt of Heinz Tomato Ketchup to serve...
The thing about this recipe is that it is incredibly easy and only contains a few simple ingredients, but it does take time. Probably a good hour or so, not including the final baking time. And in that hour you do have to be vaguely aware of the pot bubbling on the stove so you can't just leave it - but it really is worth it.
Start by finely chopping a large onion and frying it over a medium-high heat in the olive oil in a large sauce pan. Once the onion is translucent (or getting there) add the mince and stir it around, breaking it up. Let it brown while you finely chop the garlic cloves, adding them in when the fat from the meat has rendered and there's no danger of the garlic burning. Stirry stir. Grate the carrots and add them in too (see pic above).
Stir them all together and then add in the finely chopped thyme. If you don't have thyme, you can add any other sort of green woody herb. I used probably about a large dessert spoonful of chopped herbs. Stir them in and once all combined and the carrots are softening, pour in the wine. Now... pouring in a whole bottle of wine does take some guts and it feels weird. I get that. But do it. If you don't have a full bottle, then half will do at a push, but I'd make up the liquid later by using more stock. The point is that you tenderise the meat via the alcohol and the time spent simmering, so don't stint on this sloppy stage. Stir the mince once or twice, but otherwise let it get on with simmering.
Once the wine has all but simmered away (and it will - this one took about 20 minutes), you have to brace yourself again for adding more liquid - this time a good pint of stock. If that boiling water hits the 750ml mark on the jug, nay bother - it's all good. Bung it in, give it a stir and leave it for another 30 mins or so. The stock always seems to take longer to absorb/simmer away, but be patient, it will happen.
Once all of the stock has simmered away, add the Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper to taste (you may not need salt, depending on your stock). You can now leave this mince to cool down, freeze it etc, or use it straight away in your pie base.
Do I need to tell you how to make mash? I hope not, but my top tip would be to add just that one knob extra of butter into the potatoes as you mash them and a good turn or two of the pepper grinder. And instead of salting the mashed potato, add a good tea spoon of salt to the cooking water of the spuds - this will flavour them more gently. Don't make the mash too wet with milk, but equally there's nothing worse than dry mashed potato. Let the potatoes steam for a little while after you've drained them and before you mash so that they don't taste too watery. Once you've topped your mince mix with the mash, create a jagged top with a fork and sprinkle some grated Cheddar on top. Pop it in a hot oven for 30 mins or so and serve with green veg and a massive squirt of tommy-k.
So, the wine can be a sticking point. Some people 'just don't have plonk in the house', while others 'wouldn't waste wine in this way'. It's up to you, but all I can say is that the above quantities work and make the meat so velvety and smooth, you'll never want to make mince in any other way again. In fact, take a note out of this recipe's book and simmer your Bolognese ragu in a similar way. But I digress - if you don't want to use wine, I think you can achieve a similar result by just using stock, but I haven't tried it and don't want to, thank you very much. Other variations obviously include using rosemary or marjoram instead of thyme, or dried herbs instead of fresh - just use what's in your larder. No Worcestershire sauce? Crumble an extra half beef Oxo cube in perhaps.
I'd pair this with a buxom red, like a nice Cote du Rhone or an Argentinian Malbec. I cooked it with a Chilean Merlot, so something soothing and autumnal like that would work just as well.