Shepherd's Pie is a casserole made with meat and potatoes, and there are several variations. My version can be classified as a "Cottage Pie," in that it uses ground beef, though you could certainly substitute ground lamb (or just about any other ground meat) to make it more authentic. I also top it with cheese, which is not traditional, because I find it adds a nice, flavorful crust to the top. I also use a few shortcuts, like instant mashed potatoes for easier piping and canned vegetables to cut down on the cooking time.
Preheat your oven to 400°. Then, in a medium saucepan, bring the water and butter to a boil.
Add the mashed potato flakes, milk, and parsley. Stir until fully combined. It should be a little thin. Next add salt and pepper to taste. Set the potatoes aside to cool.
Heat a large skillet on medium-high. Add the ground beef, garlic, and a heavy pinch of salt. Break it up and let cook for several minutes, stirring frequently, until the meat is fully browned. If you're using a high-fat meat and don't want your pie to be too unhealthy, strain out the rendered fat (trying not to lose any meat in the sink, as I did above) and return the meat to the skillet.
Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and chicken stock. Bring it to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the vegetables. Then mix the cornstarch with an equal amount of cold water until it is fully dissolved. Pour the slurry into the meat mixture.
Stir thoroughly, making sure there are no clumps of cornstarch, and turn off the heat. Then spray a large baking or casserole dish with cooking spray. Pour in the meat mixture, making sure it forms an even layer.
Make sure the mashed potatoes are cool enough to handle. If they aren't, you can add an ice cube or two and stir until melted. Then spoon the potatoes into a piping bag and pipe them over the top of the meat. If you don't have a piping bag, you can spread the potatoes over the top using a spatula, but the potatoes won't be airy or even and they might mix too much into the meat mixture. Once the potatoes are in place, put the casserole in the oven and let it bake for 45 minutes.
Once the top is crusty and browned, pour the cheese over it and return the casserole to the oven for another 15 minutes.
Take the pie out of the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes to an hour. The more you let it rest, the firmer the pie will be (and the easier it will be to slice like a pie). The picture at the top of the page is an example of a pie that has rested for an hour, while the picture right above this paragraph is an example of a pie that has only rested for 15 minutes. Either way, it will be delicious.
-e. magill 9/30/2010
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