You may have had shepherd’s pie before. Or maybe cottage pie. (Traditionally cottage pie is made with beef and shepherd’s with lamb.) There are several established variations, but they all hold at their core braised meat and creamy potatoes.
With origins so clearly rooted in England, it’s curious why shepherd’s pie is so often noted as a traditional Irish dish. Obviously the geographical proximity must have played some role in the dish’s popularity in Ireland, but the forced downsizing of Irish farms and eager adoption of potato crops was surely equally influential.
Most recipes I’ve found for cottage pie or English shepherd’s pie instruct to layer mashed potatoes at the bottom and top of the dish. This is a variation from Irish shepherd’s pie which only calls for the potato goodness on top of the dish. There are even some traditional (and decidedly American) variations that specify to pipe the potato mix on top of the pie in a lattice formation with a pastry bag.
Of course, with all this history, my wild mushroom shepherd’s pie is not particularly traditional at all. Most obviously, it is vegetarian. Moreover, it includes cheddar. (If you are looking for a vegan dish, this can easily be omitted for a still-lovely result.) And, while it’s not a difficult dish to prepare, it is time consuming. But well worth it for a festive St. Patrick’s Day meal – or simple lunch or supper. An additional bonus: this dish makes wonderful leftovers, easily packed for lunches and re-plated for dinners later.
Wild Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie
This recipe asks for steamed potatoes. This method not only preserves the potatoes’ flavor but their nutritional value. (Well, as much as you can preserve the nutritional value of potatoes after they’ve been skinned.) The dried mushrooms referenced below are available at any number of higher-end grocery stores, but Kirk and I regularly find very affordable ones at CostCo Warehouses.
For the filling:
- 3/4 pounds assorted wild mushrooms, such as cremini, portobello and shitake
- 1 ounce assorted dried mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 large shallots
- 3 large garlic cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
- 2 1/4 cups no-beef stock
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 package Boca or Morningstar crumbles (ground beef substitute; 1 bag is the equivalent of 1 pound cooked ground beef)
- 1 1/2 tablespoon roux (roux can be made ahead of time and kept in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)
For the topping:
- about 6 small Yukon Gold potatoes, 1 1/2 pounds total
- 1/3 cup milk
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
- 2 1/2 ounces aged cheddar, preferably Irish
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. To make the topping, pour water to a dept of 1 inch into a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat.
- While you wait for water to boil, peel and slice potatoes into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Cube cheese into 1/3 inch dice. Put the potato slices into a steamer basket and place steamer over boiling water. (Water should not touch the bottom of the steamer basket.) Cover and steam until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 12 minutes. Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl.
- While the potatoes cook, make the filling: heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. While warming, mince shallots and garlic. Wash fresh mushrooms; stem and coarsely chop. Reconstitute dried mushrooms in boiling water; drain (reserving liquid) and roughly chop reconstituted mushrooms.
- When warmed, add 1 tablespoon olive oil to sauté pan; tilt to coat pan. Add shallots and garlic and stir for one minute. Add the mushrooms, pepper and bay leaf and sauté until well browned and lettimg off moisture, about 14 minutes.
- While mushrooms sauté, prepare stock, if making from bouillon (recommended). Rather than using plain boiling water, prepare no-beef stock with reserved water used to reconstitute mushrooms, adding water as necessary to prepare 1 3/4 cups stock.
- Add stock and tomato paste to sauté pan and bring to a boil. Add meatless crumbles, stir, reduce heat and simmer uncovered until liquid is reduced to about 1 cup, approximately 20 minutes.
- Add milk, butter, salt and pepper to potatoes. Mash well with a potato masher. Stir in half of the chives.
- Add about 1 1/2 tablespoons roux to thicken stock. Transfer filling to a 9-inch pie dish.
- Add cubes of cheese to potatoes and stir to incorporate. Spoon potatoes on top of mushroom mixture to cover completely.
- Bake the pie until it is heated through, about 35 minutes. Broil pie approximately 4 inches from heat to brown the potato top. Sprinkle with remaining chives and serve immediately. Serves 4 – 6.