|Shepherd's pie in a cast iron skillet|
In western culture, the shepherd has come to symbolize protection, guidance, and solitary perseverance. In the Christian tradition, shepherds were the go-to guys when the angels needed to spread the word about a certain important baby shower.
In my opinion, the pinnacle of Shepherd Civilization may well be the invention of shepherd's pie. Shepherd's pie (also called cottage pie), consists of a layer of minced or ground meat covered by a layer of mashed potatoes—all of which is baked in the oven until golden brown. That's pure genius.
As near as I can tell, this dish was invented in Great Britain in the 1700's (once potatoes had arrived from the new world). As we all know, however, the Incas were advanced in many ways, and I wouldn't put it past them to have hit upon the concept of this dish centuries before the Brits.
I first became acquainted with shepherd's pie in Alaska. My friend Ben made shepherd's pie about once a week (which is infinitely sensible when it's 30 below zero). The 200 pounds of potatoes left over from the kitchen's summer larder further augmented Ben's appearance of sensibility.
|Carrots and onions add sweetness to complement salt|
No matter what type of meat you like in your pie, the secret to an outstandingly tasty experience is this: When you've finished browning the meat; add a bit of flour, and then some water or broth to create a quick gravy around the meat. The gravy helps alleviate any pooled fat at the bottom after roasting, keeps the meat from drying out, and provides a rich, flavorful foundation to the pie.
This recipe is a fairly traditional interpretation that uses ground buffalo and red potatoes. Just like this dish's inherent flexibility when it comes to meat, many varieties of potatoes are acceptable (including that old workhorse, the russet). I like to leave the skin on the potatoes, but you can peel them if you prefer. I added onions, carrots and peas to the meat layer in this recipe... but you can do as you like. The onions and carrots provide a nice sweetness to intensify flavor (in combination with the salt).
- 2 pounds ground buffalo
- 2 pounds red potatoes, halved
- 4 carrots, cut into 1/4 inch rounds
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup frozen peas
- 1-2 tablespoons all purpose flour (I used Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flour here)
- Granulated garlic
- Onion powder
- 1 stick of butter
- 1 cup (or so) milk
- 1/2 cup (or so) chicken or beef broth
- Canola oil, as needed
|Adding the top layer of mashed potatoes|
In a large cast iron skillet or dutch oven brown the buffalo over medium heat. Make sure to start with a shiny pan, and let it heat evenly before adding the meat. Buffalo is fairly lean, so I'd add a tablespoon or so of oil to start. When the meat is mostly browned, add salt, pepper, and onion powder to taste, as well as any vegetables or aromatics (onions and carrots in this case).
Continue cooking until the onions are beginning to caramelize, and the carrots are starting to soften (another 10 minutes, maybe). Add more oil if you need to, and then sprinkle in the flour. Mix things around, and then add water or broth until you have a small amount of gravy mingling with the browned meat. Add frozen peas and stir things around again. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and onion powder.
|Ready to serve!|
Bake the shepherd's pie in the oven on 350 degrees F for 35-40 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.
Pull from the oven, let cool 10 minutes, and serve.
And next time you encounter a shepherd, be sure to thank her or him for their contributions to society.