Serves 4 to 6
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Shepherd’s pie, a robust casserole of meat, gravy, and vegetables all topped with a blanket of mashed potatoes, can take the better part of a day to prepare. And while the dish is indeed satisfying, traditional versions are simply too rich for most people. We wanted to both scale back its preparation time and lighten the dish to fit in better with modern eating sensibilities. Per other modern recipes, we chose ground beef as our filling over ground lamb. To prevent the beef from turning dry and crumbly, we tossed it with a little baking soda (diluted in water) before browning it. This unusual step raises the pH level of the beef, resulting in more tender meat. An onion and mushroom gravy, spiked with Worcestershire sauce, complemented the beef filling. For the mashed potatoes, we took our cue from an Irish dish called champ and cut way back on the dairy in favor of fresh scallions, which made for a lighter, more flavorful topping for the hearty meat filling underneath. . You will need a 10-inch broiler-safe skillet for this recipe.
1½ pounds 93 percent lean ground beef
Salt and pepper
½ teaspoon baking soda
2½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup milk
1 large egg yolk
8 scallions, green parts only, sliced thin
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
4 ounces white mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Madeira or ruby port
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¼ cups beef broth
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons cornstarch
- Toss beef with 2 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and baking soda in bowl until thoroughly combined. Set aside for 20 minutes.
- Place potatoes and 1 tablespoon salt in medium saucepan and add water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until potatoes are tender and paring knife can be slipped in and out of potatoes with no resistance, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain potatoes and return to saucepan. Return saucepan to low heat and cook, shaking saucepan occasionally, until any surface moisture on potatoes has evaporated, about 1 minute. Off heat, mash potatoes or press potatoes through ricer set over saucepan. Stir in melted butter. Whisk milk and egg yolk together in small bowl, then stir into potatoes. Stir in scallion greens and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside.
- Heat oil in 10-inch broiler-safe skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, mushrooms, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are just starting to soften and dark bits form on bottom of skillet, 4 to 6 minutes.
- Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook until bottom of skillet is dark brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in Madeira and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until evaporated, about 1 minute. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in broth, carrots, Worcestershire, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits.
- Reduce heat to medium-low, add beef in 2-inch chunks to broth, and bring to gentle simmer. Cover and cook until beef is cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring and breaking up meat chunks with 2 forks halfway through cooking. Stir cornstarch and 2 teaspoons water together in bowl. Stir cornstarch mixture into filling and continue to simmer for 30 seconds. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Adjust oven rack 5 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Place mashed potatoes in large zipper-lock bag and snip off 1 corner to create 1-inch opening. Pipe potatoes in even layer over filling, making sure to cover entire surface. Smooth potatoes with back of spoon, then use tines of fork to make ridges over surface. Place skillet on rimmed baking sheet and broil until potatoes are golden brown and crusty and filling is bubbly, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.