Wednesday, January 25, 2012
What is a cottage pie? When I demoed this at the market I watched peoples eyes light up when I said "pie" only to turn to confusion and horror when I listed the ingredients, "Beef, turnips...". "Beef? Turnips? Carrots? That's not pie! After a moment of contemplation, some said "You mean shepherds pie". Nope I mean "cottage pie". Shepherds pie is made with lamb and ONLY LAMB! (O.K... maybe mutton.) That's my story, and until someone alerts me to the existence of the secret society of bovine shepherds, I'm stickin' to it. Cottage pie, on the other hand, is most often made with beef, although venison, chicken, turkey, cuy, or any other meat is acceptable.
Why all the roots? In a continuing effort to eat make local foods a larger part of our diets we often find ourselves in a bit of a pinch this time of year. I tend to push the limit as far as being a locavore but still struggle to keep my local food intake above 50% during these long Cleveland winters. Many cottage pie recipes call for peas and/or corn but since peas and corn aren't in my vocabulary in January I thought amping up the root veggie portion of the traditional recipe would be a great way to honor some of the root veggies that many of us have become bored with by now. How many root veggies can you get away with? My version is 75% roots to 25% meat and that's BEFORE the potato topping. It got rave reviews.
Which roots? For me, it wouldn't feel right to not use carrots and turnips, so those, along with onion (of course), are a perfect start. You could stop there but I prefer the use of other aromats such as garlic and celery (o.k, not a root, but if you have celery root, use it) and, as I perused the market, sun chokes, (A.K.A Jerusalem artichokes) caught my eye as did sweet potatoes. Both really perked this recipe up.
My food processor gets little use in my kitchen but it is perfect for mincing all the veggies together. I don't play favorites here. Then all go in together and get processed to a very fine mince. Feel free to go at 'em with a knife or box grater if you like and leave them coarser if you prefer. There are no rules here.
Next you need to saute the veggies in butter. (Use oil if you like, but it wont taste as good. Bacon drippin's, lard or tallow? I'll love you even more.) The goal here isn't necessarily to brown them but to reduce them and concentrate flavors. Take your time, a little brown wont hurt at all and be sure season with salt, pepper and your herb of choice. Rosemary or thyme are common. I preferred to use savory. Worcestershire sauce is an excellent addition here also. There are no rules here either.
Remove the finished veggies from the pan and brown your meat of choice. Here brown means brown. Not grey stuff boiling in it's own juices. Keep cooking 'til the liquids evaporate and the meat turns...you guessed it...BROWN! You want the relatively small amount of meat to have big flavor and proper browning is the way to do this. While my version of this recipe doesn't necessarily call for stock, it, as well as beer or wine, to deglaze the pan couldn't hurt. Otherwise, a little water in the pan to get the crunchy brown goodness out will work just fine. Combine your meat with your veggie mixture and taste it. It should be delicious.
Next the potatoes. Cook them. How doesn't matter, bake, boil, steam and this is a good time to use up leftover mashers if you happen have them. I tend to boil them and run them through a food mill and prep them like standard mashed potatoes. (That means cream, butter and salt. They are NOT real mashed potatoes without those three ingredients... but I digress) Prep your potatoes any way you like. Smooth or chunky, Real mashers or just loosened up with some stock, or milk, or whatever. As long as they taste good and are spreadable, they will work. Sweet potatoes for the topping? Winter squash hanging around bored? All or part? Why not. Rules? None.
Assemblage: Spread the meat/veggie mixture in a baking dish of some sort and spread your potato mixture on top. This can be tricky only because the spreading the potatoes may stir up the bottom mixture. Take a lesson from those who frost cakes. Do a skim coat over the meat and veggies first and then go back and do your final coat. This will make it much easier to get two distinct layers without just mushing everything together. Bake it at 350º or so 'til the top is browned. Doting it with butter first will make it brown nicer if you like.
This is easy and very flexible dish that can feed lots of people on only a few bucks and tastes even better as leftovers. You can't ask for much more than that from a locally-sourced meal in the middle of the winter.