I have a confession to make. Before cooking this recipe, I had never had shepherd’s pie before. It just goes against what I believe in, I’m a firm member of the Foods Don’t Touch club. And here you have your meat touching your carrots and mashed potatoes. It’s madness!! Sidenote: Thanksgiving dinner can be a NIGHTMARE for those of us in the Foods Don’t Touch Club!
Anyway, my mom wanted me to try this recipe and so did my husband so I took one for the team and made it. Like most Cook’s Illustrated recipes, it is more involved than the average shepherd’s pie recipe. But trust me, follow the recipe because they test things so many times and they have this down pat. I followed the recipe exactly and guess what? Not only did I LIKE it, but I went back for a small spoon of seconds. :) The gravy-like sauce on the meat is just to die for! The mashed potatoes were just okay, if you have an easier way of doing mashed potatoes for the top, I won’t blame you. Or judge you. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.
Recipe slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
1.5 lbs. 93% lean ground beef
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp baking soda
2.5 lbs. russet potatoes, washed, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
4 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg yolk
8 green onions, green only, sliced thinly
2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 oz. white mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp ruby port
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup beef broth
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tsp cornstarch
In a medium-sized bowl, toss beef with 2 tbsp water, 1 tsp salt, baking soda and 1/4 tsp pepper until thoroughly combined, then set aside for about twenty minutes while you prepare the rest.
While that’s sitting, place potatoes in a pan and cover with one inch water and 1 tbsp salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer until potatoes are soft enough for a knife to easily stick in. Drain, then return to the pan and cook, shaking the pot occasionally for a minute while the surface moisture has evaporated. Remove from heat and mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Stir in the melted butter then whisk the milk and egg yolk together and stir in. Add the green onions and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.
In a 10-inch skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, mushrooms, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Cook until vegetables are softened and dark bits are forming on bottom, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook about two minutes, until the bottom of the skillet is turning a dark brown. Add the port and using the spatula, scrape the browned bits from the bottom, until the port has evaporated. Stir in the flour and cook for one minute, then add the broth, carrots, Worcestershire, thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits again. Reduce heat and add beef in 2-inch chunks and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook until the beef is cooked through. Halfway through cooking, break up the beef chunks into small pieces. Stir together the cornstarch and water and stir this into the beef mixture and allow to simmer for 30 seconds. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaf and season to taste.
Spray a pie dish with nonstick spray and transfer the meat mixture to the dish, spreading evenly. Spoon the potato mixture into a large Ziploc bag and snip off a large corner. Pipe onto the top of the meat mixture, then use a spoon to spread it evenly over the top. Using the tines of a fork, create ridges over the surface of the potatoes. Place under the broiler on HIGH for a few minutes, watching carefully, until the potatoes turn golden on the ridges. Allow to sit for five minutes before serving.