Shepherds! Do you quake at the sight of…this?

December 20, 2019 6:46 am Published by Leave your thoughts

While watching their flocks/washing their socks/abiding in fields, shepherds will no doubt have given a great deal of thought as to the perfect combination of ingredients for Shepherd’s Pie. This is something that also concerns me, as Shepherd’s Pie is our family’s traditional Christmas Eve dish. Reasonably easy to throw together, generally acceptable across the generations, it manages to unify the various branches of the family in heated discussion as to what exactly has been, or should be, put into the pie to make it just as good as it was last year.

There’s a general agreement on mince: it should probably be lamb, but somehow beef is often what has ended up in the shopping basket. The meat should be fried up with onion, celery and carrots, and a good stock is essential (try our organic Kallo stock cubes here). Everyone agrees on mashed potato for the top, and on the need for slow cooking.

So far, so good – but a little basic. So….I thought it might be time to ask some real ‘shepherds’ for their views: what are the other little ‘secret’ ingredients? And which one turns it from a hill-side snack into a meal fit for a new-born King?

Here are some answers:

  • Red lentils: very nutritious, and also have the advantage of ‘bulking up’ the meat, making this a cheaper meal all round.
  • Brown lentils: cost pennies more, but look just like mince (if you think someone may object).
  • Mashed swede and carrot; either as a top layer, or underneath the top layer. Sounds tasty, but probably a step too far for traditionalists.
  • Tomato sauce: a sneaky squirt into the gravy.
  • Tomato puree: a healthier sneaky squirt.
  • Worcestershire sauce: to give a depth of flavour.
  • Herbs: rosemary, thyme, bay leaves – and salt and black pepper, of course.
  • Red wine: one rather affluent shepherd even suggested port!
  • Cheese on top: generally agreed to be an essential.
  • Anchovy paste: a good one to try out.
  • Chilli powder or curry powder: to fry the onions in first. Challenge your guests to work out what that additional flavour is.
  • Chopped smoked bacon: something that could improve any dish, basically.
  • Garlic: a fairly uncontentious addition.
  • Cinnamon: a little more contentious…
  • Baked beans: the most contentious of all! There are those that feel it’s just not Shepherd’s Pie without half a tin of baked beans thrown in. There are those, on the other hand, that can’t begin to entertain the idea of them. Why not give it a try and see – you can mix the beans in, or have them as a separate layer. (They do tend to stain the mash a fancy orange colour, though.)
  • And if you can’t face the baked beans, but like the idea of the sweetness, we’d suggest the slightly more sophisticated addition of a spoonful of redcurrant jelly – which at this time of year, rather like shepherds, just seems to be hanging around the kitchen.

Recipes? Here are three from people who aren’t shepherds, but more like the three Wise Men/Women of Cooking:

Delia Smith’s Shepherd’s Pie with cheese-crusted leeks (a travesty? Or genius?)

Jamie Oliver’s standard Shepherd’s Pie 

Nigel Slater’s Shepherd’s Pie with spiced parsnip mash

Naturally Good Reads v2

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This post was written by Yzanne

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