The tastiest meat cuts come from the muscles that do the most work. The meat from slow-braised lamb shanks, therefore, make this shepherd’s pie something exceptional.
Origins of Cottage Pie
Shepherd’s pie started life as cottage pie in the United Kingdom and Ireland in the 18th century. It was a means to make use of leftovers from the weekend roast. Widely available and affordable potatoes were used as a topping for this leftover meat. Later, in the 19th century, the term shepherd’s pie came into use. A cottage pie made with lamb or mutton became known as shepherd’s pie. The reason? Sheep needed shepherds. Cottage pie typically uses beef.
This Irish Pub has a good write-up on the origins of Shepard’s Pie.
Getting back to the origins
Minced lamb is the primary ingredient of shepherd’s pie today. In this recipe, we get back to the roots of this dish. Instead of minced lamb, this recipe uses lamb shanks slow braised in red wine until very tender. The shanks are the shin bones from the hind legs. As these are some of the muscles on a sheep that do the most work, the meat is delicious yet very tough if not cooked for a long time. Therefore, the braised lamb shank is cooked for 3.5 to 4 hours. As a result, the meat falls off the bone.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the mashed potato topping. A gluey mashed potato topping would ruin the tender, intensely flavoured lamb. Use flowery/starchy potatoes. Also, I highly recommend using a potato ricer. After it is riced/mashed, bring the potato to the right consistency by incrementally adding the cream and melted butter.
This mashed potato salad would make a very interesting alternative topping for a shepherd’s pie.
Braised lamb shank shepard’s pie
- 1.3 kg lamb shanks for me, this was 2 quite large lamb shanks
- 200 g mushrooms button or portobello
- 20 g chorizo
- 2 large carrots for the stock
- 4 stalks celery
- 1 large onion
- 3 Tbsp cooking oil
- 350 ml red wine 1/2 bottle of merlot, cab sav, syrah, or try malbec
- 3 cups brown chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 1 head garlic
- 3 Tbsp tomato paste
- 3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 carrot to go with the diced meat
- 100 g shimeji mushrooms or small button mushrooms cut into quarters
- 10 g butter
The mashed potato
- 750 g potatoes russet or yukon gold
- 2 tsp salt
- 100 ml cream
- 30 g unsalted butter
- 50 ml extra virgin olive oil preferably truffle infused
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 head roasted garlic
- 50 g grated cheddar cheese
- 20 g grated parmesan cheese or preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Preheat the oven to 160 degC.
- Clean and dice the mushrooms, onion, celery and carrot.
- Remove any loose skin from the head of garlic and crush each clove under the side of a knife.
- Dice the chorizo.
- In a large skillet or wok over a medium high heat, add a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil.
- Brown the lamb shanks on all sides. You may have to do in batches. Add browned shanks to a dutch oven or large casserole dish with a lid.
- Discard the oil, as fat would have rendered from the lamb. Keep any brown bits from browning the lamb.
- Add a couple more Tbps oil and the chorizo. Sauté the chorizo for a couple of minutes. It will render its own fat.
- Add the diced vegetables and sauté until the onion has softened and the mushrooms have reduced non size. 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add the stock, wine, tomato paste, worchester sauce, pepper, and bay leaves to the pan with the sautéed vegetables. Stir.
- Add the vegetables and stock mixture to the lamb shanks in the dutch oven.
- In the shanks aren’t covered in liquid, add some more wine or stock.
- Put the lid on and put in the 160 degC oven.
- Bake for 3.5 to 4 hours, turning the shanks once during that time.
- Dice the carrot to be used with the diced meat into 5x5mm pieces.
- Cut the hard base from the shimeji mushrooms and discard.
- Sauté the carrot and shimeji mushrooms in butter until the carrot is starting to soften and the mushrooms are starting to brown. Set aside.
- Remove the lamb shanks from the dutch oven and set aside to cool.
- Strain the vegetables from the stock, reserving the stock.
- In a saucepan, reduce the stock to 3/4 cup
- When the lamb shanks are cool enough, remove all the meat from the shanks and give the bones and sinewy bits to the dog.
- Using a knife on a large chopping board, dice the lamb into 3-5 mm pieces.
- Mix the lamb with the carrot and shimeji mushrooms, and the 1 cup of reduced stock.
The mashed potato
- Peel the potatoes and dice into inch square piece. (Excuse the reversion to imperial measures)
- Add the potatoes to a large saucepan of cold water. Add the salt.
- Bring the water to a boil, and boil for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes is done, ie a fork easily pieces them.
- Drain the potatoes using a sieve, then leave to cool and dry.
- Preheat the oven to 185 degC.
- Melt the 20 g butter.
- Mash the potatoes using a potato ricer (or mash them normally if you don’t have one yet).
- Fold in the parmesan cheese, the truffle infused oil, half the melted butter, half the cream, and the pepper.
- Add more of the melted butter and cream until it is of the right consistency.
Putting it together
- Pour the lamb mixture into the base of a baking dish.
- Layer the potato mixture over the top. Do it piece by piece, flattening some of the mashed potato on to a ladle, then sliding it off the ladle on to the top of the lamb mixture.
- Sprinkle with the cheddar cheese.
- Bake for 40 minutes at 185 degC.
- Put the extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and mustard into a jar or shaker. Shake well.
- Pour over the green salad.