Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Erroneous pie

I'd often wondered about the difference between cottage pie and shepherd's pie. After all, they seem pretty much the same. I had a vague theory around the American vs British English theme, but nothing to back it up. As far as I'd ever been able to determine, cottage pie and shepherd's pie were one and the same thing.

Then, one day, leafing through my recently acquired Joy of Cooking (thanks, Bryn and Liz!), I unexpectedly came across the solution. According to this great repository of cooking knowledge, cottage pie is made with beef; shepherd's pie with lamb. And when you think about it, it makes sense: what kind of meat would a shepherd have access to? Not beef!

So if we accept this definition, the Edmond's shepherd's pie (p129), along with every shepherd's pie I've ever made, is in fact a cottage pie. It would never occur to me to make one with lamb.

Whatever you call it, it's still a nice warming dish on a cold evening. Despite the sunny blue skies we've been having lately, it's still chilly out walking in the wind, and I was looking forward to my dinner. I got the spuds on to boil, and reached into my cupboard for an onion: there weren't any.

Since onion is quite an important ingredient, I had to turn off the potato pot, put my shoes back on and go for another walk. (The upshot of this was that I well and truly passed the 10,000 step mark for today - 12,956 at last count). After exchanging jokes with the checkout chick at my local Supervalue about the unruly onion which wouldn't sit still on the scale, I arrived home at 7.40pm to begin my pie for the second time.

I'd never made 'shepherd's pie' from a recipe before. I usually just cook up some mince with tomatoes and stuff, then stick it in a casserole dish and top it with mash and cheese. While this recipe wasn't far off my usual technique, there were some differences.

You begin by cooking the onion and browning the mince. Pretty standard so far. Then you stir through some flour before adding stock, tomato sauce and chutney. This is where I came unstuck. Clearly the flour was important for thickening the gravy around the mince, but I overlooked it, and had already poured in some of the stock before I noticed. Luckily, I had more stock than I needed, so I poured it off and started again from the point where you stir through the flour.

With all the ingredients included, I left the filling to simmer while I sorted the potato topping. The instructions were to mash the potato before stirring in butter, finely chopped onion, and grated cheese. I was a bit dubious about the onion, so I chopped it as finely as I could before adding it.

With the mash done and the filling nicely thickened, it was time to assemble my pie. I was interested to see that an actual pie dish was to be used - I've always done mine in a casserole dish. But as with Edmonds' fish pie supreme, using a pie dish gives the recipe a better claim to the name of 'pie'.

With the mash spread over the filling, and cheese sprinkled on top, the pie went in the oven. 20 minutes later, it came out golden, slightly crunchy around the edges, and oozing gravy here and there. Looking at it made me feel even hungrier, so I quickly helped myself to a decent portion.

It was worth waiting for, too. The filling had a nice thick consistency with no watery juices oozing out, and I liked the zing of the chutney. The topping was nicely savoury with added cheese and onion, and the odd crunchy cheesy bit on the edge was extra nice.

You really can't beat a good shep...ahem...cottage pie. It's one of those all-time favourites. Cheap, easy, homey comfort food. I'd choose this over something fancy every time.

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