Sunday, March 22, 2009

Beefalo Shepherd's Pie with Potato-Turnip Mash

Spring is here, and while I'm always eager for the fresh and vibrant foods of spring - fresh garlic, asparagus, pea shoots, wild salmon - I usually start to get a little anxious about the going away of winter foods - long braised meats, root veggies, hearty soups and stews, and stick-to-your-ribs kinda meals. So I decided to make perhaps one of the heartiest, most comforting dish I know, and one I'd never made before, to boot - Shepherd's Pie.

This wasn't something I grew up with, or even really knew about until an I was an adult. Poking around online lead to many quick-fix recipes that looked mostly bland or boring, and the good ones seemed to use red wine - something that I was reluctant to use for this dish, knowing I wasn't going to drink the rest tonight (let's just say there was quite a celebration for a friend's birthday last night, and more alcohol was out of the question). So I decided to put my own spin on it, based on what I had on hand, and was quite happy with the way it turned out.

You don't need to use beefalo or buffalo, you can use regular old ground beef, but I really do love the extra meaty flavor coupled with lower fat of all things buffalo. So if you haven't yet tried it, I encourage you to do so! Also, adding herbs, spices, and salt to the boiling potato water is a trick I learned from Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook. Don't skip this step, it really does make a difference!

Beefalo Shepherd's Pie with Potato-Turnip Mash

For the mash:
1.5 lb red potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1" pieces
4 small turnips (or 2 large), peeled and cubed into 1" pieces
5 peppercorns
2 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/3 cup (approx) milk
1.5 TB butter
1 oz gruyere, grated
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste

For the filling:
1 lb ground beefalo (or lean ground beef)
2 TB worcestershire sauce
1/4 lb crimini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
3 shallots, chopped
2 TB dry sherry
1 carrot, diced
1/4 lb green beans, ends trimmed and cut into 1/2" pieces
1/3 cup chicken broth
2 TB tomato paste

Preheat oven to 425.

Place chopped turnips and potatoes in a large pot with about 1 gallon of cold water. Add salt, peppercorns, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for approximately 20 minutes or until potatoes and turnips are tender. Drain, and remove bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns. Return to pot and mash with butter, milk, and salt and pepper to taste, until creamy and smooth. Use more or less milk as needed. Set aside.

While potatoes are cooking, in a large, deep, ovensafe skillet over medium-high heat (I used a cast-iron enamel paella pan), sprinkle the meat with worcestershire sauce and ground pepper and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until browned and no pink shows, about 6-7 minutes. When browned, remove meat from pan and set aside; leave grease in pan. Reduce heat to medium. Add mushrooms and onions and cook until onions have softened and are starting to turn golden, about 10 minutes. Add sherry and cook, scraping up the browned bits on the pan, until liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Add carrots and 3 TB broth, and cook until carrots lose a little of their crunch, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Add tomato paste, the rest of the broth, and green beans, and cook, stirring well to mix in tomato paste, until green beans turn bright green but still retain some crunch, about another 5 minutes. Add ground meat and stir to combine. Remove from heat. Mixture should be moist, but not liquidy. If dry, add a few TB more broth. If liquidy, cook an additional minute. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Drop large spoonfulls of potato mash onto meat and veg mixture, making sure to cover completely. The top surface should be uneven, do not smooth it out. Top with cheese, then sprinkle with panko. Pop into preheated oven on the middle rack and cook for 15 minutes. Leave pan on middle rack, and turn oven to broil. Watching closely, cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes before serving. Serves 4 very heartily.

Note: if you do not have a large enough oven safe pan, you may transfer meat and vegetable mixture to a 9x9 glass baking dish before topping with the potato-turnip mash. Proceed as normal.

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