I have never been mad keen on Shepherd’s Pie, having always found it grey and tasteless, with wormy, rubbery mince. I hadn’t made it or eaten it for a good while until we were having lunch in the cafe at Heligan the other week and David had it for lunch. If you’re visiting Heligan, DO NOT take a packed lunch. Go to the cafe there, the food is excellent. I live in fear of day out cafes, the National Trust I always find particularly disappointing but Heligan is a delight and the cakes are wonderful too. It was delicious and it got me thinking that there must be another way as opposed to the school lunch-esque pies i’ve been used to. My first thought was that it needed wine and herbs to lift it but I also thought that rather than being cooked out on the hob top, a long, slow cook in the oven would give it a richness and depth of flavour. I have come to the conclusion that this is what mince needs; a long time to cook out in the oven to transform it from lacklustre into something special. I have to say it worked a treat and made enough for another meal or two, so I have a stash in the freezer for days of not wanting to cook, though if you wanted to feed about 6-8 people this would probably cover it quite nicely and I would recommend cooking it ahead and then leaving it in the fridge overnight for the flavour to deepen.
As for the potatoes I probably worked on the basis of about three medium potatoes per person (I know that that is a big portion but I mean, this is not a diet dish. This is a dish of fat bastardom so you’re going to have to make your peace with that and just have salad or something for lunch that day). I boiled the potatoes until cooked and then mashed with a good slab of butter in and perhaps a little milk but it depends on the potato. The first time I cooked it, it didn’t need the milk but the second time, it did as the potato was a little dry. You don’t want really wet potato though as it needs to balance with the filling and you don’t want a plate of slop. Yes it’s comfort food for spooning in but there has to be a balance. I served this with cavolo nero on the side, stalks removed and boiled for 2-3 minutes until soft but not overcooked.
1 kg lamb mince
1 large onion or 2 small medium ones, finely diced
2 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 large sticks of celery, finely diced
200ml red wine
400 ml lamb or beef stock (look I bought lamb stock but it got lost somewhere in the moving dustbin that is my car so I ended up using beef and it was FINE, d’ya hear me?! FINE! NOBODY WILL COMMENT I PROMISE!)
140g tomato puree
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 bouquet garni (or a couple of bay leaves if you don’t have a bouquet garni knocking about)
salt and pepper
Fry the onion, celery and carrot in 1 tbsp olive oil until soft. Transfer to a casserole pot.
Brown the lamb mince in two batches. When the second batch is browned, add the cinnamon and cook for thirty seconds. Transfer to a casserole pot.
Add the wine, stock, puree, rosemary, bouquet garni and a good seasoning of salt and pepper to the casserole pot. Bring to a good simmer.
Transfer to the oven with no lid on and cook for 140 degrees for three to four hours. Check it after three hours to make sure it’s not burning and give it a stir. It’s fine for that time in my oven but, and I cannot say this enough to people, all ovens are different.
Top with mashed potato and look, if you can’t be bothered to mash potatoes, i’m not going to judge you for buying some ready from M&S and whacking it on the top. You’re tired, I understand.
If you can’t get lamb mince (which sometimes you can’t, you JUST CAN’T), use beef. It’s now a cottage pie. Nobody will care and if they do, tell them to bugger off and not to be so bally ungrateful.