Published November 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.
Think this classic of tender meat and rich gravy topped with mashed potatoes is the ultimate comfort food? The cook who has spent 5 hours preparing it might disagree.
Most shepherd’s pies are watery, gray, and flavorless. And those that aren’t take the better part of a day to prepare.
We wanted a modernized shepherd’s pie—a bit lighter, much less messy, and a lot quicker to prepare.
The first thing we did was swap out the traditional ground lamb for 93% lean ground beef. We skipped the browning step—it left the meat tough and pebbly—and stirred in some baking soda and water to keep it soft and tender.
Since we were skipping the browning, we needed another way to beef up our filling’s flavor. In the end, we took a vegetarian approach. We cooked onions and mushrooms in a skillet until deep brown and then stirred in tomato paste and garlic until the fond got quite dark. We then deglazed the pan with some fortified wine and added flour to thicken it. Finally, we added herbs, beef broth, and Worcestershire sauce to liberate that valuable crust from the bottom of the skillet.
As for the potato topping, we cut the amount of butter and subbed milk for the half-and-half found in most recipes. And because soft, moist mashed potatoes would merge with the gravy rather than form a crust, we also lessened the usual amount of dairy and added an egg yolk for extra structure. Stirring some chives into the mash freshened their flavor without adding heft.
For convenience’s sake, we elected to leave the cooked filling in the skillet and pipe the potatoes over the top. Once the potatoes were in place, we smoothed them with the back of a spoon and traced ridges in them with a fork so they’d get really crusty under the broiler.list of recipes