January 26, 2014
Shepherd's Pie from Cook's Illustrated
It's been over a year since we had Shepherd's Pie for Sunday dinner. This January has been very busy. So rather than trying new things for Sunday dinner, I've been making meals that we've enjoyed before and which don't require a full day in the kitchen. Shepherd's Pie is one of those simple hearty dishes that I particularly enjoy. It's a full meal in a single pan and it's great left over.
America's Test Kitchen developed several tricks for this recipe to help make it good yet relatively easy to make. It is made with ground beef which is easier to prepare then braised chunks of meat. However, ground beef has some less than desirable characteristics: it tends to get tough and rubbery and it doesn't provide much texture. The first of these issues was addressed by raising the pH of the meat before it is cooked by adding some baking soda. This seems an odd addition to a savory dish but it really works well and the beef stays nice and tender. The second problem is solved by forming the beef into 2-inch balls which are added to the skillet. They are partially cooked then broken up into pieces before the cooking is finished. This leaves behind tender, bite-sized chunks of cooked ground beef which add texture to the finished pie.
The potatoes are cooked and mashed first then the rest of the ingredients are cooked on the stove in a skillet. The potatoes are spread on top and the whole pan is put under the broiler. I have little experience with our stove's broiler and I slightly over browned (don't want to say "burned") the potatoes. Fortunately, this didn't leave an unpleasant burnt taste, at least none that was noticeable, and we enjoyed Shepherd's Pie for Sunday dinner and on two week nights, too.