For several weeks, we’ve tried to decide on a main dish to bring down to a church Session meeting/dinner this coming week. After some discussion, we decided that we’d go with a shepherd’s pie. It seems as though it’ll travel well, is pretty much a whole meal all in one pan, and you just bake it up beforehand. There was only one problem. We hadn’t made a shepherd’s pie in so long, we had trouble deciding what actually went into one.
Of course, there was an upside, too. Since we hadn’t made a shepherd’s pie in years, that meant we had to make up one for ourselves. Sort of a trial run to make sure it would taste okay. Sure, we could have found a recipe (we did look at a couple, just for ingredient ideas), but what’s the fun in that? Besides, we knew that a shepherd’s pie is basically a thick filling covered in mashed potatoes, and traditionally, the filling is leftovers, so we figured that we could just make it up as we went along.
Use our ingredients and instructions as a starting point for your shepherd’s pie. Don’t like carrots, leave them out. Want to use something instead of lentils, go for it. Hate mushrooms, or think it’s too much trouble to sear them, well, don’t include them. It’s okay, just so long as you end up with a thick tasty mixture to seal under potatoes. While we won’t talk about making the mashed potatoes in this post (you can see the instructions here), we will tell you when we started ours so they can be finished about the time you put everything together.
Procedure in detail:
Oil pan. Pour about a teaspoon of canola oil in a 9×13 inch pan and coat the bottom and the sides. Set it aside for now.
Rinse lentils. We just place the lentils in a large saucepan, add water, swish them about, pick off any obviously bad lentils, drain and repeat a couple of times. We do it mainly so we can pick through our lentils, and it helps eliminate any residual dirt. Once rinsed, drain the lentils.
Simmer lentils. It’s difficult to time how long lentils should be cooked. Some boil up in 20 minutes, others will take 45 minutes. So, keep in mind that you may have to turn off your lentils early, or possibly cook them longer than you expected. With that in mind, add the water, salt, and bay leaves, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, lower the heat, cover, and simmer the lentils, stirring occasionally and checking for doneness.
Sear mushrooms. Searing mushrooms helps to bring out their flavor, and we think it’s worth the extra effort. Add about a tablespoon of canola oil to a large heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron is ideal) over medium-high heat. When the oil is nearly smoking, add mushrooms in a single layer — you probably won’t be able to cook all the mushrooms at once, so work in batches — and let them sear, without stirring, until golden, about 3 minutes. Stir to flip the mushrooms and let them sear on the other side, also about 3 minutes. Once seared, season with kosher salt and black pepper, then spread on the bottom of the oiled baking pan. Repeat with the remaining mushrooms.
Make seasoned carrots. Using the same skillet — no need to clean — lower the heat to low, add a bit more oil if needed, and cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and carrots and cook until the carrots star to become tender, about another 5 minutes. Finally, add the rosemary, oregano, and thyme and stir to coat.
Preheat oven to 375°F. If you haven’t already done so, now’s a good time to start preheating the oven.
Add to lentils. Add the carrot-onion mixture to the lentils. At the same time, add the tomatoes, liquid smoke, vinegar, and frozen peas. Stir to combine and let the peas heat through.
Start potatoes. If you haven’t started your mashed potatoes, now’s a good time do so.
Taste and season. Once the lentil mixture is heated through, taste and add salt and pepper as needed. If the lentils are done, remove from the heat; otherwise, continue simmering.
Layer. Once the lentils are cooked through, layer on top of the mushrooms.
Pipe potatoes. If you’re feeling ambitious, scoop the mashed potatoes into a piping bag fitted with a 3/8-inch star tip, and pipe rosettes over the lentil mixture, sealing it in. If you don’t want to pipe the potatoes in place, you can spread them over the filling with a spoon and spatula.
Sprinkle. Dust the top of the potatoes with smoked paprika, if using.
Bake. Place in the middle of the oven and bake, uncovered, until heated through and the potatoes are golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes.
Stand. Let the shepherd’s pie stand for a few minutes before serving.
It seems like a lot of trouble, but, in reality, to make shepherd’s pie you make a filling and top it with potatoes. We liked adding the touches of the Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes, and the smoked paprika to get that additional smoky layer of flavor. That’s the same reason we used some shiitake mushrooms along with the ordinary white mushrooms. An additional layer of flavor. The flavors came together nicely: you could taste the smokiness, but it wasn’t overwhelming, and you could taste the shiitakes from time to time, but not so often that they took away from the main dish. We thought this turned out nearly perfectly (although our original version had only 2 plum tomatoes and 8 ounces of mushrooms and we thought the next version needed more, hence the change in the ingredients), and we give it five stars. Plus, it’s great the next day, too.