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story.lead_photo.caption Shepherd’s Pie

The contrary weather of late winter and early spring is much more tolerable when you make a mood-lifting meal.

And with St. Patrick's Day approaching, Irish dishes seem like the right thing to do. (I don't believe I have a drop of Irish blood in me, but that doesn't stop me from getting caught up in the spirit. I love to use different countries' holidays as an excuse to dive into their cuisine. Shake things up and try something new.)

What's the difference between Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie? Shepherd's Pie contains lamb and is an Irish specialty. Cottage Pie is English and contains beef. Both have mashed potatoes on top, and occasionally on the bottom as well.

This version of Shepherd's Pie calls for ground lamb, readily available in most supermarkets. If you have a tight relationship with your butcher, ask him or her to grind it fresh -- why wouldn't you?

This pie was actually created as a way to use up leftover lamb, probably more than a century ago. It's completely worth making even without leftover lamb, so let's proceed with our ground-meat version. But do think of this recipe any time you make a roast of lamb, whether it's a shoulder or leg or loin. Try hard to make sure there are leftovers, and then dice them finely and use them in this comfort-food pot pie.

Shepherd's Pie

4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and halved (about 1 1/2 pounds)

Kosher salt to taste

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1/2 cup chopped fennel

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup whole milk, divided use

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn

1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas

Ground black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the potatoes in a medium-size saucepan and add cold water to cover. Salt the water, then place over high heat until the water simmers. Lower the heat to medium-high and continue to simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, spritz a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium high heat. Add the lamb and cook, stirring frequently to break up the meat, until brown and crumbly, about 5 minutes. Turn into a colander and carefully wipe out the skillet.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in the same large skillet over medium high heat, and when it is melted, saute the onion, carrots, fennel, garlic and thyme, and saute for 4 to 5 minutes until the vegetables are lightly golden and tender. Add the flour and stir until it coats the vegetables, about 1 minute. Stir in the lamb, and then 1/2 cup of the milk and the broth; cook until the mixture comes to a simmer (there's not a lot of liquid; it absorbs quickly into the lamb mixture), stirring occasionally. Stir in the corn and peas; season with salt and pepper. Add the Worcestershire sauce and continue cooking until everything is well combined and hot, about 3 minutes. Turn the mixture into a 9-inch, deep-dish pie pan.

Drain the cooked potatoes. In the saucepan that you used to cook the potatoes, heat the remaining 1/2 cup milk and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter until barely simmering. Put the cooked potatoes through a food mill or ricer, or use a potato masher to mash and add them to the simmering milk. Stir in the cheese, season with salt and pepper, and stir to blend well, until the cheese is melted and incorporated. Spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the lamb mixture in the pie pan. Use a spoon to make nice wavy peaks and valleys in the potatoes; the peaks will then get nicely browned and beautiful in the baking.

Bake for 15 minutes, until the top is set and a bit colored. If you want the top a little more browned, you can run it under the broiler for a minute or two, but keep a close eye on it so it doesn't get too brown. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information: Each serving contains approximately 643 calories, 31 g protein, 41 g fat, 39 g carbohydrate (5 g sugar), 105 mg cholesterol, 838 mg sodium and 8 g fiber.

Carbohydrate choices: 3.

Moist, biscuit-y Irish scones, lashed with rich butter and a few slices of smoked salmon also top my list of Irish culinary yearnings this March 17.

European-style butter makes a big difference in this dish; it has a slightly higher butterfat content than everyday supermarket butter. If you're sticking close to the theme, look for Irish butter such as Kerrygold.

What does it mean to cut the butter into the flour mixture? The butter is added cold, in small pieces, and needs to be incorporated into the dry ingredients so that it is well distributed throughout but still maintains a pebbly texture. That way, when the scones bake, the butter melts into the dough, and creates flaky scones with tiny pockets of air to keep the texture light.

Blending the butter in with a pastry cutter, two butter knives, or quick rubbing movements with your fingers allows this to happen, without creaming the butter into the dough, which would create a denser scone.

As with biscuits or really any quick bread, the less you handle the dough the better. Over-mixing or kneading will activate proteins in the flour, making the resulting baked goods a bit tough. The dough might seem a little sticky; that's fine, just work quickly and nimbly, and make sure the work surface is well dusted with flour. Lightly dust the top of the dough too so that your fingers won't stick to it when you pat it out for cutting into circles.

These scones are not too sweet, as their intended filling is smoked, salty fish, but if you are wishing for scones to slather with butter and jam, you might add another tablespoon or two of sugar.

Irish Scones With Smoked Salmon

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for patting out the dough

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup chilled European-style butter, cut into pieces

1 cup milk, preferably whole

1 egg PLUS 1 egg yolk

About 3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter for serving

1/2 pound good-quality smoked salmon

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly flour a clean work surface.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, cut or rub the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, with no piece of butter larger than a pea.

In a small bowl, combine the milk and the egg yolk. Stir the milk mixture into the dry ingredients just until the mixture comes together.

Turn the dough onto the floured work surface, and roll or pat it out to 1 1/4-inch thick. Cut out 2 1/2-inch circles with a biscuit cutter, as close as possible to one another. Gently pat together the scraps so they are 1 1/4-inch thick, and cut out another two or three circles as possible. Place them on the prepared baking sheet at least 1 inch apart. Beat the egg with 1 teaspoon of water in a small bowl, and use a pastry brush to lightly brush the top of each scone with the egg mixture.

Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool until barely warm, or at room temperature. Split them in half with a fork, or cut them with a sharp knife, spread the butter evenly between the scones, layer some salmon onto each bottom half, and place the scone tops over the salmon.

Makes 10 scones.

Nutrition information: Each scone filled with salmon contains approximately 373 calories, 19 g protein, 18 g fat, 33 g carbohydrate (3 g sugar), 114 mg cholesterol, 389 mg sodium and 1 g fiber.

Carbohydrate choices: 2.

Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook. She blogs at themom100.com.

Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/KELLY BRANT
Irish Scones With Smoked Salmon

Food on 03/14/2018

Print Headline: Great day for the Irish ...

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