Friday, August 3, 2012

Olympic Party (3): Cottage Pies

For my recent Olympic party, I elected to make individual Cottage Pies as my dish representing the United Kingdom (England in particular). I thought serving these dishes of comfort in small ramekins would add a personal element to this traditional casserole, and I must say they were very very popular to the party-goers. They all swooned with mouths full of this rustic British dish.

Many of you may be familiar with Shepherd's Pies, a more Irish version of the same dish that utilizes lamb for the meat component. Technically, if the dish uses beef, it is referred to as Cottage Pie instead, but the terms are often interchangeable. The ground meat (in this case beef) is combined with onions, carrots, and peas as well as a flavorful gravy. My gravy coated the meat mixture nicely, but if you'd like a saucier base for your pies, increase the amount of beef broth.

A simple mashed potato top conceals the meat while the casserole bakes. Ridges in the potato topping give way to beautiful browning and some nice texture. Some people include cheddar cheese in their mashed potatoes, or top with a bit of shredded cheddar at the end. Although this sounds decadent and delicious, I decided to stick with the more traditional cheese-less route.

I also think piping the potatoes with a star tip add a really pretty touch to the final look of the dish. If you are going to do this as well, definitely puree your potatoes with a food mill or potato ricer to get the finest texture. Otherwise chunks of potato could stop up your piping bag and cause a mess. If you choose to simplify your life and just spread the potatoes over the top, that's fine too, but I'd try to give it a little texture to aid in browning. This recipe can also easily be halved.

Cottage Pies
Makes 12

1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
2 T. tomato paste
2 lbs. ground beef (or lamb if making Shepherd's Pies)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup beef broth or stock (or more for a saucier base)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
3 lbs. russet potatoes
1 cup milk
2 T. unsalted butter

In a large skillet, heat the olive over medium heat and then add the onion and carrots. Saute for about 7 to 8 minutes or until the vegetables have begun to soften. Add the garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and tomato paste, and stir to combine. Add the ground beef, season with salt and pepper, and cook the mixture, stirring well to break up the meat, until the beef is cooked through and no more pink remains. Add the flour and stir, followed by the beef broth. Cook the mixture for about 8 to 10 more minutes or until the sauce thickens and glazes the meat. Taste the mixture and adjust seasoning as needed. Stir in the peas and remove from the heat.

Lightly grease 12 (1 cup) ramekins. Evenly distribute the beef filling to the ramekins. They should be filled about 2/3 of the way.

Meanwhile, peel and roughly chop the potatoes. Add them to a pot and cover with cold water. Season the water generously with salt and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain the potatoes and pass them through a food mill or potato ricer to achieve the smoothest texture.

In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter together until hot and the butter has melted. Stir this into the potatoes and season with salt as needed (salting the water will already help to season the potatoes, so don't go overboard here until you taste them first).

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip with the mashed potatoes. Decoratively pipe the potatoes into the ramekins over the meat mixture. Alternatively, spread the mashed potatoes over the tops, adding texture with a fork or spoon (this will help the tops brown in a more aesthetic way).

At this point, the cottage pies can be chilled and baked later on. If you are assembling them in advance, remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking to bring them back to room temperature. You may also have to bake them an additional 10 or 15 minutes longer to heat them through properly.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Set the ramekins on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the potatoes have started to brown. Some of the beef mixture may also start bubbling up the sides. Serve immediately.

Check out all the Olympic Party posts here...

Part 1: Menu, Cheese Board, and Sangria
Part 2: Spanakopita
Part 3: Cottage Pies
Part 4: Har Gow Shrimp Dumplings
Part 5: Yakisoba


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