I’ve a friend called Steve who lives in Kuwait. He’s a genial sort; an easy laugh and a cheeky glint but best of all, he never visits without bringing me a present.
Last week it was a huge chuck of vintage cheddar which we all but annihilated, just as it acclimatised to room temperature. At one point we were even dipping shards into honey.
He’s a big pinot noir fan too, which is kinda unfortunate seeing as he lives in Kuwait and a Kuwait’s a dry country (hard luck, Steve) and so when he visits I am bound to stock up on supplies and then we set the world to semi-rights via the wine and this time around at least, lots of cheese.
We first met at the turn of the century when we both worked in Dublin and since then have shared a love of cheese and wine (amongst other things) though in recent times, we meet up only once a year. It’s a mark of true friendship I think, that no matter how much time has elapsed since two amigos were last in each other’s company, that the craic and conversation falls into back place, as if it had never really stopped. That’s what it’s like with Steve.
Moreover, since he’s such a good friend, when visiting time eventually swings round, I always agree to cook whatever he desires. More often than not, that request turns out to be shepherd’s pie, or more specifically, my own garbled version of said pie.
This might sound like a handy number and it is; I’ve done it so often, I could probably knock up shepherd’s pie blindfolded. Still and all though, I usually try to dissuade Steve from the pie notion, proffering alternate dishes which I feel I’ve mastered in the intervening months since we last had the craic going. But no… shepherd’s pie remains his favourite request and since he’s come the whole way from the Middle East, who am I to quibble.
Therefore and henceforth, this version of shepherd’s pie will be known as Steve’s Shepherd’s Pie, as I only ever eat it when he’s around. It’s a homely version, which I suppose is what appeals to Steve as he’s living on Kuwaiti fare for the bulk of the year – with no pinot noir, either. Hard luck Steve.
INGREDIENTS (serves four)
1kg of floury potatoes
two heaped tbsps of butter
dash of milk (about 100ml)
salt and white pepper
700g of steak mince
a good grinding of black pepper
dash of olive oil
2 white onions, diced
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 tbsps of tomato puree
2 tbsps of worchestershire sauce
heaped tsp of mixed herbs
half tsp of honey
500ml of beef stock
Bisto for thickening
garlic bread for mopping
Start off by setting your spuds a-steaming. When they’re tender, mash with the butter and the milk and season well with salt and white pepper.
As the spuds are a-steaming though, set a large frying pan on a high heat and crumble in the steak mince. Let it fry for one full minute before breaking up with a wooden spoon. As it’s browning, give it a good grinding of black pepper. Once browned (after about ten minutes), remove to a bowl using a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add that dash of olive oil to the pan and add the onions. Sweat over a medium to low heat for two or three minutes and then add the garlic. Sweat off until tender another six or seven minutes or so.
Return the mince to the pan and then add the tomato puree and cook off for at least a minute.
Add the Worchestershire, the herbs, honey and beef stock and stick a lid on and let it simmer gently for at least 40 minutes. If, after this time, it looks too wet, give it another ten minutes with the lid off until it thickens slightly. To achieve that homely gravy effect, thicken further with two teaspoons of Bisto mixed with a few drops of cold water. Stir through the meaty mixture and that’s all she wrote.
To assemble the ‘pie’ it couldn’t be easier. Scrape all the meat mixture into a casserole dish and allow it to cool. Spoon the (probably now cold mash) on top and rough up a bit with a fork. Top with a few dots of butter and it’s ready for the oven.
All you have to do then is… allow Steve a few glasses of pint noir, pre-heat the oven to 180˚C and blast the pie for as long as it takes for the meat to bubble up the sides and the tops of the mash to take on a bit of colour.
Serve with garlic bread and yet more wine and it’s big smiles all round.