I should be Irish. I have the requisite red hair, the fair complexion and even a few freckles. William Butler Yeats is my favorite poet (tied with T.S. Eliot, who’s American/English but Shhh!) and I love Guinness and all things Kerrygold.
So it goes without saying that I take St. Paddy’s day a little personal. Well, I don’t do the whole, green paint your face or wear strange shamrocks with glitter on them (unless I have drank all the Guinness), but I do cook up some traditional and some non-traditional Irish fare to celebrate the day.
When we were young newlyweds, Ari and I were regulars at a pub in the West Village, where both the Italian and Irish firemen all moonlighted as bartenders. We would sit at the bar, drink pints of beer and chat with everyone that came in. It wouldn’t take long before the whole place would burst into song and sing an Irish tune called “Four Green Fields”. It was great fun, but one of the best parts of the place was the traditional pub foods they served (along with several dishes that were way more upscale and delicious!) We dined on so many great things that came out their tiny kitchen-that happened to be setup in an alleyway (I wonder what the NYC Dept. of Health’s restaurant grading system would give them today if they were still open…). Anyway, one dish that we loved there was the Shepherd’s Pie. The meat was cubed and tender, the peas and carrots were fresh and sweet. The mashed potatoes were creamy and the melted, cheesy top gave it such a nice crust and variation of texture. One Au Gratin dish was plenty for two people to share- and sometimes even three.
We used to eat it there at least a few times a month, if not more. But now, we only seem to make Shepherd’s Pie for St. Paddy’s Day or once in a blue moon. We may want to revisit that. It’s the perfect all-in-one meal. Meat, potatoes and vegetables all together in one perfect marriage bound by aged cheddar cheese. Separate, all the parts are perfect. Together? They live in harmony. Both on the plate and in our bellies.
We were on our way to make our standard version of Shepherd’s Pie, but while watching The Chew today and seeing Carla and Clinton make their insanely decadent Eight Layer Shepherd’s Pie, we knew that we had to give this one a try. We made some adjustments to theirs and will note them below. Here’s the link to their recipe–
-They say that the Skill Level is ‘difficult’. It’s not. Not at all. What it is, however, is a lot of little steps that must be done before the final assembly. So, it’s not difficult, it’s time consuming. Very, very time consuming. Like, give yourself a good two hours of prep time if you are doing it all by yourself. It took the two of us, both completing different parts a good hour and fifteen minutes to finish the prep. (And Ari is a pro- so for the rest of us…. extra time.)
-The recipe also states in the Kitchenware (needed) section that it’s a 9×9” baking pan. That’s an error. It should be a 9×13”pan. And make it a deep one!
-It says to use a mandolin, but you certainly don’t have to if you don’t have one. Just be sure to slice the potatoes very thinly for the first layer.
-For the cheese sauce, it’s important to let the flour and milk mixture come to a small boil to thicken the sauce. Be sure to keep whisking so it doesn’t burn, but the high heat helps the roux and the milk come together. One thing they don’t mention, but you should also do, is to remove the milk from the heat and whisk in the cheese. This prevents it from scalding and burning and sticking to the pot. We also upped the cheese to 1 cup as the sauce was just too liquid and added a healthy pinch of salt because it tasted flat without it.
-For the mashed potato layer, we use our standard potato to butter ratio- 2:1. And butter to heavy cream ratio- 1:1. A la Joël Robuchon. It’s just how we roll. And we added salt to taste here- which, surprisingly, is left out of their recipe.
Some tips to make it all go easier (and faster):
- Read the entire recipe beforehand. (Sounds like it should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised!)
- Bake the puff pastry first and set aside.
- Chop/dice/cube all the vegetable you will need for the entire recipe all at once. (You need potatoes and cheese twice, so divide accordingly! Keep the potatoes for layer one in a bowl of water to keep them from turning brown until you need them.)
- When it’s time to brown the meat, at the same time, go ahead and boil the potatoes so they are ready for mashing when you get to the step for the mashed potatoes. While the potatoes are cooking, cook the peas and carrots and set aside until that step.
- Salt every layer. A pinch of salt takes food from flat to fantastic.
- The cheese was just not browning after the allotted time, so we kicked the oven up to broil just to give it some much needed color. And crust. We left off the final step of the fried onions but they would make an excellent addition for sure!
Here’s the finished result-
So how was it, you ask? It was truly decadent. And cheesy. And deep. The beer flavor really comes out in the cheese sauce. The mashed potatoes and the meat were perfectly seasoned and the entire dish came together in perfect harmony. The puff pastry dough gave it a biscuit like flavor and texture in the middle of all the creaminess. I loved the cheese topping and its crispy crust that it formed over the mashed potatoes.
Bottom line, it’s definitely a keeper recipe. But, reserved for large gatherings or special occasions. Only because of the time commitment involved in making it. I could see making the cheese sauce for other things though- like cauliflower or pasta.
If you try it, let me know your thoughts. I am always curious to know if people “follow the recipe” or improvise and what they come up with.
We also made Corned Beef, Cabbage and Potatoes. The most traditional Irish meal there is. It’s what everyone thinks of when you say St. Patrick’s Day, so of course, we made this too. Basically, everything goes into a pot of water and cooks until it’s done. The meat first, then the potatoes and then the cabbage. Served with a good mustard and maybe a splash of vinegar for the cabbage, it’s as easy a meal to make as any. If you are looking to glaze your corned beef, a black current mustard sauce is the most flavorful and you will please all of your guests.
In a small saucepan, over low heat, combine a jar of black current jam with three tablespoons of Dijon mustard. If you prefer a bit spicier, just add more mustard. Once liquid, pour it over the cooked corned beef and serve. You’d be amazed at how fast your corned beef disappears. It’s also really excellent the next day if you can sneak a slice or two away to save.
Irish Soda Bread is the perfect accompaniment for the pie and the corned beef. The thing about Irish Soda Bread is that there truly is only one recipe with a variation of different ratios. I think from the beginning of time, it just consisted of these simple ingredients. Traditional Irish Soda Bread doesn’t have baking powder or sugar in it. If it does, then it’s cake, not bread. And while you can experiment with different flours, it’s either bread flour or AP Flour that’s traditionally used in Irish kitchens.
Irish Soda Bread
4 cups (16 oz) of all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
14 oz. of buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425 F. degrees. Lightly grease and flour a round cake pan.
In a large bowl sift and combine all of the dry ingredients.
Add the buttermilk and mix to form a sticky dough. Place on a floured surface and lightly knead. Don’t overwork the dough- too much and the gas will escape and leave you with a flatter bread.
Shape the dough into a disc and place it in the round cake pan. Cut a large “X” in the top of the dough.
Cover the pan with an inverted pan and bake for 30 minutes. (This cover simulates the Bastible Pot- or the Dutch Oven traditionally used to make the soda bread in). Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
When completely baked, the bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped.
Cover the bread in a kitchen towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist until ready to serve.
Serve warm with your favorite Irish butter!
For dessert, we created fun “Green Velvet” Whoopie Pies. The recipe is the same for the one’s I created last Valentine’s Day, just with green food coloring instead of red. They are festive and everyone loves them. We hope you will too.
So, we’ll leave you with this Irish Blessing:
May the Irish hills caress you.
May her lakes and rivers bless you.
May the luck of the Irish enfold you.
May the blessings of Saint Patrick behold you.
For fun pub song’s- try this or this.
Have a great St. Patrick’s Day and remember- Don’t Drink and Drive!