18 Mar

The Feast of Saint Patrick

If Saint Patrick’s Day falls on a weekend, Friday and Saturday usually become the holiday by default. This is especially apparent at bars trying to milk the festive faux-Irish party goers for all the beer money they’ve got, given our Western obsession with nighttime-drinking.

I tend to prefer celebrating on the holiday itself, which means that I’m a cranky party-pooper. Since it fell on a Sunday this year, an obvious problem was presented: having to go to work and assume adult responsibilities the very next day. And I really don’t like making Monday any more unpleasant than it needs to be.

Solution? Party during the day! It’s strange to me that this is so uncommon – you can still get in the amount of revelry appropriate for the occasion, but also sober up before bed to prevent any unpleasant side-effects the next morning.

I held a last-minute gathering at my apartment, since we decided that we didn’t want to deal with going out to the crowded Seattle pubs. This also gave me the opportunity to cook, and I never pass up the chance to be a complete showoff.

In addition to Irish Carbombs — the Irish-American classic of a shot glass with Jameson and Bailey’s dropped into a glass of Guinness and chugged before it curdles — I also cooked up my favorite British-Isles fare for everyone — Cottage pie.

While the dish is more commonly known today as shepherd’s pie, made with lamb instead of beef, cottage pie has earlier origins by almost a century. In addition to the authenticity, it’s also cheaper. It doesn’t get much simpler, either — a sauteed mix of ground beef and veggies covered in a dark sauce and baked with a mashed potato topping.

I originally learned to make this watching Gordon Ramsay’s F-Word (still, in my opinion, the greatest food show of all time that nobody in the United States knows about). He has the recipe published somewhere, I’m sure, but I just watched Chef Ramsay make it on TV and just kinda made it to taste. It’s hard to make this recipe taste bad. Here’s what I did this time. Start with the beef:

Beef Mixture

  • 2 lbs ground beef – Use the 20% fatty stuff. Trust me. It’s cheaper, it’ll keep the beef from drying out, and you’ll drain most of it off, anyway.
  • 1 large or 2 medium carrots, grated – Peel them first. Or don’t; I’m not your boss.
  • 1 large onion, grated
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, grated
  • About 2 tbsp tomato paste – I buy this stuff in a tube at Trader Joe’s, and it lasts forever. No need to bother with the cans.
  • 1 tsp dry thyme – use 1 tbsp fresh, if you have it.
  • 1 tsp dry rosemary – or 1 tbsp fresh
  • A few dashes Worchestershire sauce
  • Equal parts stock and red wine, as needed (The specifics here are up to you – chicken stock is usually the best unless you’re using homemade beef stock. Veggie stock also works in a pinch. Use a decent dry red wine that isn’t too complicated or fruity – Merlot works well enough for me)
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat a large skillet on medium high and add the beef when hot, and season with salt and pepper. Cook it, stirring occasionally, to brown it a bit and render out some of the fat. Once this happens, drain the fat off, or the final product will be unpleasantly greasy.

Return the pan to the heat and mix in the grated carrots, onion, garlic, and tomato paste. Stir this together until combined and the vegetables are wilted. After baking, these will break down and combine with the beef and sauce in a truly delicious way.

Finally, mix in the herbs and the Worchestershire sauce, and add enough stock and red wine to heavily moisten. The mixture should be wet, but not soupy. Adjust seasoning to taste, and cook for about four minutes. You can either transfer this mixture to a casserole dish, or just leave it in the pan as long as it’s oven-safe. Set this aside while you make the potato topping…

Potato Topping

  • 2 lbs potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes – I used Yukon Golds, but Russets would be fine, too
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup milk, plus more as needed – Whole milk is ideal here. You can even use half-and-half or cream if you’re feeling kinky
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping – This makes the topping nice and brown. Don’t skimp.
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Cover the potatoes with water in an appropriately sized pot, and bring to a boil. reduce to a simmer and cook until you can easily pierce them with a fork. Be careful not to overcook. Transfer to a colander and set aside to drain.

Combine butter and milk in the pot. When the butter melts and the milk is hot, add the potatoes by running them through a food mill or a ricer. If all you have is a potato masher, you can use that too – just be super careful not to overwork the potatoes. Once the starch gets agitated, they can become gummy and unpleasant. Add in remaining ingredients, season to taste, and stir to combine. Add more milk if the mixture is too thick.

Spread the potato topping onto the beef mixture with a spatula and make sure it is spread evenly. Sprinkle with more grated parmesan cheese, and pierce several holes in the top with a fork. This will give some ventilation to reduce the sauce, as well as a nice rustic presentation.

Toss this in the 375-degree oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbly. This may vary based on the size of your pan, so keep an eye on it.

Let cool and dig in! Tented with foil, this will remain a good temperature to serve for about an hour — especially if, like me, you used a cast-iron cooking vessel.

I know it’s a little rude of me to post this after the Feast has already passed, but it was kind of a last-minute decision and this stuff is good any day of the year. So, we’re good, right?

Okay, okay… If you really want a festive application, an upcoming use would be the Feast of Saint George – Patron Saint of England. This is on April 23rd. Enjoy!