I admit it: I am addicted to serious cooking and food-related shows. I only watch programs which go beyond the usual basics. One of these is Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Kitchen Nightmares’. I am aware that there is a script and a director, but listening to arrogant restaurant owners argue with this established chef about the hazards lurking in the walk-in, and how their unique menu is better than anything that Gordon has in mind, just cracks me up. Recently, I was inspired by an episode featuring a failing Irish pub and their dismal Shepherd’s Pie. Realizing that it was time to look into the domestic origins of this venerable classic, I started with pubs in general.
Irish pubs have existed almost from the beginning of American history. As the population of this country expanded in the 19th century, so did the influx of Irish immigrants. They brought their memories of home cooking and love of drink. Google “Irish Pubs in America” or “History of Irish Pubs” and the results will give you web links for everything from the lore of pubs in any given city to new publications on the subject. Many pubs are as well known for their food as they are for their libations. Menus are available on most pub’s websites. A few are eclectic or just plain odd. Others are ‘fusion’ concepts of Irish, Asian, Mexican and/or American dishes. Kettle chips with cheese, corned beef and garnishes? Spring rolls with corned beef? Irish nachos? Why not? Any of these concoctions probably go down well with a pint of stout or porter. Some, however, may best be enjoyed through a protective haze of Jameson’s.
In the Central and Sacramento valleys, there are quite a number of establishments with ‘Pub’ in their title. Even for non-imbibers, the food alone may well be worth a try. But if pub crawls are not your thing, there is absolutely no reason to leave home to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day when Irish home cooking and the company of your nearest and dearest is as far as your own kitchen. Start with Shepherd’s Pie. Let the shenanigans commence!
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prep ingredients.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground lamb, beef or turkey
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (leaves only), minced or 2 teaspoons dry, crumbled
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (leaves only), minced or 2 teaspoons dry, crumbled
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 large carrot, grated
1 large yellow onion, grated
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 small can tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 pounds gold potatoes (not minis), peeled, chopped in even pieces
1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half, warmed
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
Few grinds of fresh pepper
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Boil potatoes in water to cover, until tender. While potatoes are cooking, heat oil in large pan over medium heat. Add meat, crumbling quickly into the heated oil. Stir meat until brown and in tiny pieces. Add herbs and garlic; stirring to combine. Add shredded vegetables and continue to stir until everything is almost caramelized, somewhat dry and with a minced consistency. Add Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste and wine. Continue to cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently. Taste for seasonings, adding more if necessary.
When potatoes are ready, drain well and return to pot. Mash potatoes with their ingredients, adding egg yolks last and very quickly. Scoop filling into a 2-quart oven-safe dish and then spoon potato mixture over the top. Spread topping over meat with the bottom of the spoon and then sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until potatoes are browned. Serves 6-8.
Lori Bowles was raised in Southern California. She is currently serving on the board of directors as the advertising and publicity chair for the Lodi Bowmen Inc. She lives in Lodi with her husband Jeff and has three children and five grandchildren. She enjoys cooking, reading about cooking and reading about cooking while eating.