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Dec 20, 2011
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Wine With . . . Shepherd or Cottage Pie


by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas


The difference between shepherd’s and cottage pies is that the former refers to a dish made with lamb, the latter with beef. Semantics aside, pies filled with fragrant, bubbling, finely minced meat and topped with nicely browned mashed potatoes rather than pie crust, have long been a staple of Anglo, and to a lesser degree perhaps, American cuisine. For that matter this sort of dish is a basic menu item in most meat-and-potato eating cultures (we’ve enjoyed pastel de papa in both Chile and Argentina and hachis Parmentier in France). Nigel Lawson, in “Feast,” offers a Christmas venison-based recipe for “Rudolph Pie” (she apologizes for the name). She also puts porcini mushrooms in hers, an idea we’ve borrowed.


Some critics maintain that the best shepherd or cottage pies are based on freshly cooked meats rather than recycled roasts, but surely one reason they are so ubiquitous is that they offer a tasty way to use leftover beef or lamb. It’s hard to imagine that they would have gained such culinary traction if starting from scratch was a requirement—after all, what better way to reincarnate the remains of the holiday roast?


Another debatable issue is whether to use chopped or ground meat. We weigh in with those who feel that given the time and inclination, finely chopped beef or lamb gives the most satisfying results. If you’re using a leftover roast, cut it into pea-sized pieces. If you’re starting with uncooked meat, it’s probably best to chop it by hand, but if you have a meat grinder, by all means use that. We’ve also had pretty good results chopping raw meat in a food processor, but the key is to make sure it doesn’t get ground to mush (stop processing just before it’s as finely ground as hamburger meat).


Cottage and shepherd’s pies are informal dishes, but as the British writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall observes in his masterful “Meat” cookbook, one should nonetheless approach them with “a certain amount of care and respect—because when you make a good one it’s one of the most delicious things on the planet.”


COTTAGE PIE


For the meat:

1 small onion, finely diced

1 carrot, peeled and finely diced

1 rib celery, trimmed and finely diced

4 or 5 shitake or other mushrooms, thinly sliced (optional)

2 tablespoons olive oil

About 1 pound raw tenderloin, about 1½ cups finely chopped cooked beef

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon thyme

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon flour

½ cup red wine

1/3 cup beef or chicken broth

1 tablespoon (or more) Worcestershire Sauce

For the potatoes:

2 large baking potatoes (or other floury type potatoes)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup milk

1/3 cup breadcrumbs (optional)


In a large sauté pan cook the onion, carrots, celery and mushrooms over medium low heat until they soften without browning. Stir in the meat, turn the heat up to medium, and cook until meat has begun to brown. Add garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, and continue cooking another minute or two. Stir in the flour and keep stirring until it is well blended into the mixture. Add the wine, broth and Worcestershire, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 10 minutes, adding more broth or water if the mixture gets too dry. Adjust seasoning to taste.


When ready to assemble the pie, preheat the oven to 375°. Peel the potatoes. Then cut them into 2 or 3 inch chunks, and place them in a deep saucepan covered with water. Salt the water, bring to a boil, and cook until potatoes are very tender. Drain them and mash with a potato masher or ricer, adding the olive oil, butter and milk (add more milk if very dry).

Spread the meat mixture in a deep 9-inch pie plate or similar oven-proof dish. Carefully spread the potatoes in an even layer over the top. To add further brownness and crunch, toss the breadcrumbs with just enough olive oil to coat them and sprinkle over the top of the potato “crust”. Alternatively, you could top it with a few dots of butter. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the potatoes are golden brown.


* * *


This hearty cold weather dish calls for an equally hearty red wine to provide satisfying companionship. Should you have any of that fancy holiday red left to be opened, by all means pour it. But if you’ve finished the expensive Christmas wine, there’s no need to break the bank when choosing a new red to accompany this leftover dish. We tried thirteen different wines with cottage pie, all priced under $20 a bottle, and found many that worked well. The key is to choose one that has a spicy, somewhat rustic character. You’re looking for comfort and warmth, not elegance or sophistication, with this match. After all, cottage pie is itself a down-home sort of dish. The wine you open should be as well.


Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Beckman Vineyards, Santa Ynez Valley (California) “Cuvee Le Bec” 2009

$18

A Rhône-styled blend of Grenache (45%), Syrah (34%), Mourvedre (14%), and Counoise (7%), this wine offers plenty of up-front California fruit, but adds echoes of savory spice to enhance intrigue. Medium to full-bodied, it’s full of character.

Cline, Contra Costa County (California) Mourvèdre “Ancient Vines” 2010

$16

Dark and inky, almost brooding at first, this wine benefits from exposure to air, and opens to reveal seductive plum and berry fruit flavors with a piquant peppery undertone.

Concha y Toro “Casillero del Diablo,” Rapel Valley (Chile) Syrah “Reserva” 2009

(Imported by Excelsior Wine & Spirits)

$12

Plump and ripe, with soft tannins but a well-defined structure, this value-priced Syrah offers surprising complexity, as its dark fruit flavors are enhanced by echoes of black pepper and earthy, forest floor. Very impressive, especially given the price tag.

Kenwood, Sonoma County (California) Merlot 2009

$14

No wimpy Merlot here, this wine offers dark fruit and herb flavors, with a firm structure and a long finish. There are hints of green olives and leafy tobacco, but the deep red and black berry fruit prevents these from ever becoming distracting. Instead, they contribute nuance and subtlety.

Tarani, Vin du Pays du Comté Tolosan (France) Malbed 2009

(Imported by Cornerstone US Wine Imports)

$15

If you only know Malbec in its soft, supple Argentinean rendition, this wine may surprise you. It’s deep, dark, and firmly tannic, with a taut structure, and substantial fruit and earth flavors, not unlike an old-fashioned cru bourgeois Bordeaux. Not for the faint of heart, but delicious.