Revving up the roast

Photo: Peter McIntosh
Photo: Peter McIntosh

The Sunday roast was one of my favourite meals as a child.

I remember it vividly, occasionally beef, but usually lamb. Most families had a roast with all the trimmings at the weekend. But it was the leftovers which we looked forward to most. Shepherd's pie made with leftover lamb and topped with mashed potato was my all-time favourite.

Cottage pie is a similar dish, but traditionally made with the remains of a beef roast, minced, mixed with gravy and topped with mashed potatoes.

Shepherd's pie probably originated in the north of England and Scotland in the 18th century where there were large numbers of sheep.

However, it wasn't until the 1870s when mincers were developed, making it easier to mince the remains of the roast, that these two dishes became much more widely known and, unfortunately, often bastardised.

Jane Grigson in her book English Food has an enlightening line: "The Eastbourne Board of Guardians have ordered a mincing machine 'for the use of aged and toothless paupers in their workhouse'."

So this simple delicious dish became cheap food for the masses. The minced meat watery, grey and gristly, and the topping leftover lumpy potatoes.

Made with care using quality ingredients, this is truly delectable fare. I make it with top-quality beef mince, smoky bacon, red wine and balsamic vinegar, and scent this rich, thick and robust meat sauce with sweet smoked paprika and a touch of chilli.

The crowning glory is the creamy mash glistening with molten cheese.

The hearty, unbeatable combination of beef and mash makes this the ultimate comfort food.

Although we look back fondly on these old favourites, I suspect our increasingly worldly palates would find the originals disappointingly bland.

Comfort food should include contemporary ingredients. The recipes we remember with nostalgia remain because we have adapted them over the years, enhancing flavours and textures.

I think I have brought this classic alive, ramped up the flavourings and made it a little more sophisticated for today's lifestyle.

 

Classy cottage pie

SERVES 6

Ingredients
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
150g lean smoky bacon, rind removed, chopped
1kg top-quality beef mince
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1/8-1/4 tsp chilli powder
2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup beef stock
1/4 cup tomato paste

Mash
1kg floury potatoes (I use Agria), peeled, cut into 3cm-sized pieces
4-5 Tbsp sour cream (I use "light")
1 egg yolk (optional)
salt
100g Gruyere (Swiss) cheese,  grated

Method
Lightly grease a 9-10 cup capacity ovenproof casserole dish. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large frypan and cook the onion, garlic and bacon over a moderate heat, stirring frequently for 7-10 minutes or until onion has softened.

Remove from the fry pan and set aside. Add the remaining oil to the fry pan, add the mince and cook, stirring and breaking up the lumps for about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle over the smoked paprika, chilli powder and flour, and cook for a minute or two more.

Add the Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, red wine, beef stock and tomato paste, and bring to the boil. Return the onions and the bacon to the frypan, cover with lid and simmer gently over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little more stock if the mixture becomes dry. Spoon the meat sauce into the prepared oven dish and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200degC.

For the mash
This needs to be totally lump free, smooth and creamy. Put the potatoes in a large saucepan with cold water to cover, add a teaspoonful of salt and bring to the boil.

Simmer gently until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain well and place the saucepan (lid off) back on the heat, very briefly, to dry off any extra moisture.

Remove from the heat and mash using a potato masher. Mix the sour cream thoroughly with the egg yolk before adding to the potato mash and beat with a fork to fluff up the potato. Taste and add salt if needed.

Spread the mashed potato in an even layer over the meat mixture. Rough up the surface of the potato with a fork and bake in a preheated oven, 200degC, for about 25 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and sprinkle the grated Gruyere cheese over the potato. Return to the oven and continue cooking for another 20 minutes until the filling is hot and the top is golden.

Serve with a salad.

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