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Bison Shepherd’s Pie for a Cold February Night

June 13, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Recipe of the Day

My shepherd’s pie

the photo from Bon Appetit

THE RECIPE: Bison and Red Wine Shepherd’s Pie
Bon Appetit, February 2010

Active Time: 1.75 hours (you kind of have to stand there while it cooks)
Total time: 2 hours (both on the stove top and in the oven)

Would I make it again?

My cousin is an incredible cook.  I’m always hoping she will invite me over for dinner.  Or Brunch.  Or drinks (because there will probably be snacks too).  My husband and I hosted a News Year’s Eve potluck and she brought over very-delicious boeuf bourguignon and mashed potatoes.  We filled our bowls with the stew and then topped them with potatoes.  The second and third time I went back, I think I did potatoes first, boeuf second.  Details, details.  While I was happily eating I had a thought: “This is like a deconstructed shepherd’s pie!”

Shepherd’s Pie is one of those dishes, much like pot pie, that I was wary of for years.  I didn’t like the idea of gravy suspending carrots and meat under a crust.  But once I had actually made gravy, I realized first hand that it’s made of ingredients I eat regularly and with pleasure.  That New Year’s combo got me thinking about how much I like shepherd’s pie and how I’d like to try making one myself.  The recipe gods must have heard me because the February issue of Bon Appetit arrived with a recipe for Bison and Red Wine Shepherd’s Pie.

If you’re in a hurry: This is delicious and you should make it.

If you’re at work or avoiding doing the dishes, please read on.

Bison is a trendy meat.  It’s low in fat and relatively sustainable.
Beacuse of its leanness, bison can be dry and kind of…meh. But not here. This
recipe calls for “3 1/2 pounds bison or beef short ribs or 2 1/2 pounds boneless chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes” I went for the bison chuck, which is affordable and the right kind of
lean-fatty.  I called my local Whole Foods to make sure they had bison
chuck, and they assured me that they did.  I don’t want to call anyone
a liar but…they didn’t.  They had bison steaks and ground chuck (I needed to cut my chuck into cubes).  I
handled it really well.  I had a long conversation with the butcher.
I’ve mentioned this before but butchers really are the most
accommodating of all market employees.  We decided I’d get 1.5 pounds
of the bison steaks (which was expensive) and a little over half a
pound of the ground chuck for extra meat flavor and unctuousness.  I
realize that Shepherd’s Pie is one of those “peasant” dishes, like many
frittatas and stews, that is supposed to be full of inexpensive scraps, but mine was a top shelf pie.

I cut the steaks into chunks and tossed them with the flour and
seasoning mix.  I thought I had bought a slab of bacon–as the recipe required–but I’d actually
purchased sliced bacon that looked like a slab of bacon.  I was tricked
by Whole Foods for a second time! I weighed the slices to make sure I
had exactly 1/3 of a pound.  I love using my food scale.  Also, you
will note, the bacon looked a lot like candy stacked on that scale.
(Maybe this observation is just all the “bacon as dessert” trends infiltrating my
subconscious.)  I cooked the bacon in my 5.5 quart Le Crueset.  After
the bacon had been browned, I removed it and cooked the ground chuck,
then removed that and browned the steak pieces.  Onions, carrots,
celery, and garlic are cooked until softened, then I poured in the
wine.  I bought the least expensive Syrah Whole Foods had. It was great
in the pie, awful in the glass.  But, you know, when buying $6 wines,
one takes that risk. Just ask college seniors everywhere.

The broth, tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, sage, reserved bacon, and bison
all went in next. I took the liberty of cutting the bacon into smaller
pieces. The recipe says that the bison may take 1.5 hours to cook, but
mine was done in about 45 minutes. I think this was due to the smaller
amount of bison and the fact that I was working with a more tender cut
of meat–the catch all “steak” cut.  While the ingredients were
simmering, I cooked the pearl onions and boiled the potatoes.
Multi-tasking at its finest.  After the meat was tender I removed all
the large pieces and cut them into smaller squares.  The recipe calls
for this step.  I think this step might only be for the chef that is
using short ribs, but I decided to do it anyway because the original cuts were
very large.  Giant shepherd’s pie.  After everything was normal human
sized, I added the pearl onions, turnips, and parnsips to the pot
followed by the bison. A word about the turnips: Whole Foods did not
have any baby turnips.  I know … right?  So I bought regular sized
turnips and cut them into small pieces.  The pie was a little turnip
forward, no joke.  I could taste turnips very definitely.  However, it
was still delicious, I like turnips.

I was hoping to bake the pie in the Le Creuset because it’s so
handsome.  However, I realized that it would decrease the potato crust
surface area, and that is a very key part of the pie.  I poured the
filling into the suggested 13x9x2 dish and ran into a problem: there
was too much filling. I had to fill another baking dish with crust-less

The potato crust is a delicious buttery, creamy mashed potatoes that get
spread (with some difficulty, if you’re me) over the filling.  After the
pie is iced with mashed potatoes, it gets topped off by an egg wash and
Parmesan cheese.  At this point my shephed’s pie went in the fridge
for the night to be eaten the next day.

I took it out about 30 minutes before I was going to bake it, just to
take the chill off a little bit.  The pie (and the extra filling) baked
for 55 minutes and then rested for 10.  While it was resting, I sauteed
some kale with the leftover pearl onions and garlic.  It was the
perfect side for such a rich main, if I do say so myself.  The shepherd’s pie was a hit.  It was the perfect February night dish: full
of hearty but slightly unexpected flavors.  I know what I’m bringing to
my next potluck.

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