FOOD WISE: Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Lamb Shepherd’s Pie

By Chef Renee Morgan

Chef Gordon Ramsey with baby lamb. (Courtesy Photo)

When my kids were teenagers, we used to have a St. Paddy’s Day party that was THE talk of the town, if I do say so myself. We all wore green, so as not to get pinched. “Kiss me, I’m Irish” badges were handed out at the door, four-leaf clover kissing balls hung strategically in every doorway, Celtic music played cheerfully throughout the house, and plenty of authentic Irish food, lagers and O’Douls (non-alcoholic beer) for the teenagers, made it the kind of party everybody loved to attend. It was mostly for the neighborhood, everybody was within walking distance and it was a great way to keep an eye on the kids to make sure they were having safe fun.

I would spend weeks planning. You know, the decorations needed to be cute but not tacky and the food needed to be authentic and tasty. No gross green beer for us! I made things like Bangers and Mash, Lamb Shepherd’s Pie, Devils on Horseback, Shortbreads and Irish Soda Breads, and Corned Beef and Cabbage, although I like the more original Irish Bacon and Cabbage better. Then there were the artisanal Irish cheeses and a huge variety of imported Irish lagers and ciders. See why everybody wanted to come to my parties? I learned a long time ago, if you feed them, they will come. You will also never lack for friends. I know this sounds a little like Martha Stewart gone terribly wrong.

Since St. Patrick’s Day is this Saturday, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Irish recipes with you. Even if you aren’t planning a get-together for this important holiday, and I can’t imagine why not, the Lamb Shepherd’s Pie is a great little casserole most families will like. If you can’t get ground lamb, it’s also a great way to use up leftover ground beef. Feel free to substitute any of the ingredients with others. If I don’t have peas, I use edamame or even butter beans. When I have been out of regular potatoes, I’ve used sweet potatoes. It’s really impossible to mess it up. Go wild!

What’s most important in Irish cooking is strict adherance to the Irish food pyramid – 40 percent potatoes, 30 percent meat, 20 percent whiskey, beer, lagers, 10 percent everything else. Follow this plan and all your recipes will be a great success!

Chef Reneé is an award-winning, classically trained chef. She earned her culinary degree at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a bachelor of music degree from Hardin-Simmons University. She has an extensive background in events planning and management. Reneé lives in Liberty Hill with her husband, John, their dogs, cats, chickens and one ornery rooster.

Symoblism of St. Patrick’s Day-For Your Entertainment

  St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17, the saint’s religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. On St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.

The Shamrock

The shamrock, which was also called the “seamroy” by the Celts, was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it symbolized the rebirth of spring.

Irish Music 

From ancient days of the Celts, music has always been an important part of Irish life. The Celts had an oral culture, where religion, legend and history were passed from one generation to the next by way of stories and songs. After being conquered by the English, and forbidden to speak their own language, the Irish, like other oppressed peoples, turned to music to help them remember important events and hold on to their heritage and history. As it often stirred emotion and helped to galvanize people, music was outlawed by the English. Queen Elizabeth I even decreed that all artists and pipers were to be arrested and hanged on the spot.

The Snake

It has long been recounted that, during his mission in Ireland, St. Patrick once stood on a hilltop (which is now called Croagh Patrick), and with only a wooden staff by his side, banished all the snakes from Ireland. In fact, the island nation was never home to any snakes. The “banishing of the snakes” was really a metaphor for the eradication of pagan ideology from Ireland and the triumph of Christianity.

Corned Beef

Each year, thousands of Irish Americans gather with their loved ones on St. Patrick’s Day to share a “traditional” meal of corned beef and cabbage. Though cabbage has long been an Irish food, corned beef only began to be associated with St. Patrick’s Day at the turn of the century. Irish immigrants

substituted corned beef for their traditional dish of Irish bacon to save money. They learned about the cheaper alternative from their Jewish neighbors.

The Leprechaun

The original Irish name for these figures of folklore is “lobaircin,” meaning “small-bodied fellow.” Belief in leprechauns probably stems from Celtic belief in fairies, tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. Leprechauns had nothing to do with St. Patrick or the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, a Catholic holy day.

Corned Beef  and Cabbage

5 pounds corned brisket of beef  (or Irish Bacon)

6 peppercorns, or packaged pickling spices

3 carrots, peeled and quartered

3 onions, peeled and quartered

1 medium-sized green cabbage, quartered or cut in wedges

Melted butter (about 4 tablespoons)

Place the corned beef in a large dutch oven, add water to cover with the peppercorns or mixed pickling spices (in supermarkets, these often come packaged with the corned beef). Cover the pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 hours or until tender, skimming occasionally. During the last hour, add the carrots and onions and cover again. During the last 15 minutes, add the cabbage. Transfer meat and vegetables to a platter and brush the vegetables with the melted butter. Serve with boiled parsley potatoes, cooked separately. (The stock can be saved to add to a pot roast or stew instead of other liquid.)

Lamb Shepherd’s Pie

Chef Ramsey's Lamb Shepherd's Pie

(This recipe was given to me by Gordon Ramsey, so it’s in a little different format than usual. It is the best Shepherd’s Pie I’ve ever eaten and well worth the effort.)

The Filling:

Olive Oil (2 Tbsp)

Ground Lamb or Beef (about 1.5 lbs)

1 Large Carrot (grated)

1 Large Onion (grated)

Fresh Rosemary

Fresh Thyme

Minced Garlic (I used 4 cloves)

Salt

Pepper

Worcestershire Sauce (several splashes)

Tomato Puree or Paste (no more than a small can)

Red Wine (several glugs)

Chicken Stock (not sure, but it looks like about 1/4 cup)

The Mash:

Golden Potatoes (about 1.5 lbs)

Heavy Cream ( 1/4 cup)

Butter (3 1/2 Tbsp)

Salt

Pepper

Egg Yolks (2)

Parmesan Cheese (1/4 cup, minimum)

Prep Work:

Dice the garlic. Separate your herbs from the stems. Separate your egg yolks. Peel and slice your potatoes into even pieces. Open your wine.Open your can of tomato paste.

Cooking the Potatoes:

This part is easy as pie (no pun intended), just boil some water, throw some salt and your potatoes in, and set a timer for 15 minutes – start on your filling. Upon the timer going off, take your potatoes out and strain the water off. Put potatoes back into the pan, or into a medium mixing bowl. Mash the potatoes with their ingredients from above and keep warm (your filling should be about done by this point)

Cooking the Filling:

Pour Olive Oil into a hot, rather large pan, then add meat. Stir meat as if your life depends on it for a few minutes so it’s nice and brown, and broken into very small pieces. Add your Rosemary, Thyme, and Garlic, then stir some more. Quickly add your Carrot, and Onion, stir a little longer. The idea at this point is to get everything to a minced consistency.

Add Worcestershire Sauce, stir, add Tomato Puree, stir, add Red Wine and sweat down for a minute or two. Add chicken stock and cook for 3 more minutes. I made mine without the stock because I didn’t notice it the first time I watched the show. You can add it, or leave it out.

Final Instructions:

Scoop your meat mixture into a deep casserole or other oven safe dish and then spoon the mash over the top. Spread the mash over the top of the mix with the bottom of the spoon and then sprinkle a generous portion of Parmesan cheese over the top. Poke the top with a fork several times to give it a peaked look and stick it in the oven at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes to brown the potatoes and set the pie.