As JerzeeTomato pointed out last week, chicken divan is a great way to use leftovers. Joy of Cooking is chock-full of wonderful ideas about what to do with the remains of last night’s dinner; I just wish that in my house dinner stuck around for day two more often. One of my dreams is to get my kitchen running such that I always have a cold roast in the refrigerator—chicken, beef, anything I can make into sandwiches or otherwise quickly transform into a delicious second-day dish. Though many people seem to arrive at this cozy and satisfying state of affairs without even trying, my horror of wasting food or watching it spoil makes it difficult for me to roast lavishly. So when I want to make classics of the leftover genre, such as shepherd’s pie, I do the whole thing from scratch (which, honestly, is never that much more difficult).
The Joy recipe for shepherd’s pie is straightforward, yummy, and an exceedingly satisfying thing to cook on a winter evening (although the perils of cooking with a freshly-made bowl of mashed potatoes at one’s side will be obvious; I was lucky to have enough left to top the pie). I know many of you will scoff at the idea of using a recipe for something as simple as meat with a topping of mashed potatoes, but I am an absurdly authority-oriented person and always follow a recipe the first time I make something. Sprinkling the meat with flour and then simmering it with stock would not have occurred to me, but it yielded the best shepherd’s pie I’ve ever had. Oh, and since I used ground beef, my dish was technically “cottage pie.” Whatever it was called, two of us could have wolfed down all four servings had we not shown such saintly restraint. I might make a double batch of this next time.
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
- 1 1/2 pounds all-purpose potatoes, peeled, quartered, and rinsed
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided, 2 tablespoons kept chilled
- Freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 pound raw ground lamb (for shepherd’s pie) or raw ground beef (for cottage pie) OR 1 pound finely-chopped leftover cooked lamb or beef
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup beef or vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme OR 1 teaspoon dried [I used dried]
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary OR 1 teaspoon dried [I omitted the rosemary, as I had neither form on hand]
- Pinch ground nutmeg
Put the potato chunks in a large pot of cold water. Bring to a boil, add a teaspoon or so of salt, and cook until tender but not waterlogged, 10-15 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain the potatoes. Return them to the pot and cook over low heat for a minute to remove excess water. Then mash with a fork, potato masher, or ricer (my choice), adding the cooking water along with 1 tablespoon butter and salt and pepper to taste. Beat with a wooden spoon until fluffy.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over a medium-low flame. When hot, add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 15 minutes.
Increase the heat to medium and add the meat. Cook raw meat for about 10 minutes, stirring and breaking it up with a wooden spoon; brown leftover meat for about 5 minutes, stirring for even coloration. Spoon off any fat. Sprinkle with the flour and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Add the stock, herbs, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Allow the meat to cool slightly.
Spread the meat in a 9-inch pie plate or baking dish. Spread the mashed potatoes over the top, making irregular peaks with the tines of a fork. Chop the remaining 2 tablespoons cold butter into small pieces and scatter over the top. Bake in the preheated oven until browned and heated all the way through, 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving in the baking dish.