English food has long been misunderstood in this country. Even classified as repulsive by those who may not appreciate the combination of beans and toast for breakfast. But some of us know better. A lot of that undeserved reputation seems to be a problem in translation. People from the UK have a history of taking perfectly delicious foods and giving them horrifically unappealing names.
– “A nice hearty sausage? Oy, let’s call that blood pudding”
– “Delicious back bacon? What’s a good name for that, mum? Roight, they’s called rashers, they is.”
– “Fruit dessert? That’s called trifle. Shut up, that’s why.”
What you see is the foundation of American mistrust of British cooking. Had these people invented hamburgers, they probably would have named it Goatse (note: don’t Google that term if you don’t know it. Give thanks for your ignorance).
Likewise, today’s meal suffers from a name that rubs Americans the wrong way. Shepherd’s pie is an excellent dish, especially in the fall/winter months. But when we hear the word pie, we expect it to be either topped with ice cream or torn out of a Hostess wrapper. Minced lamb (or venison, or beef, or unicorn), carrots, and mashed potatoes is quite the shock when one’s mind is conditioned to expect apples, sugar, and pastry. I’m not taking a side on who is “right” in this issue. I’m telling you to man up if you’ve never tried this before. It’s worth it.
The concept is simple, but you can take it a number of ways (see anal-retentive note below). You take minced or ground meat, brown it, and sweat some aromatic vegetables and herbs. You then combine these with some wine, broth, and maybe a little tomato paste. When the mix is nice and reduced, put it into a dish, top with mashed potatoes, and bake until the potatoes are nice and brown. Sing “God Save the Queen” (original or Sex Pistols version) and eat.
(Note: Far as my ignorant Yank self understands, this dish is only deemed Shepherd’s Pie if you make it with lamb. Should you elect for venison [my favorite] or beef, it apparently becomes a Cottage Pie. It’s like magic.)