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RBR Tailgating: Cottage Pie

Pulling the rug right out from under the Irish and their pub food.

I don’t know that there is something more or less Irish or English about cottage pie or shepherd’s pie but in my head lamb, and thus shepherd’s pie, has always been associated with Ireland and beef, and thus cottage pie, with England. Maybe it was the gin that planted that idea.

I opted for the English-seeming dish for obvious reasons.

After a season in the wilderness, order has been restored. We are back in the playoffs and set to face off against Notre Dame. The Crimson vs. the Fighting Irish is the kind of match up that sends tingles up the legs of television executives. I’m trying to think of a bigger ratings guarantee. Maybe the Yankees vs. the Cowboys with a turns-out-he-faked-his-own-death halftime show by Elvis that might actually be a turns-out-he-faked-his-own-death Andy Kaufman impersonating him.

This was once a matchup that caused Northern relatives to call excitedly with stories about the return of Irish glory. In 2012 one of those calls led a cousin from DC to make a plane trip to watch the game in Birmingham. He occupied my sister’s couch forlornly, having realized once the game began that when we said “Notre Dame is really good, but I don’t think you understand,” we really meant “Notre Dame is really good, but I don’t think you understand.”

Everybody understands now. I loved hearing Jalen Hurts talk about rat poison in a recent interview. I hope the current roster listens to Saban as well as he apparently did but when you are favored by three scores over the number four team in the land and in team meetings it’s possible to sit between Heisman finalists, there’s a lot of room for pride to slip into satisfaction and eventual complacency.

First place problems.

This needs to be made ahead. Key is letting the meat mixture cool before adding the potato topping. As written the recipe should serve six as well as any make believe girlfriends who might be expected to drop in.

Cottage Pie

- 1 lb. ground chuck

- ½ yellow onion, diced

- 1 carrot, diced

- 1 celery rib, diced

- 4 garlic cloves, chopped finely

- 1 handful of peas or, given the time of year, black eyed peas

- 2 tbsp. tomato paste

- 1 - 1 ½ cup dry red wine

- 1 cup beef stock

- 2 anchovy filets, packed in oil

- 2 bay leaves

- 1 tsp herbs de Provence

- mashed potatoes

o 2-3 Russet potatoes, peeled

o buttermilk or heavy cream

o ground white pepper

o ground nutmeg

o unsalted butter

- finely grated sharp cheddar

- salt and pepper to taste

- olive oil

Start with a few glugs of olive oil in a large skillet, Dutch oven, or similar and turn the heat to medium high. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the carrot and celery and cook, stirring frequently until the colors begin to pale and then add the meat and garlic with pinch or 2 of salt and brown.

Once browned, add the wine, stock, bay leaf, herb de Provence, tomato paste, anchovies, and peas (black-eyed or otherwise.) Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. You want to let it reduce until it’s about as thick as you would expect a high end sloppy Joe to be.

Once reduced, which should take 20 to 30 minutes, remove from heat and allow to cool completely. I made mine a day ahead and put it in the fridge overnight.

Making mashed potatoes is simple enough until suddenly it’s not. I’ve never considered the possibility of masher failure until last night. I’ve just made them like I have hundreds of times before - peel, cut to 2 inch cubes, soak for 10 minutes to get rid of excess starch, cover with fresh water in a sauce pot, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 5 - 10 minutes checking the texture as you go, drain, mash, add cream or buttermilk as needed, salt, a tiny pinch of nutmeg, white pepper to taste, and butter if needed. I did that last night and they were awful, mealy nasty things. That had never happened to me before.

The third batch was no better than the first.

A chef friend I spoke to this afternoon said that mealy sounds like bad potatoes. Apparently that can happen. He gave me some non-mealy mashers from his kitchen to finish my pie.

So beware the existence of bad potatoes masquerading as fine seeming potatoes but otherwise follow my above process or substitute your own favorite family recipe.

Spread the minced meat on the bottom of an 8”x8” pan. You can either spread the potatoes on top or, if you own a really cool pastry piping bag, which I do, you can try to impress by piping dots of mashed potatoes over the meat. But let’s say you don’t own a really cool pastry piping bag or worse, you do own one but can’t find it, which I can’t, take a zip-loc bag and cut one of the corners off.

Fill the corner with mashers and squeeze.

Once the meat is covered put the pan in an oven preheated to 400˚ for 20 minutes.

Remove, sprinkle with cheese and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. The amount of cheese is up to you. I like a light touch with a strong cheese but go nuts if that’s your want.

Again, just to impress as the dish is ready right out of the oven, you can toss the pan under a broiler for ½ or a full minute to brown the potatoes a bit. If you own a brulee torch you might want to brown them that way instead. Honestly, if you own a brulee torch, why wouldn’t you want to brown them that way instead?

Serve with nothing. This is a meal in itself.

It’s kinda weird that it’ll be a full year between non SEC opponents. I’m doubting they missed us.

Enjoy, no injuries, and Roll Tide.