Northern England circa 1970s. - Back when money was very tight, which in reality was all the time, my amazing mam would try and stretch the housekeeping money as best she could to feed our family of four. She had to be very, very creative.
What do you feed your family when funds are dwindling? Enter the humble spud to save the day! Those big white floury, sweet and starchy nuggets have been a saving grace for many families trying to get by on meager earnings.
Chips or French fries are regarded in the UK as the Filet Mignon of the potato. However in a very close second place is mashed potatoes, there is no better use for mash than the fluffy, creamy topping of the British staple 'Shepherds Pie' My mam would make this dish at least once a week, and we loved it. You could always tell when my mam's housekeeping money was slowly diminishing. At the beginning of the week the ratio of meat to potato topping would be about fifty fifty, when the funds were getting low the Shepherd's Pie would slowly end up with an eighty twenty ratio, eighty being the potato. The meat would be as thin as a cigarette paper, almost invisible, with an enormous mountain of mile high mashed potatoes to fill us up. Still very delicious, just add few spoonfuls of canned peas and HP sauce, and voila, dinner.
HP sauce is a bit like steak sauce, no UK household is without this condiment. It was developed by a grocer in the 1870's and was used in the Houses of Parliament restaurant, that's were the name comes from.
I have attached Chef Gordon Ramsey's recipe for Shepherds pie, mainly because it is made with ground lamb which is the most authentic. Actually the most authentic preparation is made with mutton, but I don't think any one is actually running out to buy sheep meat.
Chef Gordon Ramsey's Shepherd Pie
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 lbs lean ground lamb
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 2 cups white onion peeled and finely chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme chopped
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 ounce butter
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 7 ounces red wine
- 21⁄2 ounces Worcestershire sauce
- 1 liter chicken stock
- 2 lbs boiled potatoes
- 2 ounces butter
- 5 ounces milk
- 2 egg yolks
- ground white pepper
- In a large frying pan, heat the oil until hot, add half the ground lamb, season with pepper and fry until well browned. With a slotted spoon, remove the meat from the pan and place in a metal colander to allow the excess fat to drain. Repeat with the second batch of mince and place in the colander.
- Add the onion to the pan with the thyme and garlic and a knob of butter, cook until soft and translucent. Add the meat and tomato paste, then sprinkle over the flour. Cook stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes to cook the flour.
- Add the red wine and Worcestershire sauce and cook until the liquid has reduced to half the original volume. Add the chicken stock, bring back to the boil, then simmer for 30-40 minutes. The mixture should be thick and glossy. Allow to cool, then check the seasoning.
- Mash the potato until creamy and smooth. Put into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Place the milk and butter into a small pan and heat until the butter is melted and the milk is about to boil. Pour over the potatoes and beat well, adding the egg yolks and seasoning with salt and white pepper.
- Put the mince into a large baking dish, then top with the creamed potato. Use a fork to rough up the top.
- Place in a preheated oven at 400°F for 30 minutes or until bubbling and golden brown in color.