It’s not easy to forget about the type of comfort food my mum makes. Shepard’s pie is one of many dishes that I miss eating at home. I’d take a spoon and scrape off, and eat all the crusty meaty chewy bits that were stuck to the roasting tray.
When I’m on semester break and holiday in Kota Kinabalu my mum always plans to cook some wonderful something or other. She peeks in the fridge to see what ingredients she has, writes out the shopping list, plans the dinner and then — when it comes down to it, we feast heartily to the end until there is nothing left to pick at except burnt cheese on the sides of the tray. Basically a Shepards’s Pie is about making use of whatever one has to put together a hearty meal for a large family, as would have been common in rural areas.
My mum’s from New Zealand and has roots in Yorkshire, the same place where the Brontë sisters lived. Her version of Shepard’s Pie is a little more English which Modern Britain calls “Cottage Pie” since it is made with beef. However, my mum still uses the term Shepard’s pie because of her New Zealand background where mutton would have been plentiful and cheap.
A Shepard’s Pie is made complete by a blanket of melted cheese all the way around with mashed potatoes just underneath, veg in the middle and either beef or mutton at the bottom. The layers of toppings look gorgeous when it’s served on a plate. Although not as fancy as other pies, one should never underestimate a good Shepard’s Pie. Each ingredient has its power and it’s nothing short of comfort in humid Sabah to eat it cold with a salad the next day.
The Ultimate Hearty Shepard’s Pie Ingredients:
-Grated carrot (optional – she does not always use it but it adds more nutrition)
-Mashed Potatoes (with a little milk & butter)
-Lots of grated Cheese (we use N.Z. Cheddar Cheese because it’s the best in the universe)
To Make Shepard’s Pie:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius/400 degrees celsius gas.
For the topping, peel and roughly chop the potatoes and cook in boiling salted water for 12 to 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain and leave to dry, then add in the butter. Mash well and cool completely.
Minced meat used to be poor man’s food, it used to be cheap. My mum uses beef because good mutton is more difficult to find in Sabah. Minced beef in Sabah is expensive and not always so good — either too much fat or too much grizzle. So she buys her own quality beef and “minces” it herself the traditional way, using a chopper to roughly cut it up and so that it’s not too fine. Homemade mincing requires the exercise of both hands, so put some elbow in to it! You can mince it to different degrees of thickness or chop it in different directions to make it fine.
Sometimes my mum puts herbs like ground sage or thyme into the mince. In other words, you can be quite creative.
Then she cooks it in oil first. She also cooks the onion in oil and lightly cooks the grated carrots in water (carrots can be omitted).
Spoon in the filling, onion first, then the grated carrots in a snug, high sided roasting tray. Then add in the mince. The mash goes next. Smooth it out and cover the whole area with mash. Flatten everything out and pinch it at the sides. Then grate over the rest of the cheese. The cheese makes it quite a costly dish in Sabah plus you need an oven. Be generous with the cheese and let the cheese brown nicely. Best eaten with a touch of tomato sauce. Happy days!