As we crave comfort food in January, many of us think of that old classic: chicken pot pie.
I never cared, probably because my mom had a taste for Swanson’s frozen foods, and I couldn’t stand the smell or the taste. One of these days I’ll give it a try, but I’ll use dark meat instead of brisket. The white meat of chicken takes on an unpleasant taste when it undergoes a long cooking; dark meat does not.
For now, I have thought of other savory pies, because now is the perfect time for them. With many activities still pending, it’s time to cook, baking heats up the house, and a full-size savory pie will last a few days if you’re cooking for just one or two. You can, if you wish, make smaller pies using the recipes below and freeze them before they are baked.
If you’re eating alone, I recommend enjoying a British novel and a glass of single malt Scotch with your savory pie, preferably in front of an open fire.
I’ve been making shepherd’s pie and cottage pie for decades, but it seems the names are changing. The difference that I have always understood is that in shepherd’s pie, the mixture of meat and vegetables is covered with mashed potatoes; in the cottage pie, the potatoes are thinly sliced and layered like the tiles of a chalet roof. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed this explanation starting to fade, in favor of the claim that shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb and shepherd’s pie is made with ground beef.
I’m making another start by only using fresh vegetables that are in season now and not the frozen carrots, peas, and corn required in many recipes. When I make a pie in the spring I will use fresh peas and if it is late spring I will also add fresh corn. We almost always have excellent local carrots. You can also add sweet potatoes and winter squash; just keep the same proportions.
English Cottage Pie
Makes 4-6 servings
1 pound (3 large) potatoes, such as German butterballs, washed and peeled
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
3 – 4 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch or two of ground cinnamon
1 ½ pounds ground lamb
Ground black pepper
1 ½ cups meat broth (chicken, duck or beef)
1 tablespoon double-strength tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
3 tablespoons butter, melted
6 ounces grated cheddar cheese
Fill a large bowl half full with water, squeeze the juice from the half lemon into it and also add the lemon. Put it aside.
Cut the potatoes into thin slices and put them in the lemon water.
Fill a saucepan half full with water, season generously with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, take the potatoes out of the lemon water with your hands and transfer them to the pot. Simmer gently for about 8 minutes, until softened but not completely tender. Working quickly, drain the potatoes and spread them out on a clean kitchen towel.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Meanwhile, pour the olive oil into a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, add the onion and sauté until tender and fragrant, 12-15 minutes. Add carrots and parsnips and sauté until beginning to soften, about 10 minutes longer. Stir frequently and do not let the vegetables brown. Add the garlic, sauté for 2 more minutes, salt and stir in the cinnamon.
Add the lamb and use a fork to break it up as it cooks. Season with a few turns of black pepper, add the broth and tomato puree and simmer until the broth is reduced by half. Add the parsley, taste and adjust with salt and pepper. Put aside.
Put the potatoes in a medium bowl, pour the melted butter over them, season with salt and pepper and gently turn the potatoes over so that they are all coated in the butter.
Pour the meat mixture into an ovenproof baking dish about 3 inches deep. Place the potatoes on top, overlapping them slightly in a tile pattern. Spread the cheese over the potatoes.
Place the baking dish on a baking sheet, place it on the middle rack of the oven and bake until warmed through and lightly browned, about 25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before enjoying.
To make a real steak and kidney pie, you need kidneys, which is not so easy to get. The best options are farmer’s market meat vendors, local butchers, and local markets with good meat aisles. If you don’t see what you want, ask; almost anything can be ordered. Oliver’s sometimes has kidneys available in its self-service meat section. To save time, you can use a store-bought crust instead of the homemade crust.
Steak, kidney and mushroom pie