Several years ago, before I boarded a plane bound for Nepal to start my Peace Corps service, our volunteer group met in San Fransisco for a few days of training. During the training, we participated in a series of ice breakers, because after all, we were all going to be spending a lot of time with one another over the next couple years so getting to know each other was a high priority. One of the sessions involved asking the group a series of questions with two options and you had to go to one side of the room or the other, based on your response. I’ll always remember one question – “Are you a meat and potatoes person or an adventurous eater?” – and out of that group of 26 adults, I was the only meat and potatoes person.
Now, I’m sure there were several people who may have raised an eyebrow at someone who was going off to live for two years in a country where the staple diet is rice and lentils. And the truth is, I lasted the whole two years (and really did like the food) and I do consider myself quite an adventurous eater. However, I grew up on meat and potatoes, I love meat and potato meals and they will always be my comfort food. So, a shepard’s pie? Right squarely in my comfort zone.
Now, I can’t say that I set out to create a “healthy” Shepard’s pie, but, I daresay, think that is what may have happened along the way. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
Bison is considerably lower in fat than ground beef and was a great way to highlight the ground bison I received from South Mountain Creamery. In addition to the lower fat meat, this shepard’s pie is full of veggies, from the carrots and peas in the filling to potatoes and cauliflower (yes, cauliflower) in the potato topping. The addition of the cauliflower added a bit more texture to the filling, but if you are looking for a smoother topping, you could always puree the boiled potatoes and cauliflower for a silkier finish. However, as is, I really liked the topping as it was flavorful like mashed potatoes but without the heavy feel.
I used a 2 quart baking dish and everything barely fit and the filling did bubble out towards the end so I would recommend 3-4 quart baking dish for this recipe.
Bison Shepard’s Pie
- 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 2 medium), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 head of cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds), cored and coarsely chopped
- 4 tablespoons South Mountain Creamery unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup South Mountain Creamery heavy cream
- 1 South Mountain Creamery egg yolk
- 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
Bison and vegetable filling:
- 1 pound South Mountain Creamery ground bison
- 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 medium carrots, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup beef stock
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon water
Add the potatoes and cauliflower to a large pot and cover with water and add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, cover and cook until easily pierced with a fork, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the egg yolk to the cream, mix together and set aside.
Drain the potatoes and cauliflower vegetables in a colander and return to the pot. Add the butter and egg cream mixture and mash well. Add in the Parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.
Place the ground bison in a bowl and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Mix well and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and garlic along with the remaining 1/4 tsp salt, thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add the tomato paste, stir well, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the color deepens. Add in the red wine and Worcestershire sauce, scraping up the bottom to release all the browned bits on the bottom. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
Add the beef stock. Drop the ground bison in chunks on top of the vegetables and let it cook in the sauce, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Add the peas and stir the mixture. Cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Mix the cornstarch with the water in a small bowl and add it to the bison mixture to thicken the sauce.
Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaf and transfer the mix to a baking dish. Top with the potato and cauliflower mix and smooth out the top. If you wish, make a pattern on the top with the tines of a fork.
Place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet (to collect any spillover) and bake at 350° for 15 minutes, then broil on low for 3-4 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Rest for 5 minutes, then serve.