How about a shepherd's pie twist to your Christmas feast

What about a shepherd pie twist to your Christmas feast
Shepherd’s pie. Photo: Manorama

Way back in the 18th century when the strongest wine paled before hunger pangs during the harsh winter, the housewives of the Scottish peasant villages baked a piping hot dish made of left-over minced meat and vegetables known as the shepherd’s pie, which later conquered the palates across the globe. The mouth-watering delicacy looks like the fingerprints of a naughty child on a large chunk of cheese. The baked pie of minced meat and vegetables with a dash of tomato paste and a topping of mashed potato then was a favourite of farmers’ families in Scotland. But some food historians have traced the origins of shepherd’s pie to Ireland and the sought-after French dish hachis parmentier is a clone of shepherd’s pie.

Shepherd’s pie is also known as cheese pie in Scottish and Irish peasant families. According to Wikipedia, the dish was termed cheese pie in the last decade of 1700 and it was called shepherd’s pie by the mid-1800s. But certain food historians contend that the appellation changes with the meat that goes into the making of this delicious dish.

The traditional shepherd’s pie had minced lamb meat in it and the cottage pie had beef as the main ingredient. Presently, different types of meat including pork are being used to make this dish. The delicacy became popular in European and Latin American countries by the 19th century and its recipe was tweaked by adding local ingredients of these regions. It is worth noting that shepherd’s pie is served on St. Patrick’s Day, one of the national celebrations of Ireland.

Why not add shepherd’s pie to add glitter to your Christmas festivities this year? Gourmets and people who have travelled abroad are keen to have shepherd’s pie, say Chackochan and Minu, the husband-wife duo who runs Café Merakle in Kottayam. Shepherd’s pie hogs the limelight at the café situated at Macroini on the Kottayam-Puthuppally road.

To make this year’s Christmas menu different, Chef Jijin Francis is sharing the magic behind the unique taste of shepherd’s pie that is being served at Café Merakle. In a chat with Onmanorama, Jijin throws light on his food journey and much more.

Café Merakle's owners Chackochan and Minu

Originality at its core and positive response
Café Merakle follows the authentic recipe to churn out lip-smacking shepherd’s pie. Though lamb meat is used to make the dish in foreign countries, here the delicacy is beef-based. It is quite normal to modify the recipe according to the availably of ingredients in a particular region. For example, the tomato sauces sold in foreign markets are less sour compared to those available in shops here and due to this, the dish can have a different taste. But Café Merakle ensures that the dishes served have at least 95 percent taste of the original delicacies as we follow authentic recipes.

Usually, foodies who had shepherd’s pie from other countries after devouring the dish from Café Merakle used to compliment the chef for its authenticity. The positive response from the customers is a great encouragement and gives us the inspiration to introduce new delicacies.

Many dishes originated from leftovers
I do feel that the history behind shepherd’s pie that it originated from leftovers is quite right. The sauce from ground beef can be prepared in different ways. The contention that many pastas and sauces were made from leftovers can’t be entirely wrong and you can be aware of the hard facts while checking the authenticity of the dishes. The pink sauce and seafood pasta emerged by creating a new flavour by mixing white sauce and cream sauce, and the same is the case with shepherd’s pie.

Chef Jijin Francis

Bolivian cuisine and meatballs can be churned out by using the ingredients of shepherd’s pie. When we incorporate certain elements from foreign cuisines into our cookery, we present them as main course dishes on our food table.

Shepherd pie recipe
Potato – one kg
Ground beef – 750gm
Batter – 8 tea spoon
Chopped onion -- ½ cup
Celery – ½ cup
Green peas – ½ cup
Carrot – ½ cup
Meat broth – ½ cup
Two pinches of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Tomato paste – ½ cup

How to prepare
Cook potatoes in boiled water for 20 minutes. After peeling the potatoes, smash them and mix with cream and butter. Knead the mix into a perfect consistency and this mixture is to make the top layer of the dish. The ground beef layer comes under the top layer of smashed potatoes. Sauté chopped onion, celery and carrot along with cooked green peas in a hot pan with olive oil. Later add tomato paste to the sautéed vegetables. In the meantime, cook ground beef in meat broth. After the beef is cooked, drain the oil and sprinkle white flour to maintain the consistency of the dish. After that add pepper powder and fresh thyme along with salt. This mixture should be served on a plate and the top layer should be made with the smashed potato mix. Keep it in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Shepherd’s pie is ready to delight your palates.

Journey from ship to Merakle
My hometown is Marangattupilly at Pala in Kottayam district. After completing BHM (Bachelor of Hotel Management) in Bengaluru, Jijin worked as a chef of a restaurant onboard a US cruise ship for six years and after that he worked in Dubai. As I have worked in other places, the cuisines of those countries have influenced me a lot. The cruise ships carry close to 2,000 passengers and there would be 18 onboard restaurants and as a chef I was exposed to Italian and European cuisines. Each restaurant onboard the cruise ship will have a chef in-charge and I was the chef in-charge of one such restaurant. We prepared lasagna, pasta and sauce to make different Italian dishes and that was a great experience for me. As I am quite comfortable in dishing out Italian and European delicacies, here also I am cooking such dishes. I am with Café Merakle team right from its inception.  

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