Meeting Thy Money’s Maker - Shepherd's Pie

In the rapid thaw of the global financial meltdown I peeked tentatively at the current state of my 401K the other day. Like virtually everyone else I know seeing one’s net worth shrink dramatically more than justifies a stiff drink. The whipsawing of the Dow on a daily basis is enough to make one’s head not just spin but fall right off. The world’s nerves are on the edge and stomachs are churning. My jaw dropped as I watched my wealth fall to the floor. All of this is so uncomfortable – it’s unsavory, isn’t it?

Normally I am a single malt scotch drinker with a penchant for expensive but worthwhile tastes of fine, hand crafted whisky. I was just out of college when my dad had taken my family on our first overseas trip to the UK. An eye opening moment in the bar of London hotel in 1991 transformed my then 23 year old view of fine sipping spirits. My father, a successful businessman, took me down to the hotel bar to have a little chat. Amidst oak walls and leather club chairs a hundred single malt scotches ranging from smoky to peaty, and salty to mineraled sea air stared at me. Laphroig. Balvenie. Balblair. Caol Ila. Oban. There was (and is) a lot of wisdom sitting in those bottles.

I was just starting my business career and I was excited by all the possibility. “The world is your oyster” he told me in that way that only a father can give prudent advice to a son. I was admiring the amber hue of one of the original small batch creations. Liquid poetry given to the world by Robert Burns' forefathers. “Just don’t forget that nothing comes easy in life and there is no such thing as easy money. You have to work hard if you want to get ahead”. And so we drank. I felt like such an adult that night.

Like a lot of people, I have worked hard but somehow it doesn’t seem right in today’s environment to sip beyond one’s means. As with so many things nowadays, we are all learning to compromise and reflect on what’s important and what’s not.

To help myself through this difficult time I recently turned to a glass of Maker’s Mark, a well made American bourbon that is less expensive (but no less impressive) than its Scottish ancestors. I took a drink to ponder all of this chaos and get a little perspective. It was easy to curse all of these arcane securities Wall Street sold us over the last 10 years that all seemed so exotic and upper crust. Credit default swaps. Common debt obligations. Hedge funds. Complicated. Wealth creating. Was this really adult? Could we really have it all? Or did we just misunderstand?

Reflecting back I think most people agree this societal movement of thinking we can have easy money has been a recipe for disaster. Just like the “millionaires” sushi roll covered in 24 karat gold leaf available in Las Vegas, or a $12,000 omelette laden with truffles, caviar and diamonds in Manhattan. Complicated and pretentious. When food becomes a statement about wealth rather than thougthful and delicious eating that is a clear sign the economy is precariously at risk of disintegrating rapidly. If you are spending money eating gold someone needs to slap you.

A taste of the bourbon reminded me that right now we are all heading for simpler times. Conversation that is meaningful with friends. Perhaps a little less focus on getting ahead and more of a concentration on helping each other get through this difficult period is in order.

Last year we had the good fortune of visiting close friends that moved back to Scotland. Residing in the truly glorious city of Edinburgh the attitude of the Scots is straightforward. A clever honesty towards others and purity of intent to live within one’s means. Their manner is a telling hallmark of a people that have survived and flourished for thousands of years. It would be an understatement to say that the Scots know how to roll with the historical punches (not to mention real ones).
My good friend Jimmy was born and raised in this amazing city and glad to be back among his family and friends he had known since childhood. An excellent cook, he makes some of the most amazing British soul food I have ever tasted.

Jimmy surprised us with a classic Shepherd’s pie for dinner on a cold Edinburgh evening. It was warm and comforting. Uncomplicated and straightforward. Simple and savory.

We sipped single malt Scotch whisky after dinner relaxing in their magical 1880’s Georgian flat - a stones throw from J.K. Rowlings house (of Harry Potter fame) and sitting at the edge of the University of Edinburgh.

Given all the financial chaos brought about by a misguided notion of success and the realities of societal fairness, I longed for that evening recently. I cooked a version of Jimmy’s Shepherd’s pie that stays true to its soul but is updated with the addition of a few tablespoons of single malt scotch to deglaze the ground lamb. I also made a parsnip potato crust that adds a sweet perspective to the classic mash topping. Parsnips are one of those unsung heroes of the vegetable world that never seem to get a fair shake. Should you like to make the classic, just leave out these additions. I used a Doublewood aged single malt from Balvenie, enjoying a glass with the pie. It is pretty unusual to drink single malt scotch with food, however I must say this pairing was fantastic and truly met the mark.

Recipe for Shepherd's Pie with Single Malt
Scotch & Parsnip Potato Crust
Serves 4

3/4 lb russett potatoes peeled, cut into 3" chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and cut in thirds
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 C milk
2 T olive oil
1 T garlic minced
1 lb ground lamb
1 1/2 t worcestershire sauce
1/2 t rosemary, chopped
1/2 t thyme, chopped
4 T flour
1 carrot, finely chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
3/4 C beef stock
2 T single malt scotch or American bourbon
cracked black pepper
1/4 t white pepper, ground

Bring potatoes to boil in 2 quarts of water and boil for 20 minutes. Add parsnips and cook an additional 20 minutes. Drain and mash or put through a ricer. Combine with milk and 2 T of butter. Add 1 T of olive oil and season 1 t salt, 1 t white pepper. Mix well and set aside.

In a large skillet over a medium flame heat remaining 2 T butter. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add ground lamb and brown for 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and cracked black pepper. Add the worcestershire sauce, thyme and rosemary. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Cover meat mixture with 2 T of flour and stir well. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Drain lamb on paper towels and remove any remaining fat from the skillet.

Heat an oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 12 baking dish.
Return skillet to medium flame and add chopped carrots and onions. Brown for 5 minutes until soft. Cover with remaining 2 T of flour, cooking for an additional 2 minutes. Turn heat to medium high and add beef stock and single malt scotch to deglaze. Cook for 2-4 minutes until the liquid is reduced by half. Add back in lamb mixture and combine. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

Pour lamb mixture into the buttered baking dish. Cover with the mashed potato mixture and smooth out the top. Drizzle 1 T olive oil over potato mixture and sprinkle lightly with 1/2 kosher salt.

Bake for 40 minutes and serve.

For an absolutely traditional version of this recipe you can substitute 1/4 cup white wine for the single malt scotch and you can substitute an additional 1/4 lb of potatoes for the parsnips. The recipe was adapted from the Dean and DeLuca cookbook.


Aran said...

so appropriate for the season. i should make some soon!

Anonymous said...

Interesting ingredient for the traditional shepard's pie!
Yes, there is lots of bad news these days, but I think the correction in our society will be good, bringing families closer together.

Vinogirl said...

I LOVE garlic, but mot in Sheperd's Pie...I'm a traditionalist.

jesse said...

I love this post for so many reasons... it's so informative! Definitely a great read for such a scotch newby like me... =D

Alexa said...

I haven't had Shepherd's Pie in ages... I love your twist on it with the malt and parsnips. Great comfort food...
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family Marc!

Elra said...

Hi Marc,
I love parsnip so much, I cook them more often then I cook potatoes. If I have to make mashed potatoes which I am not fond of, I always combine the two, but have a lot more parsnip in it. I am surprise that not too many people cook them here in America.

Your shepherd's pie sound mighty delicious, and very gourmet indeed!

Angela said...

What a brilliantly written post. The conversation with your dad is beautifully rendered (I remember having the exact same conversation with my dad at about the same age over a glass of wine). There's something both heartbreaking and completely appealing about the idea of making and eating sheperd's pie during an economic downturn and during the winter. I want nothing more after reading this.

Lori Lynn said...

That is an interesting pairing of scotch and pie. We made a scotch flan once, and it was quite good. Thanks for the bit o' comfort in these hard economic times...

Clumbsy Cookie said...

Nice innovations to the tradicional pie!

cook eat FRET said...

beautiful food
i may have to make this one
but i will take your suggestions...

it's makers mark around here, if only because that's what's been gifted to me. in volume.

as for the $... i've nothing to say that anyone's not already heard. but i do think that this is an opportunity for america to get her shit together... and come out better. it's like we were stupid adolescents and if we're lucky we will have learned from this.

Anonymous said...

My husband loves scotch and whiskey, but when I bought him Maker's Mark it was a bit too harsh, even for him!

Any suggestions now that the holidays are upon us for a smoother sipping whiskey?

Kevin said...

That shepherd's pie looks good. I like the sound of using scotch in it.

Nazarina A said...

A little bit of your shepherd's pie heaven for me please!

We Are Never Full said...

awesome post. that pretentious BS food makes me sick - wonder if the $12,000 omelette is still on the menu? ridiculous!

we love shepherds pie here in our household - natch, the husband is English - and we both thank you for not basterdizing the dish by adding minced beef! too many americans call cottage pie shepherd's pie.

My Sweet & Saucy said...

That crust sounds amazing! Thanks for all the interesting info!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

This recipe could very well convert me into a shepherd's pie lover. I have been using the gym to cope with the dwindling savings. Scotch is probably more fun though.

Bren said...

i've never made shepard's pie; but do you really drink to help you ponder the world's evil and plight? :) that's great.

Snooty Primadona said...

Oh, I'm glad I came over to see your blog. I love, love Shepherd's Pie! This is exactly the way I've always made it. You must be a genius!


Erin said...

Shepards pie is a favorite around our house, and your's looks wonderful. I love the addition of whiskey. Fantastic write up as well.

anudivya said...

Sounds amazing, is there such a thing as a veggie version of Shepherd's pie? I wish...

Leslie said...

Love the Shepherds pie! St pattys day wouldnt be the same without it!!!

Foodie711 said...

Thanks for your recent comment. Your version sounds really good as well, I will have to try the parsnips next time :)