Why Drink Green Beer When Ireland’s Finest is Brown?
Oh, St. Patrick’s Day and Guinness Shepherds Pie!
The day when everyone is Irish and green foods and green beer abound. I enjoy St. Patrick’s Day as much as the next guy, but I do not understand people’s insistence on ensuring that everything they eat and drink is green. I do not want to eat green Shepherd's Pie!
After all, Ireland is the home of some pretty famous beer; the last time I checked, it is brown.
What is Shepherd's Pie?
Shepherd's pie is a traditional dish originating in the United Kingdom, particularly in Scotland and northern England. It is a hearty and comforting casserole-like dish made with layers of meat, vegetables, and mashed potatoes. The key components of a classic shepherd's pie are:
- Ground meat: Traditionally, shepherd's pie is made with minced lamb, which is where the name "shepherd's" comes from, as shepherds often tended to sheep. However, in some regions, beef or a mixture of lamb and beef can also be used.
- Vegetables: Common shepherd pie vegetables include onions, carrots, and peas. These vegetables are usually cooked with meat to enhance the dish's flavors.
- Gravy or sauce: The meat and vegetables are typically cooked in a rich and savory gravy or sauce, which adds moisture and flavor to the filling.
- Mashed potatoes: The top layer of the pie consists of creamy mashed potatoes, which are spread over the meat and vegetable mixture. The mashed potatoes are often lightly browned in the oven, creating a slightly crispy and golden top layer.
Shepherd's Pie is a versatile dish that can be customized based on personal preferences and regional variations. Some recipes may include additional herbs, spices, or other ingredients to enhance the flavor. In some parts of the world, the term "shepherd's pie" is used interchangeably with "cottage pie," which is a similar dish made with minced beef instead of lamb.
This dish has become popular in many countries and is known for being a comforting and filling meal, perfect for cold or rainy days.
History of Shepherd's Pie
The history of shepherd's pie is rooted in the traditional cuisine of the United Kingdom, particularly in Scotland and northern England. The exact origins of the dish are somewhat unclear, but it is believed to have emerged in the late 18th or early 19th century.
The concept of using meat and vegetables with a potato topping likely goes back even further, as similar dishes can be found in various cultures throughout history. However, the term "shepherd's pie" as it is commonly known today seems to have become popular in the United Kingdom during the 19th century.
The dish was born out of the need to create hearty and filling meals using simple and readily available ingredients. Shepherds and rural communities in Scotland and northern England, where sheep farming was prevalent, would have had easy access to lamb or mutton (older sheep meat) and potatoes.
They combined these ingredients with other vegetables like onions, carrots, and peas to create a satisfying one-dish meal that could be prepared in large quantities to feed families and farm workers.
Shepherd's pie became known for using leftover meat from a Sunday roast. The leftover meat would be minced or chopped, mixed with vegetables and gravy, and topped with mashed potatoes before being baked to create a new and delicious meal.
As with many traditional dishes, regional variations and debates exist over what constitutes an authentic shepherd's pie. In some parts of the UK, a pie made with beef is called "cottage pie," while "shepherd's pie" specifically refers to the version made with lamb or mutton. However, in other regions, the terms are used interchangeably.
Over time, shepherd's pie has evolved and adapted, with different ingredients and flavor variations reflecting the preferences of different households and regions. It has also become popular beyond the UK, with dish variations appearing in other countries and cuisines.
Today, shepherd's pie remains a beloved comfort food, cherished for its simple yet flavorful combination of ingredients and its heartwarming qualities.
Guinness Stout is a popular and iconic Irish beer known for its dark color, distinctive flavor, and creamy head. It is a type of stout, which is a dark, rich, and roasted style of beer that originated in the British Isles.
Arthur Guinness founded the Guinness Brewery in Dublin, Ireland, in 1759, and the brewery has been producing Guinness Stout ever since. The beer's unique character comes from its specific brewing process and ingredients:
- Dark-Roasted Barley: Guinness Stout is brewed using a significant proportion of dark-roasted barley. This roasted barley gives the beer its characteristic dark color and distinctive flavors of roasted coffee, chocolate, and a hint of bitterness.
- Water, Hops, and Yeast: Like any beer, Guinness Stout is made from water, hops (a key ingredient contributing to the beer's bitterness and aroma), and yeast (which ferments the sugars in the malt to produce alcohol).
- Nitrogen: One of the most distinguishing features of Guinness Stout is its creamy and velvety texture. This is achieved by using a mix of nitrogen and carbon dioxide for carbonation instead of just carbon dioxide. When the beer is poured, the nitrogen creates tiny bubbles, resulting in a thick and stable creamy head.
Guinness Stout is often served in a pint glass, and its pour is a crucial part of the experience. The beer is typically poured in two stages: first filling the glass three-quarters full, then allowing the nitrogen to settle before topping off the beer to create a dense, creamy head.
Why Is Guinness Stout Popular to Serve with Shepherd's Pie?
Guinness Stout is popular with shepherd's pie because its rich, deep flavors complement its hearty and savory nature. Guinness adds a unique depth and complexity to the overall flavor profile, enhancing the taste of the meat and vegetables in the filling when used as an ingredient in the shepherd’s pie.
Here are a few reasons why Guinness Stout pairs so well with shepherd's pie:
- Richness and Roasted Flavor: Guinness Stout is known for its dark-roasted barley, which imparts a robust roasted flavor to the beer. This roasted character enhances the taste of the meat and vegetables in the shepherd's pie filling, providing a depth of flavor that regular broth or stock might not achieve.
- Bitterness: Guinness Stout has a mild bitterness, which helps balance the sweetness of the vegetables and meat. It provides a pleasant contrast to the dish, preventing it from becoming too sweet and adding complexity to the overall taste.
- Umami: The dark roasted barley in Guinness contributes to the umami flavor, which is often described as a savory, meaty taste. This umami enhances the meaty components of the shepherd's pie, making it even more satisfying and flavorful.
- Creaminess: When using Guinness Stout in the filling, the beer's nitrogen content creates a creamy and velvety texture, complementing the creamy mashed potatoes on top of the pie. This combination of textures adds a delightful mouthfeel to the dish.
- Tradition and Regional Influence: In some regions, particularly Ireland and parts of the UK, combining Guinness Stout with shepherd's pie has become a traditional culinary practice. The flavors of Guinness and lamb (or other meats) have been enjoyed together for generations, leading to a cultural association between the two.
It's essential to note that while Guinness Stout is a popular choice for adding depth to shepherd's pie, there are many variations of the dish, and different recipes might call for different types of beer or liquids. Some recipes use other stouts, ales, or even red wine to achieve similar effects, depending on personal preferences and regional influences.
Ultimately, using Guinness Stout in shepherd's pie is a delicious and flavorful choice that many have loved for its unique taste and contribution to the dish's overall richness.
Here’s to Spring, and here’s to St. Patrick’s Day. Enjoy!
Guinness Shepherds Pie Recipe
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 pounds ground lamb or beef, ask for coarse grind from your butcher if possible
- 2 large sweet onions diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 sprigs thyme leaves only
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary minced
- 14½ ounces diced tomatoes
- 1 bottle Guinness Stout
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 pounds Russet potatoes peeled and cubed
- 2 oz butter
- 2 oz white cheddar cheese shredded
- Pour the Guinness and Worcestershire into a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let this mixture reduce by half.
- Preheat a large, heavy bottomed skillet.
- When hot, add a tablespoon of the oil and tilt pan to evenly distribute.
- Cook the ground meat along with some salt and pepper until browned.
- Remove the meat to a colander to drain.
- Return the pan to the heat and add another tablespoon of oil.
- Add the onions and let cook for a minute.
- Add in the garlic and herbs and cook for another 3-4 minutes, until the onions take on some nice color and are soft.
- Add the meat back to the pot along with the canned tomatoes.
- Stir in the stock and the reduced Guinness mixture.
- Taste for seasoning and add just a bit of salt and pepper if necessary.
- Let the meat simmer in the sauce for about 15 minutes, or until thick.
- Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in salted water until cooked through.
- Mash or use a food mill or ricer to puree the potatoes. Mix in the butter and cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Spoon the meat into a 4 qt casserole and top with the potatoes.
- Bake at 350° F. until browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes.