Most days we three Butterteeth are as in sync as, well, N’Sync. When we discuss flavor profiles, we frisk shoulder to shoulder like a pack of toy poodles ranking their favorite ways to eat chicken (for the record, mine is straight from the trash). Fate and a DSL modem brought us together, but our shared vision makes it apparent to us that we should stay that way.
Most of the time.
Occasionally, however, we do disagree—and on issues so petty and fundamentally irrelevant that you would think we were running for public office. But don’t you dare tell that to us when we’re in a high dudgeon over the price of fresh fish in Honolulu or our mutual withering look will send you to the bottom of the crisper drawer, wilted like a two-week old green onion.
We had one such disagreement while attempting to name this particular dish, a variation of a family staple I’ve been eating and making since childhood. I wanted to call it something a la something else because I am pretentious; someone else suggested “not your mama’s shepherd’s pie,” but I’m pretty sure he was drunk; and, by the time we’d settled on a name more appropriate, the season for braised meats covered in potato lids had passed, and we knew we must wait to introduce you to our decadent dinner winner. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
One of my favorite meals growing up was an amalgam of leftovers my parents called shepherd’s pie. They probably didn’t know that technically a shepherd’s pie, at least insofar as its origins in the United Kingdom are concerned, usually contains lamb, while what they made was more akin to cottage pie, the shepherd’s steamy cousin which was most often made with beef.
Back in the Lambson house (I know—you’d think we’d serve ours with lamb, but that’s a little too on the nose, huh?)—my parents would make a massive batch of Sloppy Joes to feed their brood of hungry and vocal children, and though we could all pack it away pretty effortlessly, we never managed to finish all the meat. So the next night we would bake shepherd’s pie with the leftover Sloppy Joe on bottom, some canned green beans layered over that, and a mashed potato lid to hold it all into place, sprinkled liberally with cheddar cheese. Kind of a cuppa, cuppa, cuppa recipe (You mix and bake at 350 till gold and bubbly, am I right?). I might not have made this sound as appetizing as it actually was, and I continued making this Monday mainstay well into my twenties.
Cut to present day or, rather, the first time I embarked on this version of shepherd’s pie: I was fixated on using chicken thigh instead of the classic beef or lamb and whether I could pack it with enough flavor that one didn’t miss the red meat. I wanted something a little more refined, a dish to serve at a dinner party that still felt homey enough to entice a character from Lord of the Rings into my country inn’s common room. “Why, yes, Aragorn, I will have leftovers! Shall I pack you some?” And so on.
After a solid twenty minutes on this train of thought, I set to work. I think you’ll find this isn’t wholly different than the fare across the pond or from many other shepherd’s pie recipes. It’s a simple matter of braising chicken thigh in red wine with vegetables and then whipping up some wicked mashed potatoes. Then topping all that with cheese. I couldn’t forego that particular tradition.
We finally set aside our differences and arrived at the name Coq Au Vin Shepherd’s Pie because the braising component of the recipe informs the spirit of everything else. Technically, I suppose, we should call it Coq Au Vin Cottage Pie, but we threw the technical out with the chickens a few paragraphs ago. So eat up, my pets.
Moderation is for the birds.
- Olive oil
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon, ½” dice
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 5 large garlic cloves, minced
- 5 skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut, 1” dice
- ¼ cup of flour
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- ½ bottle of decent red wine (I use wines with fruity notes, like merlot, zinfandel, or a California Pinot Noir)
- 1 cup beef stock
- 1 cup frozen pearl onions, thawed
- 5 sprigs thyme and 2 sprigs of rosemary, bound with kitchen twine
- 2 bay leaves
- Kosher salt
- Coarse ground black pepper
- Splash of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 leek, sliced into thin rings
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6-8 red potatoes (or Yukon gold)
- 1 8 ounce container mascarpone
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- Splash of milk
- 1 cup of shredded smoked gruyere cheese
- In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for 5 minutes, until cooked, and then remove with a slotted spoon.
- Using the fat left from the bacon, add the onion and cook for 3 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more. While the onion cooks, dredge the chicken in flour and shake off excess. Add the carrot and the parsnip and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken to the Dutch oven, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring so that each piece cooks evenly. Add the tomato paste, and stir into the meat and vegetable mixture. Cook for another 2 minutes, until tomato paste is aromatic.
- Add the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan. Scrape the bottom of the pan immediately to get the brown bits up. Let the vinegar almost fully reduce before adding the red wine and beef stock. Stir to combine.
- Allow mixture to achieve a low boil, and then reduce heat to low. Add the pearl onions, the thyme and rosemary bundle, and the bay leaves.
- Add a heaping teaspoon of kosher salt and black pepper, as well as the Worcestershire sauce. Stir and cover.
- Let the meat cook for about 45 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by ⅔rds. If you like your pie less saucy, allow mixture to reduce even further.
- Once done, remove the bay leaves and herb bundle, and then season again with salt and pepper to taste.
- Set aside while you prepare the potatoes.
- Peel the potatoes and cut into 1” chunks. Place in a pot and cover with water. Add a tablespoon of salt to the water, and warm on the stove at a medium-high heat, covered. Bring to a boil, and then simmer gently at a lower heat until the potatoes are fork tender, about 10-15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a sauté pan, melt the first 3 tablespoons of butter. Add the leeks and cook at a medium heat until lightly caramelized. Set aside.
- When the potatoes are done, drain them, and place in the bowl of a stand mixer (or you can use a hand mixer as well). Add the mascarpone and the butter, and, beginning at a low speed, mix them. During this process, you can add a splash of milk if they look dryt. What we want here is a very smooth mashed potato, with next to no lumps. Once smooth and creamy, add the leeks and mix until combined. Don’t be scared to add the butter the leeks cooked in.
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- Spray an 8”x11” casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Add the braised meat and vegetable mixture. If you don’t like it saucy, you can strain the meat and vegetables from some of the liquid. Top the mixture with the mashed potatoes, taking care to spread them evenly with an offset spatula and not to mix them with the braised ingredients. Top the potatoes with the gruyere cheese, and place in a preheated oven to cook for 30 minutes, until bubbly.
- Let the casserole rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.