Wine-Friendly Recipe: Sheperd’s Pie (Irish Pub Grub)

Sheperd's Pie, a very wine-friendly dish
San Francisco's Blarney Stone

I tend to prepare this traditional Irish Pub fare in the springtime.  Of course it’s a great Winter dish too, but Spring is when we usually have a surfeit of lamb in our house, and this recipe provides a great way to use every bit of your left-over protein, ensuring the lamb wasn’t sacrificed without good justification.  It does take a bit of time, but places little demand on the skills of a home chef.  In fact, this was a favorite during my bachelor days for its ability to provide several meals during the course of a week – a great return on my investment of an hour in the kitchen.

OK, and its economical too, which means you’ll have more money left for wine.  This dish compliments a wide variety of red wines, from Pinot Noir and Sangiovese to Merlot and even lighter Cabs, if you must.  I find its boldness to be too much even for full-bodied white wines, though it might be pleasant with a full Rosé (think Grenache/Mourvedre) chilled for no more than 20 minutes in your refrigerator.  Oh, it’s also nice with a Guinness. ;-)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs Ground lamb (beef can easily be substituted, though the classic Irish version features lamb)
  • 1 Small brown onion, diced
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 1 1/4 Cup beef broth
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp ketchup (or tomato paste and a touch of sugar)
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 Cups frozen mixed vegetables (peas, carrots and corn), thawed
  • 2 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled (optional) and quartered
  • 2 Cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 Cup milk
  • 1/4 Cup butter
  • 1 Cup cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Preparation:

Add the potatoes and garlic to a large pot of salted and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for ~25 minutes.  Meanwhile, bring a large pan up to temperature over medium heat, add a bit of oil and once hot, add the onion.  Sauté, stirring, until just beginning to brown, then remove to a plate and add the ground meat to the pan.  Break up the meat as it cooks to obtain a fine consistency, then stir in the flour for a minute or two.  Stir in the broth, and then the salt, pepper, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, onions and mixed vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally, ~5 minutes before spreading evenly across the bottom of a 13 x 9 casserole dish and set aside.

Set your oven temperature to 375.  Then, drain the potatoes and then return them to the pot.  Add the milk and butter and mash (no chunks) or smash (some chunks) the potatoes.  At the end, stir in the cheddar cheese, if using. Season with salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Spread the potatoes evenly over the casserole and bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until golden (I sometimes cheat and cut the baking time short with a few minutes of broiler time – but if you choose this shortcut be sure to WATCH the entire time, as it goes from perfect to ruined in 30 seconds!). Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.  Keeps in the refrigerator for several days.

Merlot with Braised Beef Short Ribs

When this marinade and slow-cooking process are used on a cut of meat with lots of well-marbled fat and connective tissue (Flank or Top Round are also fine) the resulting flavor and mouthfeel are perfect for this wine.  I again employ my secret ingredient – vanilla – which echoes the flavor of the wine. It really works!

Note: This recipe originally appeared as an insert with my October, 2009 club shipment.  Click here to see wines that pair well with this recipe.

Ingredients

6 Lbs beef short ribs 4 Ozs dried cherries
¼ Cup flour ¼ Cup fresh Thyme sprigs
½ Cup olive oil, divided 4 Sage leaves, fresh
3 Cups chopped onion 3 Bay leaves
2 Cups chopped carrots 2 Cups Merlot (don’t use the good stuff!)
2 Cups chopped celery 4 Cups low-sodium beef broth
8 Cloves garlic, peeled 1-2 tsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 scant tsp Vanilla

Procedure
Preheat oven to 300°.  Put ribs in large bowl and coat well with salt, pepper, and flour.  Heat a heavy Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat for ~4 minutes.  Add half the olive oil and brown ribs all over, working in batches.  Set browned ribs aside.

Add remaining oil to empty pot and, when hot, add the Mirepoix (the holy trinity of onion, carrot and celery).  Cook until softened, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, dried cherries  and the herbs and combine well.  Deglaze the pot with the red wine then return ribs to the pot.  Bring to a simmer and reduce for about five minutes.  Add the broth, cover, and place in oven to braise until ribs are tender – check after two hours but plan for three.

Remove from oven and let stand for 15 minutes.  Remove ribs and set aside (try to keep them on the bone!), and remove Thyme sprigs and Bay leaves.  Pour remaining ingredients into a food mill (or pulse in a food processor six or seven times until finely chunked), then return to pot.   Spoon off any fat, season to taste with salt and pepper, then add balsamic and Vanilla.  Return ribs to sauce until warmed through, serve with extra sauce spooned over ribs.

Serving Suggestion: Stand the ribs upright in mashed potatoes, spoon remaining sauce over both, and serve with a side dish of sautéed spinach.

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Note: This recipe originally appeared as an insert with my October, 2009 shipment to members of my “Grand Cru Selections” sampling program.

Click here to see my current inventory of wines that pair well with this recipe.

Cabernet Sauvignon & Grilled (Grass-Fed) Ribeye Steak

In June, 2009, this recipe was paired with the Sojourn Cellars ’05 Sonoma Valley Cabernet sent to members of our Grand Cru Selections sampling program.


SOJ Cab Sauv 05B 1-14-08 AgainAs I wrote the tasting notes for the 2005 Sojourn Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ($48) I began craving grilled steak.  I could practically smell the hot grill and hear the sizzle.  And got hungry!

We’ve recently started buying grass-fed beef, ever since my wife investigated the environmental and health impacts corn-fed cattle brought to large feed-lots.  I listened attentively as she taught me all about the downside of corn-fed beef, with the antibiotics they require in the over-crowded feedlots where they’re fattened up  just prior to their last moo.  It’s the sort of “Hey listen to this” reading that romantic married couples do for a few minutes before the lights go out and we retreat into our individual dream cycles.

After learning the dangers of commercial beef, I was looking forward to tasting  the healthier, more sustainable, and more expensive alternative.  I just want it to be at least as good as corn-fed beef, perhaps even tastier.  But my first few experiences with it were less than stellar.

You see, grass-fed beef is so much lower in fat that it must be cooked at a lower temperature and for shorter periods of time than regular beef.  We had been told this, but it proved difficult to overcome a lifetime of experience that had taught us exactly how long to leave a steak on the grill.   As a result, we over-cooked our first few efforts with grass-fed beef.  When grilling or pan-searing beef (high heat, short cooking time), it is best to use a New York strip or rib eye, as it comes from a more tender part of the cattle, and benefits from both bone and a layer of fat.  And fat, my friends, is  flavor!

The fat of grass-fed beef is more yellow than that of corn-fed beef, as grass provides a richer source of Vitamin A.  Its flavor will be more mineral-driven than the more iron (blood)-driven flavor of regular beef.

We also found considerable flavor differences among sources of grass-fed beef.  Terry, our butcher at the Real Foods Market,  carries a brand from Argentina that we didn’t find as tasty as the Prather Ranch brand we prefer.  So we invited him over for a taste-off – he brought his brand and we provided the Prather Ranch and all were grilled in an identical manner.  Every taster could tell the difference in flavor without hesitation, but as for which was preferred, there was no concensus.  So you may need to try different ranches before you find a favorite!

Ingredients
1 Grass-Fed Rib Eye Steak per person.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A good grill.  Mesquite or other hardwood chips add a nice layer of flavor, but I prefer my steak unadorned with extra filigree.  It’s up to you!

Procedure

Arrange your grill for high, indirect heat.  Grill your steak as you normally would, but muster every ounce of will power you can, and shorten the cooking time by a full minute per side.  Depending on the thickness of your steak, this might mean leaving it on the grill for only 2-3 minutes per side.

Serve with grilled corn on the cob and a side salad of fresh tomatoes with basil and balsamic and life won’t get much better.

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant
Dave@SidewaysWineClub.com

Today’s Quote
“Red meat is not bad for you.  Now blue-green meat… that’s bad for you!”
~Tommy Smothers (American Comedian and Winemaker.  1937 – )