Luck o’ the Irish Pies
BY TOM YATES
St. Patrick celebrations were one of the very first casualties of the pandemic this time last year. Several of the revelers who persevered came to be identified later as super-spreaders. This year, there will be no St. Patrick parade or festival in March, but there can always be Irish food.
In a typical year, after several hours of banging back Guinness pints with Jameson Irish Whiskey chasers, we always find ourselves stranded on a street-side curb waiting for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade to pass us by. Stranded and hungry. On St. Patrick’s Day, practically every bar and restaurant hawks variations of Irish Stew, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Reuben Sandwiches, or Shepherd’s Pie.
Year after year, there we are, trapped on a random sidewalk (far away from the mere aroma of food) surrounded by happy families, drunken parade goers, bagpipe pipers, prancing horses, local bands, funny cars, and overly enthusiastic scary clowns. Trapped and starving. What’s a boy to do? This year, with no parade, I’ll be making little mini shepherd’s hand pies. St. Thomas, the Pie Bearer.
Not to be confused with Irish Pasties, the batter-dipped deep fried meat pies sold throughout Northern Ireland in fish and chips shops, Shepherd’s Pies (lamb) and Cottage Pies (beef) are fabulous common casserole dishes composed of various meats, vegetables, and potatoes. Minced or braised meat? Sliced or mashed potatoes? Peas and/or carrots? It doesn’t really matter. Whatever combination, they’re nearly impossible to muck up.
Shepherd’s Pie Hand Pies.
A fun little riff on shepherd’s pie.
To accommodate the smallish nature of the pies, I finely diced 3 carrots and 4 stalks of celery (slightly larger than an 1/8 ” brunoise). After trimming the roots and green ends off of 2 medium leeks, I split the white sections in half, gave them a good rinse, and sliced them into very thin half moons. Working over a medium high flame, I sauteed the vegetables until they started to sweat before adding 2 smashed roasted garlic cloves. As the tender leeks took on a bit of color, I scooped the vegetables onto a side plate and tumbled one pound of Four Hills Farm ground lamb into the skillet.
I used a wooden spoon to break up the ground lamb and let it brown for a few minutes before adding 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, 1 tablespoon dry mustard, 1 heaping tablespoon smoked paprika, salt, and cracked black pepper. After swirling the spiced tomato paste throughout the browned lamb, I let it toast to deepen the flavor. When the brick-colored lamb started to caramelize, I deglazed the skillet with 1 cup Guinness, 2 cups beef stock, and 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce. I tossed 2 bay leaves along with a handful of fresh thyme stems into the mix, brought it to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and let it rip for 45 minutes, stirring during wine refills.
When the highly aromatic lamb concoction reduced and thickened, I added 1 cup of peas and pulled the skillet from the heat to cool.
While store-bought pie dough would have been fine, I had the stuff to throw together a very basic pie dough. I floured a large cutting board and rolled the dough into two 1/8″ rounds. I used a 3″ fluted cookie cutter to lightly score the bottom crust and mark the shapes. After brushing the scored edges with an egg wash, I spooned dollops of leftover mashed potatoes onto the scored pastry circles and nestled heaping tablespoons of the filling into the potatoes before showering the tops with extra sharp white cheddar cheese. So, instead of trying to crimp together individual pastry pies like empanadas, I draped the second pastry sheet over the first sheet, tapped around the mounded fillings to squeeze out any excess air, and used the cookie cutter to stamp through both layers to seal them together with clean edges. I brushed the little pies with the remaining egg wash, scattered sea salt over the tops, and slid them into a preheated 425 degree oven to bake for 35 minutes. When the pies were beautifully browned, I pulled them from the oven, transferred them to a wire rack, and finished with flash-fried thyme leaves.
Cracked open, the filling spilled and oozed from the steaming pies. Tucked inside the buttery crisp shells, the mild malty bitterness of the Guiness-infused beef stock tempered the slight gaminess of the ground lamb. While the vegetables added subtle sweetness, the flaky salt provided a clean crunch that countered the soft earthy tang of the melted sharp white cheddar cheese.
It’s time for ittle lucky hand pies. Bring on the bagpipes.
This article also appears on page 18 of the March 2021 print edition of ace magazine.
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