So I'm an active member at ChefSteps, a free online sous vide cooking school run by Chris Young (the principal co-author "Modernist Cuisine" and founding Chef of HB Laboratories, the development kitchen for The Fat Duck Restaurant). Every week they have a competition for members to cook dishes based on a theme. Two weeks ago, the theme was to cook a dish your grandmother would have made.
Being part Irish, I've always had shepherd's pie in my life, and it remains one of my favorite comfort foods. Two years ago, I shared with the forum my 'competition' take on the dish:
For this challenge, I decided to stick to the above recipe, but thrown in some updated techniques. So I went with a lamb rib rack cooked 'ghetto sous vide' on my stove top with rosemary, thyme, garlic and EVOO then seared on the grill pan, instead of a stew made with shoulder. But the flavors of the stew/braise (mirepoix of onion, carrot & celery, tomato paste, Jameson's, white wine) were used to create a sauce thickened with xanthan gum and strained.
The peas were blanched, then shocked, and then quickly tossed with some shallot and ginger that had been sweated. This was blitzed with some agar agar, strained, and then brought to 87° C to 'activate' the agar agar, then quickly cooled. Part was reserved to a container so the gel would set up in a block, part was pipped into plastic tubing so that pea 'noodles' could be extruded after set up.
The potatoes were cooked rather conventionally, I'm afraid....... because I forgot to buy charging canisters for my siphon. (
) So much for my potato mousse idea. Anyway, taters were boiled, passed through a ricer, then combined with some heavy cream that had been infused with roasted parsnip and the reserved potato peels. Added 25% of that mixture's weight in unsalted butter, then whisked (gently) to combine.
Shepherd's Pie 2.1
Shepherd's Pie 2.2
Neither plate is particularly evocative of shepherd's pie, sadly. I'm a terrible uncreative cook when it comes to plating, and it really shows in a dish like this. The flavors were bang on, but they just look..... well.... silly.
I have a whole other rack that I will prepare in an effort to really keep the update in touch with the inspiration. So I might remove the meat from the bones after cooking, portion off 'medallions' to sear. Then at the plate, I'll do a dop of sauce, a medallion, a sheet of pea gel, and a quenelle of potato (which in the final conception will be a mousse). Do three or four of those per plate
There's almost no doubt that most everyone would prefer my initial take on the dish over either of the two 'modern' interpretations, and I would count myself in that group. But I have to say, that I'm having more fun cooking now than I have in many moons. Some deep water here, and I'm just learning to swim.