Jan just had another two temporary crowns put in and is eating soft food. The last time she had a crown put in I made her Shepherd’s Minced Pie. One of Jan’s friends gave us 10 pounds of elk that I need to use up, a shepherd’s pie seems a good choice for dinner.
Note: While shepherd’s pie should properly be make with lamb, many people use beef and still call it “shepherd’s pie”—including Alton Brown. According to Wikipedia a pie like this made with beef is a “cottage pie.” Following this logic, would a pie made with elk be a “hunting lodge pie?”
Elk is a lean and strongly flavored meat—read “gamey.” Not everyone likes the taste of wild meat. The usual vegetable suspects for shepherd’s pie are peas and carrots. I decided that more and strongly flavored vegetables would buffer the gamey-ness of the meat, so I used onions, celery, carrot, leek, and spinach. I also added some Better than Bouillon, beef, both to the meat marinade and to make the stew’s gravy.
Karl’s Elk Cottage Pie
¾ lb. elk, ground
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs. dry sherry, separate uses
1 Tbs. Better than Bouillon, beef, low sodium
¼ tsp. baking soda
3 Tbs. butter, separate uses
1 medium onion, diced very finely
1 stalks celery, diced finely
1 medium carrot, grated
1 small leek, quartered and sliced finely
3 cloves garlic
8 oz. chopped spinach, frozen
2 Tbs. AP flour
1 tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. black pepper
1 can (14.5 oz.) chicken broth, low sodium
1 Tbs. Better than Bouillon, beef, low sodium
2 medium Russet potatoes
2 Tbs. butter, melted
¼ cup half and half
¼ cup parsley, minced
1. Put the elk in a mixing bowl and add the Worcestershire sauce, sherry, Bouillon paste, and the baking soda.
Tip: If you add Better than Bouillon to a dish, do not add any more salt. Even the low sodium versions are very salty.
Note: The baking soda changes the chemistry of the meat that allows it to retain more of its juices.
2. Mix together well and let the meat rest for 20 minutes.
Tip: This gives the marinade time to work its way into the beef.
3. Prepare and set aside all of your vegetables.
4. Peel and chop the potatoes into large chunks.
Tip: Put the potatoes in a pot of water and set them aside.
5. Form the meat into one large patty.
6. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large pan and, over medium high heat, brown the beef patty well.
7. Transfer the meat to a plate.
Tip: Elk is a very lean meat and does not produce a lot of extra grease in the pan.
8. When the meat has cooled, break it into small bite sized pieces.
9. Without cleaning the pan, add the onions and sauté them for 4-5 minutes, until they are starting to pick up some color.
10. Put the pot with the potatoes on the stove and bring the pot to a simmer.
Tip: Start the potatoes at high heat and when the pot comes to a boil, reduce the temperature to low and cover the pot. Simmer the potatoes until a knife slides into the largest chunk easily, about 15-20 minutes.
Note: When the potatoes are done, drain the water, and set the pot aside, covered, until you are ready to mash them.
11. Add the celery and carrots to the onions and continue sautéing for another 4-5 minutes.
12. Add the leeks and spinach, continue cooking for another three minutes, until the vegetables are soft and most of the moisture has evaporated.
Tip: As the pan dries out you may need to add some additional butter.
13. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and add the garlic to the hole in the center.
14. Sauté the garlic for one minute, until fragrant, and then mix it into the vegetables.
15. Stir in the thyme and black pepper.
16. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.
Tip: If you do not cook the flour, it may give your gravy a raw flour taste.
17. Deglaze the pan with a splash of the chicken broth.
18. Add the rest of the broth and stir in the bouillon paste.
19. Simmer the stew for 10-15 minutes.
20. Drain and mash the potatoes.
Tip: Do not over work the potatoes or they will turn into glue. I use a potato ricer to get perfectly smooth potatoes.
Note: I must bring up one point about using a potato ricer. If your potatoes are not completely cooked it is sometimes had to get them to go through the ricer. This is a case where it is better to have your potatoes be a little bit overcooked than under cooked.
21. Put the butter in a small cup and microwave it for 40 seconds.
Tip: Keep a close eye on it so that it does not boil over.
22. Gently whisk the cream, melted butter, and minced parsley into the mashed potatoes.
Tip: You are just trying to get it well blended, but again do not over work the potatoes.
23. Put the stew into a Pam-ed 12×9 inch deep baking pan, or a similar sized casserole.
24. Put the mashed potatoes into a quart plastic bag and snip one corner off of the bag.
25. Seal the open end of the bag and pipe the potatoes over the stew.
Tip: You could just spoon the potatoes over the stew, but using a plastic bag is much neater and makes a more even crust.
26. Spread the potatoes out evenly with a spatula and, using a large serving fork, drag the tines over the potatoes to make decorative groves.
27. Place casserole in the oven and broil until the potatoes are golden brown and crusty, about 15-20 minutes.
28. Let the stew cool for 10 minutes before serving.