In Search of Shepherd’s Pie

Does anyone have a good recipe for shepherd's pie?

One cold night last January, as I walked down Second Avenue heading home from a late night at the office, I realized what was missing. The Irish pubs that had once ruled the neighborhood had somehow, inexplicably, nearly all disappeared.

When I moved to New York in the mid-’80s, the litany of Second Avenue establishments rang out like an Irish medley: Dustin’s, O’Reilly’s, Runyon’s, Kennedy’s, Eamon Doran’s, Donahue’s, O’Malley’s. Each clan offered its own brand of warmth, a long mahogany bar, a great Irish coffee, and a bartender who welcomed you like a brother. Last but not least, their kitchens served up the best meal ever created for a cold winter’s night: shepherd’s pie.

The blend of spiced ground beef (or lamb, depending on the chef), peas, carrots, and onions was topped with mashed potatoes better than Mom’s and slid into the oven to bake until the peaks turned golden. The meal was delivered to your table by a brogue-speaking waitress who probably called you “Hon”. Waiting for the scalding dish to cool, you inhaled the warm aroma that briefly obliterated the smell of cigarette smoke roiling around you. A few hours later, you headed back out into the cold, the wind at your back.

Somehow (is it a millennium thing?), the names have changed, and so has the cuisine. Thai, Mexican, BBQ, organic, Japanese, and Ethiopian establishments now lay claim to the territory where the Celts had reigned. The dark warmth has given way to brighter lighting, uncomfortable bar stools, and sharp angles. Something’s lost; something’s gained. Sure, the food’s great, but …

Does anyone have a good recipe for shepherd’s pie?