A very good shepherd’s pie for when the weather’s bad.

I cut this out of the Independent magazine last year. It’s called Bill’s Shepherd’s Pie, but I’m afraid I know no more than that. It seems a convoluted way of making a shepherd’s pie, but you need to trust me when I tell you that it’s very very good. Leftovers seem even better, of course. And the whole thing freezes beautifully for resuscitation just when you need it.

It doesn’t have a mash topping – gasp – but chunky potatoes on top. Try it. I don’t make shepherd’s pie any other way now.

It apparently serves four, but this really depends on the size of the lamb shanks. I find it generally serves at least six, with left overs.

2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus a little extra

1 large carrot, chopped up into the usual sized pieces

1 onion, same

2 celery stalks chopped up fine

3 tablespoons of plain flour

200ml of dry white wine, or vermouth, or low alcohol cider (these latter two are what I also sometimes use)

500ml chicken stock, I tend to freeze my stock in 600ml portions so I add 600ml of stock and 100ml of vermouth/white wine

3-4 lambshanks

4 sprigs of thyme

800g-1K Maris Piper or other floury potato, these you need to have peeled and cut into chunks that are, you know, chunk sized. We tend to use 1kilo as a) we are quite partial to a potato and b) the dish I use is quite large.

A handful of parsley leaves, chopped up

The zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped

Now, this is what you do. I have given the conventional method first, then the slow cooker method.

You preheat the oven to 160C. You heat the oil in a large casserole dish – with a lid which you’ll need later – that can go in the oven.

Into this large casserole dish you add the chopped up carrot, onion and celery and season with salt and pepper (be aware the stock cube may also be salty). Cook until soft, about seven minutes.

Now add the flour and stir around and cook for a minute or two. Now you add the wine/vermouth/low alcohol cider, stock, shanks and thyme and bring it to the boil.

No, you don’t have to brown the shanks first.

Now cover the casserole and put the whole lot in the oven for two hours *, until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Take it out, put it to one side for a moment, and turn the oven up to 200C.

*set a timer for about twenty minutes before times up, and put the potatoes into salted, boiling water for 20 minutes, until very tender. Drain then return them to the pan and add half each of the parsley, lemon zest and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in a glug of olive oil, breaking up the potatoes a bit as you go. You want to rough them up a bit in an ‘Eastenders” way, not obliterate them entirely.

Lift the lamb shanks from the casserole dish, trying hard not to think of them as baby sheep’s legs. Let them cool so you can handle and then take the meat from the bones (if the meat didn’t fall off when you lifted the bone up) and break the meat up into bite sized chunks with your hands.

Return the chunks to the casserole it cooked in and now stir in the remaining parsley, garlic and lemon zest and simmer for five minutes or more until the sauce has reduced (you may need to do it for longer than five minutes). Now spoon the whole meat-sauce lot either into individual dishes, or into a suitable oven proof dish. Top with the roughed up potato chunks and bake for 20 minutes in that 200C oven until you get lovely golden bits.

Slow cooker version

I am presuming your slow cooker also has a saute function, if it doesn’t then do that bit in a conventional pan.

Put the slow cooker onto saute function and put in the olive oil. I put mine on low. Now add the chopped up carrot, onion and celery and season with salt and pepper (be aware the stock cube – if using – may also be salty). Cook until soft, about seven minutes.

Now add the flour and stir around and cook for a minute or two. Now you add the wine/vermouth/low alcohol cider, stock, thyme and lamb shanks. Don’t worry if the lamb shanks stick out a little, just try to submerge as best you can. If you cook this for a very long time (see later) then you may want to lift the lid and turn them round so that they all get a go in the juice.  Bring the heat up (still on saute setting) so it starts to bubble.

(No, you don’t have to brown the shanks first.)

Now switch off saute function, select slow cooker mode low (or medium or high if you don’t have too long) close the lid, and set for as long as you’ve got. I have done this in two 12 hour batches so that the lamb cooked for 24 hours. But you can do it on high for two hours or medium for four etc. I prefer a long, slow cook for this.

When time is up, lift the lamb shanks out – they fall apart – and put in a separate dish. Leave the juice in the slow cooker for now. Skim off the fat – there may be lots – and discard into the bin (not down the sink! We don’t want fatbergs).

Carefully take all the meat off the bones and separate out from any undesirable bits, tear the meat up into bite-size chunks and put back in the slow cooker. When all is done add half the parsley, lemon zest and garlic (the other halves will go with the potatoes) into the meat ‘n’ ting.

Now select the reduce function (again if you don’t have it at this point decant into a large pan) and reduce down for about 20 mins. It’s at this point I start attending to the potatoes, but you can do it before if you are more co-ordinated.

Now preheat the oven to 200C.

Put the potatoes into salted, boiling water for 20 minutes, until very tender. Drain then return them to the pan and add the other half each of the parsley, lemon zest and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in a glug of olive oil, breaking up the potatoes a bit as you go. You want to rough them up a bit in an ‘Eastenders” way, not obliterate them entirely.

Pour the bite-size meat and juice into your casserole dish for the oven and top with the potatoes and cook for 20-25 mins until potatoes are tender and golden (if you have a fancy oven that can put the heat on the top only you can give them a blast for the last few minutes).

**Eat with some fortifying green veg and serve with my chocolate sponge and chocolate custard recipe.

Apologies for the picture. It’s not easy taking one that looks really good, but don’t let it put you off. At least my pics aren’t as bad as Martha Stewart’s photos of what she’s eating.

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