It’s the first day of spring! Of course, this means that winter here had to squeeze in one last gasp, so it’s snowing here today. Nevertheless, there’s signs of life in our little neighborhood. The kids were spending longer afternoons outside earlier this week, which gave me more time in kitchen to pull together some fun meals. On St. Patrick’s Day, I got in the Irish spirit and baked some mini shepard’s pies for everyone. When the hubby got home and the kids finally ventured back into the house, there was jaunty Irish music blasting on Pandora and the smell of hot beef and potatoes wafting towards them.
The hubby laughed. “We are many things, honey, but we’re not Irish.”
“I know,” I said. “But LOOK! Meat pies! In miniature!”
“There’s beef in there? Sure, I can get behind that.”
A few weeks ago I found these little cocotte dishes on clearance (similar to these mini Dutch ovens), and I couldn’t resist buying a few. I’d been eyeing mini cocottes for a while, ever since I saw these Le Creuset versions on sale at a kitchen store a few years ago. I scoffed at them at first. “Mini cocottes are the cupcakes of the braising world,” I thought to myself. “It’s just a really small pot, much like a cupcake is just a really small cake.”
Well, picture me today, sitting humbly before you, eating a very large plate of crow. As it turns out, I can’t not paw at mini cocottes whenever I see them in a shop. And when my coveted bargain basement cocottes finally arrived — well, I spent a couple of nights in bed, staring at my ceiling, feverishly pondering as to what would be my first creation using them. As St. Patrick’s Day approached and my Facebook feed filled with adorable babies dressed in shamrock green along with gigantic shepard’s pies (thanks, friends, by the way, for being generally awesome with great food and producing very cute kids), it hit me: I would make handheld meat pies, and they would be glorious.
For my shepard’s pie, I used this Alton Brown recipe. Since I didn’t have ground lamb on hand and I didn’t have time to run to the store after my late-night revelation, I substituted ground beef. His recipe is enough to make ten miniature shepard’s pies — at least for me (although I did also make more potatoes than he did because we just love buttery mashed potatoes over here).
As it turns out, a small, four-inch cocotte holding golden-crisped mashed potatoes with a meaty filling is not really enough to satiate a hungry adult. I served some salad along with these mini pies, and I’d also recommend making this recipe for no more than six people so that hungry diners can have a second. The kids loved having their “own” little cocottes. Since I pulled them scorchingly hot straight from the oven and put them to cool on salad plates in front of each kid, we had a few touch-and-go minutes there while the hubby and I admonished them to “look but don’t touch.” (By the by, there is apparently no torture greater for Ge Ge than to put a hot meat pie in front of him and then tell him he can’t eat or touch it for like, three minutes.)
The cocottes eventually cooled, and the kids tore into each of theirs with aplomb, pulling out forkfuls of saucy ground beef, carrots, peas and corn. The combination of juicy meat and fluffy potatoes with a crunchy top was homey and filling. When cooked inside a single serving-sized cocotte, shepard’s pie somehow doesn’t feel as frumpy as if it’s cooked inside one large pan. Yet, by mixing potatoes and meat together into one tiny dish, it’s almost like you’re eating a complete meal with each and every bite. As soon as I polished off the contents of my cocotte, I was already thinking about what I could miniaturize next. Apple pies? Fondue? Osso bucco?
The possibilities are endless.
- For the potatoes:
- 2½ pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice
- ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
- 3 ounces unsalted butter
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 egg yolk
- For the filling:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup small diced carrots
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1½ pounds ground beef
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary leaves
- 1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
- 2 ears fresh corn, cut off the cob
- ½ cup fresh or frozen peas
- 10 oven-safe mini cocottes or ramekins, greased
- Put potatoes in a large, heavy pan and add water so that there is at least one inch of water covering the potatoes. Cover the pan with a lid and bring to a boil, then uncover and reduce heat to medium or medium low to simmer. Cook until the potatoes fall apart and drain in a colander, then return to warm pot.
- While the potatoes are cooking, heat the butter and cream in a microwave safe dish on 70% or 80% power for about 30-45 seconds until the butter is soft.
- Mash the potatoes. Add the heated cream and butter and continue mashing. Season with salt and pepper to taste, add the egg yolk and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and carrots and saute until softened slightly, approximately 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, then crumble the ground beef over the top of the carrot, onion and beef mixture.
- Cook the beef until it's browned, then sprinkle the flour over the beef and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, thyme and chicken broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer until sauce is thick and shiny, about 10 minutes.
- Add peas and corn and stir another 2-3 minutes until cooked through.
- Place greased ramekins or cocottes on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spoon beef mixture into ramekins so that they are approximately ⅔rds full. Top with mashed potatoes, using a rubber spatula so that the potatoes reach all the way to the edges and create a seal over the beef mixture.
- Bake in oven for approximately 15-20 minutes until tops are golden brown and slightly crusty. Remove from oven and let stand for 5-6 minutes, then serve piping hot.
- Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a rubber spatula. Place on a parchment lined half sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Note: I made some substitutions and modifications to Alton Brown’s recipe; the original is here.