Why hello there! And….Top…of…the…morning…to…ye… Ugh. That is a grating phrase. It’s so stereotypically Irish that, fun fact, they never say it in Ireland unless they’re fucking around. It’s the Irish equivalent of “’Murica”, or “shrimp on the barbie”, a word or phrase so overwrought that it’s only used ironically. (Not the least because it was an ENGLISH phrase first. Stil, some people still use it, and if you wish to be polite, the ‘proper’ response is “And the rest of the day to you(rself).” (Either ‘you’ or ‘yourself’ is fine.) BUT, you didn’t come here for linguistic lessons, you came for food and fun! And I plan to deliver BOTH; as well as a linguistic lesson and a slight historical lesson. I’m sorry. If you want to skip the humorous homework, the recipe is HERE. FOR THE REST OF US:
What’s In a Name? A Hose by Any Other Name Would Spray as Wet
That title may be too long, but the short version offended my eyes. Anywho, let’s talk about American cultural appropriation! BOO. Wait, stick with me here. I don’t mean like, when white people steal black slang and make it uncool, I’m referring to genetic cultural appropriation, or, in less mind-numbingly PC terms, what I dub ‘Hyper-Heritage’.
Most Americans don’t like just BEING American. They are insistent on tracing out their genealogies, and giving you their complete racial make-up. I myself am strongly Native American (meaning one of my grandparents grew up on a reservation. That’s “strongly” to white America, 1/8th of your genetic make-up) , but predominantly Western European in heritage: Irish, Scottish, Welsh, English (so, all the United Kingdom (fuck you, Isle of Man)) and various others. But my family identifies as Irish, mostly due to our last name. O’Guin isn’t a very Welsh name. Now, I’m actually a bigger fan of ‘hyper heritage’ than one might assume, if only because so many of the world’s cultures have so many cool and interesting points, and this form of cultural research gives people an attachment and interest in them. For instance, if I hadn’t paid a carny $10 fifteen years ago to tell me my family used to be kings, I don’t know how much I would have bothered to learn about Ireland. Show them my coat of arms, boys! What’s that? We lost the sheet? We deliberately set it aside like, two weeks ago. How the hell is it missing? I blame the carnies.
What, these respectable gentlemen? Heaven forbid.
My name in particular has been a fun exploration in etymology and history. Firstly, it’s a patronym, which means “name based on one’s father (or proceeding male ancestor).” These names are EVERYWHERE. From the easy to spot Johnson (“John’s son”), to harder ones that you still see, (“Mc” and O’ are both Patronymic prefixes. McDonald means “Son of Donald”) to the many foreign varieties: “Ebin” or “bin” is an Arabic placeholder meaning “Son of”, in the example Suleiman bin Daoud, or Solomon, Son of David, for you Quran/Bible fans; “es” and “ez at the end of a Spanish name means “son of”, so Gonzales is “son of Gonzalo”, Martinez is “son of Martino”, etc.; In Russia, Stepanovich means “son of Stepan”; and so on and so on.
Beyond that, the name has two possible origins that I’ve heard, neither of which I’ve found any evidence for, other than that sheet the carny gave me. Either the name comes from an ongoing reduction of Coin, a reduction of Coinneach, the ancient king, OR it comes from an old word meaning “Maker of Guns”. I don’t know which is true, so I use whichever feels more relevant at any given moment. And looking up my name finds some interesting results. There’s a Travis O’Guin who produces Tech N9ne, a rapper I quite enjoy. There’s a Greg O’Quin who’s a gospel singer. Nathaniel O’Guinn fought in the Civil War. For Tennessee. Look, they can’t all be winners.
But because of my name, I’ve spent time studying Irish culture, and learning fun facts. So, let’s conclude the history lesson, for a more enjoyable linguistic lesson. (I promise, food eventually shows up.)
The Pregnant Bulls of Ireland.
We get weirder every sentence around here.
Let’s talk about Irish Bulls. By which, I do NOT mean “male cattle of Ireland.” No, an Irish bull is a specific type of phrase, specifically one that makes no goddamn sense, likely due to an oxymoronic twist, but vaguely sounds like it does. A fun example is Samuel Goldwyn, an old studio head, once said “If I could drop dead right now, I’d be the happiest man alive.” I trust I don’t need to explain that? That, since he’s dead, he’d definitely be out of the running for happiest man ALIVE? Well, I just did rhetorically, so there’s no going back.
Irish bulls, paradoxically, were very popular among Jewish immigrants to America. Indeed, they weren’t always Irish. Originally, they were just “bulls”, tied to the verb “bull”, meaning to mock or cheat (this is also where the word bully comes from.) The general consensus is that they became Irish bulls after a famous quote. Specifically, “The bulls of Ireland are always pregnant.” This is because of crack.
This is not the first problem crack’s caused in the modern day.
Sorry, misspelling there. I meant “Craic”. Ireland is, and has for generations, valued wit and poeticism in language. These traits are combined into a single skill, named ‘craic’. As such, one of the points of Irish Bulls is that, while they’re objectively nonsense, they’re also disturbingly accurate or poignant. A childish example is in one of the Redwall books, a villain threatens a hero they will “rip off your head, and throw it in your face.” That sentence doesn’t make sense, but it illustrates a mood of intense, personal hatred. The famous quote about pregnancy refers to the other form of pregnant: full of something. Irish bulls are always pregnant with truth, or humor, or anger.
There’s dozens, if not hundreds of great Irish bulls out there. Houston has a law stating that beer “Cannot be purchased after midnight on a Sunday, but it can be purchased on a Monday”. Rush Limbaugh once said “I’m not going to just sit here and stand for those kind of remarks” Yogi Berra is full of them, claiming that “Half the lies these guys tell me aren’t true.”
“That’s nice,” you say, in your conciliatory tone, patting my head as one does a mentally disadvantaged nephew explaining the differences between the various members of G.I. Joe. “But what does any of this have to do with cooking?”
Nothing at all. I just had to write a lot of nonsense so you would pay attention.
The Man in the High Cottage
So, Shepards pie. Or, originally, Cottage Pie. Yes, there was a very tenuous strand connecting all the etymological mumbo jumbo to this section: It appears the dish was renamed somewhere around 1870. Cottage pie was a dinner the poor used to re-use roasted meat. You threw the meat, some veggies, and a sauce in a pan, and covered it with mashed potatoes, making the meat a little home. If only we had a word for a “small, comfortable home.” Tragic. Eventually, people started calling Cottage Pie made with Lamb “shephards pie”, because, well, who else eats a lot of lamb? For some reason, that name grew in popularity. Presumably as fewer and fewer people lived on “remote, bucolic homesteads of an intimate nature”. Anywho, my version uses Lamb, so it’s definitely a Shephard’s Pie, and not “one of a group of small, separate houses, as for patients at a hospital, guests at a hotel, or students at a Boarding School”…Pie.
Honestly, it looks more like casserole than a pie.
Don’t you start on me, Caption Jon. This recipe my mother and I grabbed out of a Food Network Magazine, and immediately started messing around with it/ encountering difficulties. See, the recipe calls for ground beef and ground lamb, the latter of which can be mildly difficult to find. I checked 2 stores, neither of them carried it. I called a local butcher shop, and the woman on the phone told me they didn’t have any. I was on my way to a third destination when I decided to stop at the butcher’s anyway, and get some jerky, when I discovered they totally DID have ground lamb! I wasn’t expecting outright deceit to be an issue in grocery shopping!
Now, the recipe may look super complicated, but I assure you, it’s mostly child’s play.
Child’s Play Gone…Awr-ay?
Not my best rhyme. And who uses “awry” anymore? I’m distracted.
A fun thing you can do with this recipe is actually ignore half of it. In that, basically, the recipe consists of making two separate entities (the potatoes, and the filling) and then joining them together. So what my mother and I ended up doing was just making the potatoes and the filling, and then refrigerating them. Three days later, I combined them, baked them, and had a big dinner ready in 30 minutes! Well, 40 minutes. 45. Look, I forgot refrigerating things makes them cold, okay?
But yeah, first up, you just make 2 pounds of mashed potatoes. Bring to a boil, simmer 20 minutes, drain. While that’s going on, you go take a leek.
Leeks, if you’ve never worked with them before, are like big green onions with a hint of garlic taste. They’re a little fussy, in that sand gets in the leaves, so before you eat them, you gotta cut ‘em open and wash them. Nothing too demanding. Cut up the white and light green parts. The dark ends are basically only used for making stock, because they’re quite tough and woody. Some people think you shouldn’t use the dark ends for anything, but Jacques Fils-de-Pute Pépin says otherwise, so they can eat merde. (Motherfucker is hard to translate into French. Especially when you don’t speak it.) Soften the leeks for about 8 minutes in olive oil with a little salt over medium heat. Then take half of them, and put them aside; they’ll go in the potatoes later. Take the other half, and toss the beef and lamb on top.
This is my own fault. I tell you things, and you blindly, stupidly obey.
Now, the recipe calls for ¾ lb of both lamb and beef. So of course my family just used 1 pound of each, because screw exact measurements! (Except when baking. Baking is VERY picky about exact measurements.) Cook until not-pink, then drain the fat.
The next few steps can be summarized as “ADD ingredients at proper times so they don’t suck later.” And the aromatics now, the veggies, later, that sort of thing. I’ll be more precise later, but the important thing to note is that this recipe calls for 1 cup Irish stout! (well, ¾ cup, but if we upped the meat, we’re definitely upping the beer) Which means YOU get the rest of the bottle! So drink up, as you gaze into the colorful, “I’m pretty sure this is just a stew” mixture before you.
I put a lot of pictures in this section, as an apology for all the learning I made you do earlier.
Then, you mash the potatoes, adding half-and-half, butter, salt, and ½ of cheddar cheese, as well as the leeks. At this point, you could dump both sets of ingredients into different tubs, and throw together a quick meal, or wrap it up now. Your call.
Stew goes into a 9 by 13 pan, potatoes go on top. Spread them out, top with another ½ cup cheddar, and bake at 400 for 25 minutes. Let sit 10, or you’re going to burn your mouth.
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and quartered. (really, just cut them into similar size chunks)
2 tbsps olive oil
2 leeks, halved, rinsed well, and sliced 1/2” thick
12 oz ground beef
12 oz ground lamb
2 large carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (pronounced “Worstersheer”. No, I don’t know why England decided to ignore that C. )
3 tbsp tomato paste
¾ c Irish stout. (I’m not saying you have to use Guiness. I’m just implying it.)
1 ¾ beef broth (preferably low sodium. There’s a lot of salt bouncing around in here)
1 cup frozen peas
8 oz diced mushrooms (optional) (This wasn’t in the magazine recipe at all. My mother just got upset at the idea of a shepherd’s pie without mushrooms)
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2/3 cup half-and-half
1 c cheddar cheese, grated.
- Preheat oven to 400. Put potatoes in large saucepan, cover with water to 1” over potatoes. Add a handful of salt to the water. Boil, then simmer 20 minutes, or until potatoes are easily stabbed through with a fork.
- Put a large skillet on medium heat, and heat the olive oil. Cook the leeks and ½ tsp salt until tender but not brown, 8-10 minutes. Set aside half of the leeks in a large bowl. Add Beef and lamb to remaining leeks. Cook, breaking up meat, until no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Pour off excess fat, and season with ½ tsp salt and some pepper.
- Add carrots, mushrooms (if using), garlic, Worcestershire, and thyme. Stir to combine. Clear a space, and add tomato paste in middle of pan. Cook the tomato paste for a minute or so, until slightly darkened. Then stir it into the meat mixture. Pour in the stout, and simmer about 3 minutes, until slightly reduced. Add beef broth and bring the whole shebang to a simmer. Cook about 5 minutes, until carrots are almost tender. Add peas, reduce heat to low, and walk away to do the next part.
- Drain the potatoes, if you didn’t already. Put in the bowl with the leeks. Add butter, half and half, and half the cheddar. Mash well. (At this point, you can put the meat and potatoes (THERE’S THE TITLE!!!!) into separate Tupperware or pyrex containers. Let them cool for about 30 minutes before moving to the fridge. If you do, add 15 minutes to the cooking time below)
- Pour meat mixture into a 3 quart baking dish (9” by 13” by 2” pan). Dollop potatoes on top, spreading with back of a spoon. Scatter remaining cheese on top. Bake 25 minutes, until browned on top, and side bubbling. Let cool 10 minutes.
THAT’S OUR PROGRAM, FOLKS.
Be sure to try our recipes out, and claim I poisoned you in the comments! Sign up to our email list for a special Email-list only post! Keep checking out the site, because those view numbers drive my self-worth!
NEXT TIME: ANOTHER GODDAMN PIE. THIS ONE’S ACTUALLY A DESSERT. AND FROM FRANCE. OR CANADA, I WASN’T PAYING ATTENTION. AND EXPERIMENTATION!!!