Smells of Home and Curried Smalls

Tuesday 26/10/2004

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Diary and Notes

John Peel died today. For those of you who are not British, let it be known that a great man has passed by and left an imprint on the world that people who never heard his name or heard him speak will never understand.

I cooked something very traditionally British today - Shepherd's pie. I took great care to do a good job (as always). Now, I know there will be people who make a better shepherd's pie than me and there will be purists who disagree with my ingredients, but I use what's there and what's there was what I used. I also remember reading an article (I think it was by Madhur Jaffrey) talking about growing up in India and the British people cooking shepherd's pie there. She claimed to love it, but when she came to Britain the pie was disgusting. They had 'forgotten' to put any chilli, garam masala, garlic etc... What she was really saying, was that shepherd's pie had evolved in India and was something very different to what we get in pubs in Britain. As such, I'll put in what I like and call it what I like. It was undoubtedly recognisable as a shepherd's pie anyway and the person eating it with me agreed.

It is sad to use the name Jeffrey Archer in the same piece that John Peel was mentioned but I feel I must. He was famous for his shepherd's pie parties, where, until the salmonella scare of '86, champagne was drunk from Edwina Currie's knickers (there were some worries about their proximity to rotten eggs). I will give old Jeffrey a fair break here and assume that he had good pie. So the aim is - cook a pie that would have made Jeffrey proud, without it being the Jeffrey Archer of shepherd's pies. My pie was good. It was easy to prepare and sadly, it's the last one I get this year.

On ingredients: Pickled black peppercorns can be bought here, in France and probably everywhere except British supermarkets. They are superb, great for pepper sauces and anywhere a good peppering up is needed. If you can't get them, just use more black pepper - but it wont taste as good.

The kirscherolle was a very tasty cherry cream bun I bought from a bakers for less than a quid.


  • Shepherds pie,
  • Leeks in cheese sauce,
  • Salad,

  • Kirscherolle,

  • Einbecker Pils


  • Shepherd's pie: Minced lamb, olive oil, onions, carrots, red pepper, courgette, pickled black peppercorns, chicken stock (the garlic stuff from Sunday), mushrooms, potatoes, lemon juice, tomato puree, paprika, marjoram, black pepper, salt, bottle of Einbecker pils.

  • Leeks: Leeks, stinky German jelly cheese, butter, milk, parsley, black pepper, salt.


  • Shepherd's pie: Dice the onions and carrots and fry gently in the olive oil. When soft, add the minced lamb and brown, keeping the lamb moving to make sure it's good and separated and every little bit gets nicely singed. Stir in the pickled peppercorns (if you have them), paprika and a good twist of pepper. Cook for a few seconds to make sure the paprika gets roasted as well. Pour in your beer. I used a fine Einbecker Hell (light) but a pint of Otter or Smiles' Best would do just as well (I must be yearning for home). Reduce a fair bit and add the rest of the vegetables, herbs and chicken stock. Cook slowly with a lid on for about 1/2 an hour. Peel and very thinly slice the potatoes and boil for 5 mins to soften them. Drain and leave to cool. Now for a useful trick. If your sauce is a little too runny we are going to want to thicken it somehow, there are many methods; cornflower (bad, makes slime), beurre meunier (good but fiddly), potato starch (industrial), creamed coconut (good for curries) and of course tomato puree (which we are going to use). Now we don't want a tomato sauce, just a bit to help thicken things, but if we want to reduce our meat sauce further it will take a while. A good tip to speed up reducing things is to take out all the solid matter (sounds delicious that) first, stir in your thickener and then reduce (just scoop it out of the pan with a slotted spoon and keep in whatever you will be cooking the pie in). With the solids removed the sauce will thicken a lot quicker (less to heat) plus you can turn the heat up quite high, without fear of anything burning (as long as you keep stirring). So: take out the meat/veg, stir in a dollop of puree, turn up the heat and stir until thick. Pour the meat back in when its done just to mix well. Put all this in a dish and layer over the sliced potatoes. Brush with a bit of olive oil and cook in the oven until crispy on top.

  • Leeks: This was a bit of a disaster and I will claim that it wasn't my fault, it was the cheese godammit, the cheese. Simmer the leeks in water for a few minutes to soften them. Make a simple white sauce (butter & flour roux, then pour in warm milk and stir gently until thick). Grate in the cheese, parsley and pepper. Take leaks out of water and place in dish. Pour on sauce and bake in oven. Easy. Except the cheese. German cheese is alien to me. They have the usual pan-European Gouda, Leerdammer etc... but if you want a good cheese you need to go local and I did. The nice man at one of the cheese counters at the local market sold me what he claimed were the finest cheeses in Germany. Three odd roundels of gelatinous horror that had no taste, a lot of smell and were good for nothing except cooking (or so I thought). I tried cooking with them. My sauce was not what I would call a delight. If you make this dish with famous cricketer's cheddar it will be a delight. Stay off the jelly cheese, you have been warned.

    I made this again on 15/11/2005 and took a photo. This time I had some proper English Cheddar cheese and the leeks in cheese sauce were lovely. Damn that German cheese, damn his britches sir!