“But it is dark in there,” muttered my grandma skeptically as my mom opened the door to Durty Nelly’s pub in Bunratty, Ireland. An intergenerational trio, my grandma, Mom and I, had traipsed across the Emerald Isle for nearly two weeks together before we darkened the doorway of one of Ireland’s landmark pubs.

We had learned all about thatched roofs, Waterford crystal and sheep shearing.  We’d kissed the Blarney stone, tasted blood sausage and smelled the peat fire logs. As far I was concerned it was about time we traded in our tea and scones for a pint of Guinness and a serving of Shepherd’s pie, but alas it was not meant to be.

My sweet grandma was nervous by nature and took one look at the dimly lit pub interior and decided she had absolutely zero interest in grabbing a beer. Despite significant coaxing my mother and I could not convince the matriarch of our family to head into Durty Nelly’s on that fateful day.  

Grandma much preferred an afternoon castle tour to bellying up to the bar and after returning to the hotel my mom reluctantly agreed to take her to see a few more crumbling turrets.  Despite the fact I’d never been one to enjoy hanging out in a bar alone, I knew this was likely to be my first and only chance to visit an honest-to-goodness Irish pub on our vacation.  

With my grandma and mom safely on their way to play princess, I walked the streets of the quaint Irish village before heading into a random pub on a street corner. I ordered my pint and pie and savored both while chatting with a few locals sitting by the fire. It was a cozy, filling and unforgettable meal.

The Shepherd’s Pie was brimming with tender lamb and carrot coins. Crowned with golden brown mashed potatoes, the pie was enhanced by the complex bitterness of my pint of Guinness. The dish tasted like it had been cooking for days. My solo Irish pub dinner remains as one of my favorite memory meals to this very day; I still giggle knowing I made back to the hotel just before my grandma walked in toting a bag full of brand new Irish lace doilies.

St. Patrick’s Day Shepherd’s Pie with Colcannon Potatoes

10 generous servings

Both the stew and the potatoes can be prepared two days ahead and refrigerated before assembling the pie for baking.

For the Filling:

  • 2 pounds beef or lamb stew meat (I used a combination)
  • Kosher salt and coarse black pepper
  • 2-4 Tablespoons canola oil
  • 5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into ½”thick coins
  • 2 medium sweet onions, diced
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • ¼ Cup flour
  • 1 Cup red wine
  • 1 ½ Cups reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 2 thyme sprigs

For the topping:

  • 4 Pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • Kosher Salt
  • 1 small head cabbage, quartered
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 Cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • ½ Cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 Egg yolks

Preheat the 325 degrees. Dry the stew meat with a paper towel and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 Tablespoons of canola oil in a heavy bottomed stock pot until hot and nearly smoking. Brown ¼ of the meat in the oil until deeply colored on all sides. Transfer the seared meat to a bowl and brown the remaining meat in batches, adding 1 Tablespoon of oil to the pot before each addition.

When all the meat is browned, reduce the heat to medium and add the carrots and the onions to the drippings in the pot. Season with salt and cook the vegetables, stirring frequently, until they are beginning to soften (about 6 minutes) Stir in the garlic until just fragrant (30 seconds).  Mix in the flour and the tomato paste; stir the mixture thoroughly and cook until just starting to brown. Gradually whisk in the wine and broth before adding all the meat and accumulated drippings back to the pot. Toss in the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Seal the pot with aluminum foil and secure the lid. Place the pot in the oven and allow the stew to braise for 2 hours or until the meat is very tender.

While the stew braises prepare the colcannon. Place the potatoes and garlic cloves in a pot with salted water to cover. Bring to a boil and nestle the cabbage on top of the potatoes. Cover the pot and allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the tender cabbage and allow to cool before chopping (you should have about 2 cups). Check the potatoes for tenderness and drain when they are easily pierced with a fork. Transfer the potatoes to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (a hand mixer or potato masher will also work). Season with salt and pepper and mash the potatoes until nearly smooth. Stop mashing and add the butter to the potatoes; wait for it to melt before mixing again. Mash in the chopped cabbage, parsley, scallions, Parmesan and egg yolks. Set aside until ready to assemble the pie.

Increase the oven temp to 375 degrees. Transfer the stew to a 9×13 Pyrex baking dish; the dish should be about 2/3’s full. Drop the potatoes in large clumps over the top of the stew. Use a spatula to smooth the potatoes evenly over the stew. Place the dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes until potatoes are firm and stew is bubbling. Switch on the broiler and broil the Shepard’s pie until potatoes are golden brown and slightly crisp. Garnish each serving with green peas and thyme sprigs if desired.

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