Friday, March 13, 2015

Irish Shepherd's Pie with Purple Peruvian Potato Crust

     Purple Potato Topping On An Irish Shepherd's Pie?  
     Purple Peruvian Potatoes are more than just a trendy food item at modern food markets.  Many ancient South American potato hybrids have not even been introduced in American and European food markets as of yet.  Agricultural diversity is not only good for consumers, it is good for organic farm sustainability.  
     Purple potatoes just happened to be one of the first ancient Peruvian potato hybrids to land on grocery store shelves.  By providing a vast selection of potatoes to consumers, organic farm sustainability is maintained.  
     When any species of potato is grown season after season on foreign soil, the genetics weaken and the potato becomes susceptible to a higher frequency of pest infestation and disease.  One of the most famous examples of an entire species of potato gone bad in a foreign region is the Irish White Potato Blight.  

     Recent evidence hints that the Potato Blight was actually caused by a biological weapon developed by the British with the intention of forcing Ireland into political submission.  Only the Irish depended on potatoes at that time, so there may be merit to this notion.  Much of this conspiracy theory is supported by the fact that during the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, biological weapons were developed under the guise of alchemy practices, which were supported by eccentric members of the powerful societal elite.  Plausible and in the realm of possibility is all that can be surmised, because conspiracy theories are nothing more than unproven theories.   
    According to food history and encyclopedic knowledge, the Irish Potato Blight occurred naturally.  The reason why was genetic weakening one solitary potato hybrid that allowed pest infestation and disease to easily occur.  Growing several different strains of potato would have prevented the blight from happening.  If the Blight was actually caused by rudimentary biological weaponry, then potato hybrid biodiversity would also have prevented the intentional blight from occurring.

     In a modern sense, natural hybrid genetic diversity of potato species places less reliance on artificial means in agricultural practice.  It takes a lot of agrochemicals and pesticides to keep only one species of potato thriving year after year.  This is because local pests and diseases will eventually develop the means for attacking the solitary potato species by means of genetic adaptation.  
     By planting a diverse array of natural potato hybrids, the odds of pests or disease gaining the strength to wipe out an entire crop are decreased, because there is not one solitary hybrid to key upon.  By planting a wide variety of ancient potato hybrid species, there will be less reliance on artificial means to keep the plants alive and organic farm sustainability is achieved.  
     As one can see, I have been stuck in some agricultural theory classes in my senior year ob my BA Degree program.  These topics are not the easiest subject in the curriculum either.  As a chef or a home cook, it will become more important to consciously select food at a market that supports farm sustainability.  One way to accomplish this goal is as simple as purchasing an odd exotic interesting potato, like Purple Peruvian Potatoes.  Purple Potato Crust on a traditional Irish Shepherd's Pie?  The idea sure does make sense!

     The ancient Pre-Incan Cuzco civilizations were masters of the art of hybridizing vegetables.  They knew exactly what they were doing and hybridizing was done in a natural way.  Their farming methods were 100% sustainable.  Many people still cannot fathom how hundreds of thousands of people were fed in the Tiwanaku region of Peru at such a high altitude in ancient times.  A combination of agricultural biodiversity, good soil management and an advanced irrigation system was how this all was accomplished.  
     It takes a lot of food to feed people that set blocks of stone that weigh over 150 tons in place at a temple that is nearly 2 miles above sea level.  That is a whole bunch of potato power!  Needless to say, modern farm sustainability can be achieved by learning the farming methods of Tiwanaku cultures.  This is food for thought!

     Irish Shepherd's Pie
     Irish Shepherd's Pie originated in the 1800's, when mechanized meat grinders came into existence.  Potatoes were first introduced to Ireland by the Spanish.  Potatoes became a necessary food source in Ireland, due to the overbearing political climate of that age.  Potatoes were not accepted by the English, till many years later.  
     The Irish started topping potted pies with a sliced potato crust or mash potato crust and the name Shepherd's Pie came to be.  The original Irish Shepherd's Pies were made with minced meat or minced leftovers from a previous meal.  Shepherd's Pie was average working class home comfort food.  
     After machine ground meat was available in the late 1800's, the modern Shepherd's Pie was borne.  Contrary to belief, Irish Shepherd's Pie is almost never made with lamb.  It is made with ground beef!  
     English Shepherd's Pie is made with lamb and only occasionally it is made with beef.  Both Irish and English shepherd's pies usually have peas and carrots in the recipe.  Irish shepherd's pie usually has beer or stout in the list of ingredients.  Beer for cooking is almost always old beer that has gone flat.
     Seasonal food and holiday food always have to be kept in mind when planning menus at home or in a restaurant.  When the weather turns icy cold, warm hearty food is what people want.  Irish Shepherd's Pie certainly is warm, comfortable and hearty.  For St Patty's Day, a Shepherd's Pie with a purple crust will certainly draw a few comments, inspire customer interest and put a smile on any ancient potato head's face!

     *This recipe yields one hearty individual portion!
     Single portion recipes are the easiest to picture.  If a cook can imagine how to cook 1 portion, the cook can easily figure out how to expand the recipe to feed any number of people.

     Irish Shepherd's Pie Minced Meat Filling:
     Step 1:  Heat a wide sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of lard or Irish butter.  (Plugra butter is nearly the same as Irish Butter.  Both have a very low moisture content.)
     Add 2 tablespoons of minced onion.
     Add 1 minced green onion.
     Sauté till the onions start to become tender.
     Step 2:  Add 6 ounces of lean ground beef.
     Use a wire whisk to stir and break up any clumps of ground beef as it cooks.
     Gently sauté, till the ground beef is fully cooked and very lightly browned.
     Step 3:  Add just enough flour, while stirring, to soak up the grease in the pan and to create a roux.
     Stir and cook the roux for one minute.
     Step 4:  Add 1/2 cup of Irish Ale or Irish Stout.  (Old flat beer is better than cooking with fresh beer!)
     Add 2 1/3 cups of rich dark beef broth.
     Add 1/4 cup of diced carrot.
     Add 1 small bay leaf.  
     Add 1 pinch of thyme.
     Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Step 5:  Stir the stew, till it gently boils and thickens to a thin sauce consistency.
     Step 6:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer and reduce the stew sauce, till the sauce is a medium gravy consistency.
     Step 7:  Remove the bay leaf.
     Add 1/4 cup of peas.
     Simmer till the peas are tender.
     Step 8:  Remove the pan from the heat.
     Set the Irish shepherd's pie filling aside and let it cool to room temperature.

     Purple Potato Crust Topping:
     Boiled potatoes turn out better, when started with cold water.  To retain the deep purple color, do not peel the potatoes before boiling. 
     Step 1:  Measure a volume of purple potatoes by eye that equals the volume of 1 1/4 cups.  
     Place the purple potatoes in a pot. 
     Cover the potatoes with water.
     Boil the potatoes over medium high heat, till they are soft.
     Step 2:  Cool the potatoes under cold running water.
     Use the back of a paring knife to peel the thin skin off of the potatoes.
     Step 3:  Place the potatoes in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 tablespoon of milk.
     Add 2 tablespoons of melted Irish Butter or Plugra Butter.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of whisked egg.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Step 4:  Thoroughly mash and mix the ingredients together.  (A food processor can be used.)  Add a little bit more milk, if the mixture is too thick.  The potato topping should be a heavy puree consistency and not a thick mashed potato consistency.

     Irish Shepherd's Pie with Purple Peruvian Potato Crust:
     Step 1:  Place the Irish Shepherd's Pie Filling into a single portion soufflé ramekin or a baking crock.
     Place the pie crock on a baking pan.
     Spread a 3/8" to 1/2" thick layer of purple potato topping over the filling.
     Step 2:  Bake in a 325ºF oven, till the pie is about halfway cooked.
     Use a paring knife to score a few decorative lines across the topping.
     Step 3:  Continue bakeing the Irish Shepherd's Pie, till the filling is piping hot and the purple potato crust is very lightly browned.
     Step 4:  Place the Shepherd's Pie on a cooling rack.
     Allow the Irish Shepherd's Pie to cool to a safe serving temperature.
     Place the pie crock on a doily lined serving plate.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig.

     Traditional Irish Shepherd's Pie that is purple!  Nice! 

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