The absence of Mad Men these past 17 months has left a surprisingly large hole in my life. And now that it’s on again—with fat suits and murder dreams and French singing and a potentially gay Harry Crane (?)—I don’t know how I survived without it.
With Mad Men back in my life, Sunday night is a stress-free time to invite over friends and to shamelessly cook casseroles that have mayo in the ingredient list. It’s also a time for Josh and I to curl up, overeat, beach ourselves on the couch, and watch the show in our underwear, like real Americans.
For the premiere, we decided to go with the first option. My former roommate and TV watching partner in crime, Caitlyn, came over with her boyfriend, Matt, and I cooked up my mother’s best retro classic: Shepherd’s Pie. Okay okay. So perhaps this might have been better suited for Lane’s table than Don’s. Perhaps Trudy tried her hand at it before she moved to the burbs (and Alison Brie started relying on NBC for her paychecks).
Regardless, this recipe has been a favorite of mine ever since I was bed-wetting age like Bobby JR, though clearly I was house trained way too well to ever do something like that. All the parts can be made (and assembled) far in advance, which makes it the perfect option for your next Mad Men viewing, or just a nice weeknight meal to leave waiting for your man, Betty Draper-style.
Classic Shepherd’s Pie is usually made with lamb. But my dad always complained when my mom made it this way. I would probably too at this point. It’s so good with beef.
For the potato topping:
3 pounds potatoes (3 large russets), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup milk (or chicken stock, if avoiding dairy)
For the pie:
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (I used 80 percent lean)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large vidalia onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 scant tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
1. Cook the potatoes: Place the potatoes in a large pot of salted water and bring to boil over high heat. Turn the flame down to medium-low and simmer the potatoes until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Add the butter, salt, and half of the milk and mash with a fork or potato masher until the potatoes are broken down. Pour in the remaining milk and continue to stir until very smooth and lump-free. (Note: potatoes can be made up to two days in advance. Reheat and add a little extra milk to soften them so they are spreadable.)
2. Cook the meat: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large oven-proof skillet, saute the onion and carrots over medium flame until soft, 5 minutes. Push them to the side and crank the heat to high. Add the beef in the center and break apart with your spatula. When the meat is cooked through and thoroughly broken down, mix it together with the vegetables. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browned, about 5 more minutes. Add the garlic, salt, paprika, and cayenne and continue to saute on high heat until the meat is very brown, another 5 minutes. Stir in the flour until incorporated. Then add the tomato paste and the broth, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. cook, stirring occasionally, until the broth has reduced by at least half.
3. Assemble the pie: Spoon the potatoes over the meat mixture and spread with your spatula to form an even layer. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until the pie is bubbling and the cheese is melted.
4. Finish the pie under the broiler until the top is brown and crusty, about 2 minutes.