I’ve always enjoyed trying new things; strange beers, new places, or interesting and unusual recipes. I’m a bit of a mad scientist in the kitchen, always trying different, exciting foods and ingredients; trying to push my boundaries, and boldly going where I’ve never gone before.
My girlfriend greets these (occasional) abominable experiments with much more indulgent, loving, and good-natured humour than I would probably have any right to expect. It helps, of course, that she gets to benefit whenever I knock one of my attempts out of the park.To keep her happy though, (especially after one of my more outlandish dishes), I try to make up some “normal”, “not weird” (aka boring), food. “Normal” doesn’t have to be boring though. I like to use these opportunities to hone and perfect my recipes, to try and make them as good as possible.
Everyone has a few dishes that they consider comforting. Comfort foods are a great pick-me-up for whenever you’re feeling a bit down in the dumps. They make an easy meal for picky eaters as well. One of my favourites comfort foods to make is tatties and mince. You’ve never heard of that, you say? Well, it’s basically shepherds’ pie, but with ground beef instead of lamb. I often use ground beef as an inexpensive substitute for ground lamb, but I refuse to call the ensuing dish shepherds’ pie. Shepherds’ pie means sheep dammit! (I know I’m being a bit pedantic, but I’m writing this blog, so there.)
The Scottish come to the rescue though, with one of their more popular dishes, tatties and mince. Consumed in mass quantities by Scottish school-children for years, this dish is probably the most “normal” thing Scotland has ever produced. (Because haggis, golf, the kilt, and Loch Ness monster conspiracy theories are definitely NOT normal!)
This recipe is good, old-fashioned, stick-to-your-ribs cooking. The sort of meal to warm your spirit on a bitterly cold winters’ evening. You can make this recipe dairy-free by substituting chicken broth and margarine for the milk and butter in the mashed potatoes.
Tatties & Mince
(Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 45 minutes. Serves: 4-6.)
Part A: The Tatties
- 3 medium to large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/3 cup milk (or chicken broth)
- 1/4 cup salted butter (or margarine)
Place the cut up potatoes and salt in a medium sized pot, and add cold water until the potatoes are covered up to 1/2 an inch. Bring the contents of the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.
Drain the potatoes, then add all the ingredients to the pot. Use a handheld mixer to carefully beat the potatoes until they are smooth and creamy. (I’ve been converted to the idea of using a handheld mixer for making mashed potatoes; it’s easier than using a mashing tool, and you’re more likely to have one than a ricer.) Set the mashed potatoes aside to cool a bit, and indulge in the pleasure of licking the beaters (but make sure to take them out first).
Part B: The Mince
- 1 lb extra lean ground beef
- 1/2 large yellow onion, small dice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground dry mustard
- 1 tbsp dry herbs de Provence
- 1/2 tbsp fresh-ground black pepper
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 small bay leaves
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 cup frozen corn kernels
Brown the ground beef in a large sauté pan, over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables, and sauté with the beef until the onions have become soft, approximately 3-5 minutes. Add the spices, Worcestershire sauce, and fish sauce. (I like using fish sauce, to bring some saltiness and umami flavours to the mince. You can omit this ingredient, or use soya sauce instead, if you prefer.)
Add the flour to the mince, and continue cooking everything for 2 minutes (to brown the flour slightly, and cook out some of the unpleasant raw flour taste). Then, slowly pour in the chicken broth, stirring continuously.Drop in the bay leaves. Allow the mince and gravy mixture to come to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. While you’re waiting, preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit. Also, practice your golf swing, and your cursing–they go hand-in-hand (trust me).
At the end of 20 minutes, the gravy should have thickened up and reduced slightly. If it’s still a bit watery, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook for another 5 minutes to reduce the sauce. Mix in the frozen peas and corn. Pour the mince into a nonstick loaf pan, and top with the mashed potatoes. Use a spatula to spread the potatoes evenly over the mince, right up to the edges of the pan. The top of the potato layer should have little peaks and waves. Now, pop the pan in the oven for 15 minutes, until everything is bubbling and lovely. Then broil the “pie” for 2-3 minutes, until the top has begun to brown and crisp up slightly.
Serve your tatties and mince with a side of steamed vegetables, or douse it with ketchup if you really want to channel your inner child. I like to paint my face blue, and watch “Braveheart” for a truly authentic Scottish experience. (Side note… how many people base all of their knowledge about Scotland off of “Braveheart” and Groundskeeper Willy from “the Simpsons”? Just me? Oh, okay, well… moving on then…)
So, enjoy your comfort food, and bask in the warmth of normalcy. Because, on deck for tomorrow: chicken feet with black bean sauce!