Halloween Potluck: “Untraditional” Shepherd’s Pie

In the British Isles, the ultimate comfort food is Shepherd’s Pie, originally made with stewed mutton topped with mashed potatoes.

Here in the Chicago area, Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris have been serving up their “untraditional” version with Tallgrass beef and a puree of potatoes, parsnips and butternut squash at Northbrook’s Prairie Grass Cafe since it opened.

This Halloween, Stegner will be serving it to her guests after an evening of trick-or-treating. She suggests pairing it with a salad of mixed greens, honeycrisp apples, goat cheese and toasted walnuts. That’s the treat, but here’s the trick: if you leave the hot pepper whole and dangle it in the stew just long enough to impart the desired amount of heat, it is easily controlled… and then removed. Dispose of it carefully! Then enjoy this warming cold-weather favorite.

Untraditional Shepherd’s Pie Recipe

Serves 4

  • 2 pounds Tallgrass (or other grass-fed beef) chuck-eye roll cut into 1-inch chunks, fat and sinew removed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 cup chopped fresh, skinned and seeded tomatoes
  • 1 cup peeled and diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (removed from stem)
  • 3 cups unseasoned chicken stock
  • 3 cups demi-glace*
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 cup blanched rainbow chard
  • 1 Ghost or Habanero pepper, left whole (optional)

1. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Sear the meat in olive oil in a large hot pan over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally, until the meat is browned on all sides.

2. Remove meat from the pan and sauté onions until tender. Add garlic, carrots, and celery. Return the meat to the pan. Add the chicken stock and demi-glace.

3. If using, tie Ghost pepper with kitchen twine (or place in bouquet garni bag) and lower into liquid—taste often until desired heat is achieved, then carefully remove and discard. Be careful not to touch the pepper with uncovered hands. Cover the pan and cook slowly until the meat is tender. Taste and adjust seasoning.

4. Stir in the swiss chard and place in an oven-proof casserole dish, or divide evenly between 4 smaller crocks.

For the topping: 

  • 4 cups potato puree
  • 1/4 cup parsnip puree
  • 1/8 cup butternut squash puree
  • 2 tablespoons whole butter
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Mix together the above ingredients. Spread on top of braised meat in casserole dish (or divide into 4 portions and spread over meat in individual crocks).

2. Place in 400-degree oven for 30 minutes, until potatoes begin to brown.

3. Serve and enjoy!

*You can buy Demi-Glace Gold, a concentrated demi-glace, at The Spice House in Evanston. You mix it with hot water to use in recipes.


Copyright Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris 

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