Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shepherd’s Pie Paired with 2006 Ledson Russian River Valley Old Vine Zinfandel

Shepherds Pie with Ledson Zinfandel-1
In celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day I decided to make Shepherd’s Pie.  And as long as I’m cooking, why not make a wine pairing?  I started with researching Shepherd’s Pie, and combined the most appealing aspects of about a half dozen recipes – along with a few touches of my own in order to truly personalize it.  The resulting satisfied faces of Chef Sue and Golf Buddy Steve confirmed my shepherd’s pie was a hit.
The Food
Shepherds Pie
It comes as no great surprise that Shepherd’s Pie is not known for distinct or bold flavors.  Shepherd’s pie generally falls into that middle ground, indistinct comfort food category.  However, my preparation moved a bit off the norm and added distinct flavors that remain consistent with the profile of shepherd’s pie.  The distinct flavors that distinguish this recipe are the liberal use of garlic, the sweet and smoky bacon, cubed NY strip steak as a bolder substitute for the more typical ground beef, brussel sprouts, and sweet Vidalia onions.  With these variations on the traditional symphony, the flavors remain somewhat mild, but acted more like a jazz ensemble with a couple of nice solos.
Shepherds Pie-1
The Wine
During my January trip to Napa and Sonoma Valleys, the genesis of this blog, Chef Sue and I visited a number of wineries that either do not distribute, or have a severely restricted distribution.  Why visit wineries that you can taste from your local wine shop?  We ended up joining four wine clubs including Ledson Winery and Vineyards.  The 2006 Ledson Russian River Valley Old Vines Zinfandel was part of our first shipment.  I love Zinfandels, and this bottle was a real pleasure. 
2006 Ledson Russian River Valley Old Vine Zinfandel-1
The 2006 Ledson Russian River Valley Old Vines Zinfandel features a rich nose of plum and cherry.  You are then rewarded with wonderfully complex flavors of raspberry, strawberry, cherry and pepper.  The finish is long and satisfying.
Although Ledson Winery and Vineyards does not distribute, you can buy directly at their website.
The Pairing
My intent with this pairing was to introduce a contrast of fruit and spice from the Ledson Zinfandel to the more moderate flavors of the Shepherd’s pie.  The risk in doing this is that the Zinfandel could have completely overpowered the mild pie.  Fortunately, the folks at Ledson have food in mind when they craft the many Zinfandels in their inventory.  While flavorful and complex, the Zinfandel did not trample over the Shepherd’s Pie.  In fact, the Ledson Zinfandel seemed to add flavors that in retrospect seemed missing in the Shepherd’s Pie. 
Shepherds Pie with Ledson Zinfandel
I think the pairing also worked well because the recipe introduces a couple bolder flavors to the traditional pie.  These flavors, embodied in the bacon, NY strip, and brussel sprouts, mingled joyfully with the Zinfandel.
Final Words
Oddly, the biggest challenge with this pairing was not selecting the wine or preparing the recipe.  It was the photography.  I love Shepherd’s Pie, but it is not terribly photogenic.  I did my best to make it look appealing, but in the end, it still looks like a pile of (tasty) stuff.  I think that preparing this recipe in single serve bowls with a portion scooped out to reveal the hidden treasures might have been more appealing from a visual perspective.
Shepherds Pie-2
Royal Potato Crown
  • 10 medium-small red tomatoes (leave the skins on)
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 beef broth stock
  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • Salt and pepper to taste
NY Strip Steak Filling
  • 1 NY Strip steak (about 1 pound) cubed (about 1" cubes)
  • 4 slices thick hickory smoked bacon, cut in thirds lengthwise and laterally
  • 2 Vidalia onions, chunked (keep it a bit rustic)
  • 1 small package of shredded carrots (or you can shred 2 large carrots)
  • 12 - 15 brussel sprouts
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 bottle light or Guinness beer
  • 1/2 cup beef stock (broth is fine if you don't have stock)
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
Wash the potatoes then boil until fork tender. Combine the rest of the potato ingredients with the potatoes in a large bowl and mash or place in mixer until light and fluffy. Cover and let rest while you prepare the filing.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the bacon. Cook until just browning and far from crisp. Remove the bacon, and add the onions to the rendered bacon fat - yes, everything tastes better with bacon fat. Cook over medium heat until onions are soft. Add the beef and increase heat to medium-high. Cook for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally to brown all sides of the beef. Add the brussel sprouts and the shredded carrots and cook until the brussel sprouts begin to soften; about 5 minutes.
Turn on the oven and let it preheat to 350 degrees F while you finish preparing the filling.
Open a 16 oz. can of Guinness. Offer a toast to your Irish friends and drink 4 ounces.  Poor the rest in the skillet and make the NY Strip swim happily. Open a second 16 oz. can of Guinness and keep close at hand - you are sure to get thirsty during the preparation. Ok, back to the stuff in the skillet - bring to a boil making sure you scrape the good stuff waiting on the bottom (lots of flavor here that you want to take advantage of). When boiling, add the tomato paste and flour. Stir regularly for about 2 minutes to make sure the paste and flour is incorporated. Add the bacon, beef stock, and rosemary. Season to taste with pepper and salt. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens to your liking.
Scoop the filling into a lubricated casserole dish, pie dish, or other container that makes you happy. The next time I make this, I will probably bake in single serving oven safe bowls - it saves the messy plating process. Cover the filling with a royal crown of potatoes and send to the oven for 30 +/- minutes; until the potatoes begin to brown and the edges bubble. Remove from oven, heap on the cheese, and bake for another 10 minutes.
Remove from oven, open another Guinness and admire your handiwork for another 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.
In vino veritas, buen provecho.

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