Food for Body and Soul
Shepherd’s pie warms up Irish winters and Bay Area summers.
The shepherd's pie at Sláinte follows the recipe of the chef/owner's mother and aunts.
Every country and culture has its own favorite comfort foods, which reflect with bio/geo/climatological hyperprecision the aspects of that country and/or culture from which its people seek comfort.
Ireland, for example, is largely cold. And what makes its hills, clifftops, and plains so hypnotically emerald-green? Frequent—some would say nearly constant—drenching rain.
Given a traditionally simple cuisine, historic economic hardship, and a lack of biodiversity, what’s the culinary antidote? Shepherd’s pie, of course.
Basically, it’s a two-layer casserole comprising stewed carrots, onions, and ground meat minimally seasoned typically with salt, pepper, broth, tomato purée, and/or Worcestershire sauce and then coated in a thick layer of buttery mashed potatoes and baked in an oven. This affordable yet irresistible starch-and-protein powerhouse is also popular in England, America, Australia, and New Zealand, and sometimes, especially when it’s made with ground beef instead of lamb, it’s called cottage pie.
When she was creating the menu for her Irish pub Sláinte, which opened this spring in Jack London Square, chef/owner Jackie Gallanagh knew what one of its entrées must be.
“I grew up eating shepherd’s pie. It is a warm bowl of love in the winter,” mused Gallanagh, who grew up in County Donegal, which forms Ireland’s northwestern corner and juts into the wild Atlantic Ocean. “Winters in Ireland are harsh, and a bowl of this is just what is needed to warm the soul and body.
“What I remember the most about eating shepherd’s pie is the smell and warmth. In winter, it was usually dark by 4 p.m.” Gallanagh and her six siblings “would walk two miles home from school. Walking in the door, I remember the smell of the pie, ready to eat, and the warmth it gave when in our wee bellies.”
At Sláinte, she uses the same recipe that her mother and aunts used: ground lamb, mixed vegetables, and potatoes but adds her own special flair: “I have added fresh herbs instead of dried herbs, and I grill the potato top with Irish cheddar cheese and a splash of horseradish.”
Sláinte, 131 Broadway, 510-823-2644, SlainteOakland.com.
Published online on June 23, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.