Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Victorian Cottager's Pie with Bacon, Mushrooms & Onions

In the last few weeks I have been going through lots of old cookbooks on Internet Archive, and found a recipe for a Cottager's Pie that was quite different than any I have ever seen before. Naturally, I did not record which cookbook it was in, and now I can't find it. I have a vague idea that it dated back to the 1870's but I'm not even sure about that.  In typical old recipe style, it didn't give quantities, or call for it to be seasoned, beyond perhaps saying, "season". It just called for bacon, mushrooms and onions to go under the usual mashed potato topping.

I thought that sounded unusual, delicious, and perfectly simple all at once - exactly what I like in a recipe - and so I made it. Very successful!

I am calling for quite divergent amounts of bacon, because it will depend on what kind you use. I used a back bacon that had practically no discernible fat so there was no waste, and the 375 gram package was fine. If I was making it with regular streaky bacon, from which I expected to decant a fair bit of fat, I would use the larger amount.

It exasperates me how reticent old (anglo-ish) cookbooks tend to be on the subject of seasoning. They know it's going on, but they refuse to recognize it or endorse it, because polite and refined people don't do such things! Fortunately, I am vulgar and unrefined, and have no qualms about letting you know how I season my food. I did try to have it in keeping with the seasonings that might have been used at the time, even though the mushrooms would most certainly not have been shiitakes. 

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Cottage Pie with Bacon, Mushrooms & Onions

Make the Mashed Potato Topping:
1 kilogram (2 pounds) potatoes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash and trim the potatoes - peel them if you like - and cut them into evenly sized chunks. Put them in a large pot with plenty of water to cover them, and bring them to a boil. Boil them until they are tender, 15 to 25 minutes depending on the size, then drain them well and mash them with the remaining ingredients. 

Make the Filling and Assemble the Pie:
4 medium onions (500 grams; 1 pound)
250 grams (1/2 pound) button mushrooms
OR 450 grams (1 pound) shiitake mushrooms
375 to 500 grams (12 to 18 ounces) bacon
1 tablespoon bacon fat or other oil IF needed
1 teaspoon rubbed thyme
1/2 teaspoon rosemary leaves, ground
1/4 teaspoon celery seed, ground
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup water or broth
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika

Peel and chop the onions fairly coarsely. Clean and trim the mushrooms, and cut them in halves or quarters. If you use shiitake, remove and discard (you know my thoughts on this subject!) the stems, and halve or quarter the caps. Cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces.

Heat a large, heavy skillet. If using streaky bacon, add it first and cook it until fairly crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, leaving behind the fat. Drain off most of it, leaving just enough to cook the onions and mushrooms. However, if you are using a lean bacon such as back bacon or peameal bacon, it should be added last, and the onions and mushrooms cooked in a little fat or oil acquired by some other method.

At any rate, now cook the mushrooms and onions until softened and slightly browned. Add in the bacon, either already cooked or to be cooked, and mix in well. If you have added the bacon raw, cook until the bacon has changed colour indicating that it is mostly done. Mix in the seasonings and the flour. Cook for another minute or two, stirring constantly, until there is no sign of the flour, then slowly mix in the water or broth. Simmer and stir until everything is well amalgamated and the sauce thickens.

Transfer the bacon, onion, and mushroom mixture to an 8" x 11" shallow baking (lasagne) pan and spread it out evenly. When the mashed potatoes are ready, spread them evenly over the top, then sprinkle them with the paprika. (Or if your skillet can go in the oven, you could just spread the potatoes out over the mixture in the skillet.)

Bake for 45 minutes,  until the pie bubbles around the edges and is perhaps lightly browned. You can make it in advance then re-heat it, but take it out of the fridge half an hour before baking it, and allow an hour and a quarter to bake it.

Last year at this time I made Tomatoes Stuffed with Egg Salad.

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