There’s a certain movie genre that I’ve always loved, a genre that doesn’t take itself too seriously, that gives you exactly what you should expect, and delivers on little except being fun to watch with a group of friends. Let me proudly introduce you to…waitforit…Trash Action Flicks! Invariably zany, full of more plot holes than bullet holes, trope-y, dumb, vulgar, insensitive, and violent…and generally hilarious when sniped upon by a lively group.
There are plenty of good examples of this (as I glance to my DVD shelves…) Dredd (old and new), Starship Troopers, the Mad Max movies, Escape from New York/LA– you get the idea. One of my all-time favorites of the form is Boondock Saints is an early 2000s dark comedy by Troy Duffy about a pair of Irish immigrant meat packing (not a clever euphemism) twins and their bumbling disgruntled mafioso “sidekick.” These three ‘yutzes’ essentially stumble upon a bunch of guns and cash, roll that over to more guns, and use the now-ex-mafioso’s insider info to rain death upon a variety of criminal organizations.
I was introduced to the film by some high school friends, and have spent the better part of two decades loving and hating on the movie and getting my friends to join in with me. I’m gonna be clear: this isn’t a “great movie,” but it IS a damn fun flick. The film starts on St. Patrick’s Day which had me thinking about some old school down home comfort food. You know, the kind of meal a couple tired Irish brothers would like to come home to after killing a dozen or so mobsters.
Enter Shepard’s Pie. A wonderful combination that amounts to super-rich slow cooked meat and veggies topped with crispy mashed potatoes. Since we’re basically making stew, we’ll want to use meat with lots of connective tissue. Back in history this probably would have been an older sheep, hence the name, but these days it’s a lot easier to find beef. Specifically, you’ll want to use shoulder/chuck, short rib, round, or another cut well suited to long slow cooking. The veggies are open to plenty of variation as well. I used beets and carrots because that was what I had on hand, but you should feel encouraged to customize it to your convenience. I guess what I’m getting at is the this is a dish that can be adjusted to fit whatever you prefer or have on hand. It’s a real “peasant” dish. It’s something that can transform a bunch of cheap ingredients, a little care and patience, and a day in the kitchen into something magical that satisfies a lot of folks.
So, buy an extra case of Guinness at the store, invite your drinking buddies over (tell them to bring more beer), set aside your highfalutin movie critiques, be prepared to “buy the ticket, take the ride,” and enjoy a hearty meal and a few pints (and/or shots) while you watch some mostly-senseless dry-comedy vigilante action! And don’t worry, you can do the hard work in the early afternoon, day drink, and then just assemble it when dinner time rolls around.
Shepard’s Pie with Short Rib and Root Vegetables
Pie Filling (a.k.a. Beef stew)
- 2 pounds beef short ribs, bone in
- 1TBS dried thyme
- 1 TBS ground paprika
- Salt and pepper
- 2TBS vegetable oil
- 1TBS butter
- 1 whole white onion, thinly sliced
- 1 pint Guinness (or your favorite no-too-hoppy stout)
- 2 carrots, 1/2inchish cubes
- 2 yellow beets, 1/2-inchish cubes
- 1QT Beef stock (give or take depending on your cooking vessel)
- 1tsp ground allspice
- 4-6 Fresh Sage leaves (or 1tsp dried sage)
- 2 large button mushrooms, 1/2-inchish cubes
- 1TBS fresh sage, finely chopped
- Preheat your oven to 275F. Pat the short ribs dry, and season all sides with the thyme, paprika, salt and pepper, then heat the oil in a large, oven-safe skillet or roasting pan over high heat.
- Sear the meat VERY well on all sides before moving them to a plate while we build the base.
- Pour off most of the oil, but leave enough to cover the bottom of the pan, then melt the butter and add the onions with a small pinch of salt.
- As soon as the onions start to sear, turn the heat down to medium slow and let the onions lightly caramelize. This will take 20-30 minutes, stirring every 5-7 minutes. It IS worth the time.
- Once the onions are mostly a medium brown, add the beer to deglaze the pan and let it reduce until it is almost syrupy. Again, this will take a little while, but as Alton Brown says: “Your patience will be rewarded!”
- Add the chopped carrots and beets, as well as the beef stock, allspice, and sage. Then bring it to a boil and place uncovered in the oven for 3-5 hours.You’re looking for the bones to pull easily from the meat, and the stock to reduce to the consistency of a thick stew.
- Once this happens, you can pull it from the oven, remove the bones and roughly chop the meat. Then add the meat and mushrooms back to the pan and keep covered over low heat while you make the potatoes. If the sauce becomes too thick, you can add a bit more stock or water.
Cheesy Dill Mashed Potatoes
- 1.75 pounds russet or Yukon potatoes, quartered (I didn’t peel mine, you can if you like)
- 1 stick of butter, minus the tablespoon from above
- 3oz cheese, shredded/crumbled
- 1oz chopped fresh dill
- Cook the potatoes in water “as salty as the briny deep.” Start the potatoes in cold water, and bring to a boil, then simmer until easily pierced with a knife.
- Drain the potatoes, mash them up a bit, then add the butter, cheese, and dill. Mash until they are well combined, season with pepper, then mash until they’re not toooo lumpy.
Forming Voltron: (Putting it all together)
- If you didn’t cook the filling in a roasting pan, transfer it to one now. I recommend a 9×13 glass baking sheet, because it was what I had on hand and it looks pretty when it comes out. Alternately, you can build individual pies in small dishes or ramekins. Either way, the assembly is pretty much the same.
- Spread the filling evenly about 1/2-2/3 up the container. Then top with the chopped sage.
- To top with the mashed potatoes, you can transfer them to a piping bag, but I recommend the following technique: Using a spatula, press some of the potatoes against the side of the pan to form kind of a “patty.” Then transfer this to the top of the filling, gently allowing gravity to free the potatoes. You may need to fill in some gaps with smaller bits.
- Place the pie under a broiler, or gently blast with your Boring Co. Flamethrower™ until the top is browned and slightly crispy and the filling bubble up through it.
- LET THIS COOL FOR A GOOD TEN MINUTES!! Seriously, don’t be a hipster and eat this before it is cool.
Then all you do is dive in like a pack of…
You get the idea.
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