Although I’ve too often stated my longing to be Italian, the truth is I’m a mixed breed of German, Swiss, English and Irish. Even though Irish food is seldom thought of as gourmet offerings I have to tell you I love it. Fish and Chips are a favorite as is this dish, Shepherd’s Pie. Does anyone remember how nuts I was when I cured and prepared my own Corned Beef last year? Yes…there is definitely some Irish blood swirling through my veins. So when Sarah Gore, a friend I’ve met on Twitter through the events she sets up at local restaurants and bars, wondered if I and some blogging friends would be interested in a beer tasting at a local Irish pub I was most interested and quickly agreed. I worked with Sarah and Fadó Irish Pub last year to help publicize their annual charity event and wanted to be a part of that effort again too (see details after the recipe).
I’ll be honest, I am not typically a beer drinker. Others in our party enjoy a good glass of brew but I’m more inclined to have a glass of wine or a cocktail. That might seriously change. Maybe if someone somewhere had led me through a tasting before this past weekend I might not have lost so many years thinking I don’t like beer. It was fun to enjoy a series of courses that were paired with particular beers and I’m not exaggerating, it was eye opening. One thing I realize? I loved the dark beers we tried the best.
Upon arriving at Fadó, my party of four was greeted by Glen Eastwood, the manager of the Denver location. I thought it was quite the nice touch to have Glen talk to us with a charming Irish brogue…come on Glen, fess up…you’re from Aurora right?
Fado’s initial opening was in Atlanta in 1994 and they now have 14 locations in the US with the one in Denver opening in 1998. This is truly an authentic Irish Pub; all materials were imported from Ireland, lock, stock and barrel. The interior is filled with beautiful wood furnishings, includes cobble stone floors and walls that are filled with beautiful murals depicting scenes in Ireland.
Truth is Glen really is from Dublin and has been in Denver since they opened. Like many restaurants they’ve gone through some growing pains until firmly establishing their mission as a Bistro in 2008. Pub food and draft beer are what they are known for and what I thought was exemplified by our tasting.
Glen and his staff had setup a space for our party in one of their larger rooms. Empty early on a Saturday afternoon, it would soon be the place to be for a sports game with a bar, plenty of tables and of course the requisite big screen. I appreciated it was quiet at that moment and gave Glen the opportunity to chat with us and share the history of Fado’s and explain the pairings we were to try.
Served on individual rectangular platters were three sumptuous dishes, each drawing raves from our party. The first was ‘Smoked Salmon Bites’ consisting of smoked salmon served on a silver dollar sized Boxty; a traditional Irish potato pancake. Finished with capers, onions, a light horseradish sauce and lemon it was a the perfect small bite to start our meal. Glen paired the salmon with Westmalle Trappest Ale, a golden ale which was lighter in color then the others we tried but still a full bodied beer. I would never have considered a beer with a salmon appetizer but it was the perfect match.
Next we tried a Guinness Foreign Extra which was served with Shepherd’s Pie. Though brewed in Ireland, we discovered this beer was made strictly for foreign markets, hence the name. The Shepherd’s Pie was made with ground beef and rich with a demi glace and this beer was the perfect foil. Guinness Foreign Extra is a full-bodied stout and my favorite beer of the day. Maybe it was the suggestion of chocolate, caramel and coffee flavors? I felt it prophetic that I had a block of Kerrygold Reserve Cheddar on hand; it seemed meant to be for this dish.
Last but not least were some fabulous Bleu Cheese Lamb Sliders which was tender lamb, caramelized onions and bleu cheese served on mini buns with a side of lamb au jus for dipping. These were fabulous all by themselves but that dip of rich au jus took them over the top. Paired with Celebration Double Bock Beer it was another winner; as a matter of fact I can’t wait to get back there for some of those!
In the meantime I’ve chosen to recreate the Shepherd’s Pie. Glen and Fadó’s were gracious and generous not only with our feast but kindly gave me beer and glasses and napkins to bring home for my photo shoot. What I could not prod out of them was their recipe for Shepherd’s Pie so although this recipe was rich and fulfilling and we loved it; it’s not theirs. So I suggest this means you must try this but if ever in one of the cities with a Fadó’s you must try theirs too! Of course I think Denver is the best…they’ve got Glen! I’ve been advised since I originally did this post that Shepherd’s Pie uses lamb and a pie with beef is called a ‘Cottage Pie.’ Oh well…I don’t care; all I know is that it’s a good pie!
By the way, last year I made this absolutely fabulous Irish ‘Coffee Cake’ for St. Patrick’s Day. Shepherd’s Pie and this cake would be perfect for St. Paddy’s day if you’re Irish. Or even if you are not!
A savory meat filling is topped with seasoned mashed potatoes and baked.
For the Filling
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1 pound ground beef or ground lamb or a combination of the two (OK, Shepard's Pie is actually lamb but all I had was beef which I hear is then called a Cottage Pie but I've never called this dish that so Shepherd's it is!)
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 1/4 cups beef stock
- 4 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup dark beer
For the Mashed Potatoes
- 1 pound potatoes, quartered (I used Yukon Gold and did not peel them)
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 1/2 cup white cheddar, grated (I used Kerrygold Aged White Cheddar)
To Make the Meat Filling:
- Lightly grease 4 individual soup bowls or one 6-cup baking dish and set aside.
- Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan over medium high heat.
- Crumble the beef and saute it until it starts to turn brown.
- Add the onion, minced garlic, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
- Add the sliced mushrooms and bay leaf, and cook, stirring, until their liquid is almost all absorbed, about 4 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until starting to color, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Gradually add the stock and Worcestershire sauce, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
To Prepare the Potatoes:
- Place the potatoes in a medium pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, 10-15 minutes until easily pierced with a fork.
- Drain in a colander and return to the pot.
- Over low heat, mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and nutmeg, and mash to incorporate.
- Add the half and half and cheddar cheese and mix well. Remove from heat.
- Turn off heat on meat filling and remove the bay leaf. Spoon into the prepared dish(es) and top with the mashed potatoes. (I used a piping cone but you can dollop on the potatoes and just smooth with a spoon).
- Bake until browned and bubbly on top, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and serve immediately.