I happened to stop byChurchill's Pub
in Little Haiti yesterday for lunch and was blessed to find jill-of-all-trades Barbara Eisenhower there. She prepared a fresh batch of shepherd's pie. After eating the delectable beef meal ($6), I researched the history of the dish and found that the folks at my favorite joint just might have gotten it wrong.
According to several official-sounding sources, including British publication the
Guardian, as well as foodtimeline.org -- which cites Food and Drink in Britain: From the Stone Age to the
19th Century, The
Oxford Companion to Food, and An A to Z of Food and Drink -- shepherd's pie is made with lamb. When beef is used, the dish is referred to as cottage pie, not
I wondered about this, because you don't get any more British than Dave Daniels, the owner of Churchill's and creator of the recipe used at the pub. Could it be that he, the epitome of British sensibility, was wrong? Says Daniels: "If you go back to the way things used to be in England, families would get together for Sunday lunch, and usually a roast beef or roast lamb were served. Whatever was left over would get chopped up the next day and turned into shepherd's pie. So, traditionally, both can be used."
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So what's the controversy about? "The consensus in America is that cottage pie includes beef and so on, but in England, both meats are used," Daniels explains.
It seems that food experts have based their stance on cottage versus shepherd's largely on a single piece of information. A guy by the name of James Woodforde, who was a foodie in 1791 before it was en vogue, wrote in his dinner diary: "cottage pye and ros beef." Not only could this guy not spell, but also this reference is rather vague. Couldn't it mean that he ate cottage pie and roast beef as two dishes during the same meal? That's what it sounds like to me.
Whether you call it shepherd's or cottage pie, it's a savory, hearty meal that will put some meat on your bones. The type of meat is yet to be determined.