This is so unbelievably delicious, I’ve got to share it.
Recently we had a French moment and dug out an old recipe to accompany a bottle of Bordeaux. It had been a while since we’d cooked boeuf au gratin and we’d completely forgotten how its sublime, French countryside flavours bring on a completely over the top bout of the ‘bravos’.
The recipe is for four people so, if preparing it for two, it doubles as a pretty tasty lunch the following day. Whilst it was almost impossible not to wolf our portions down in record time, we exercised remarkable self discipline by not devouring the lot over dinner. However, it was touch and go.
The Sunday best name for this wonderful combination of minced beef, herbs and mash potato with a crunchy, cheesy breadcrumb topping is boeuf au gratin. We call it French shepherd’s pie.
And it’s as easy as pie (a French shepherd’s one) to throw together with a result that is quite simply magnifique. It might not be the most sophisticated looking of dishes, although it does have a certain rustic farmhouse charm. I defy any meat eater not to be bowled over by it.
Ingredients for Boeuf au Gratin
- 1 lb potatoes
- ½ lb minced beef
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- ½ pint (300ml) tomato sauce. (Last time we used tomato purée flavoured with basil to make the sauce – it was a mistake buy as I never spotted the ‘flavoured with basil’ bit but it did give the dish an extra oomph.)
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme
- 1 tbsp fresh parsley
- 1 cup of fresh breadcrumbs
- 2 oz grated cheese (use whatever tasty, hard cheese you can get your hands on. We usually use cheddar.)
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
For four people
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 50 minutes
Preparing Boeuf au Gratin
- First of all pre-heat the oven to 200C and get the potatoes on the go. Cook for 20/25 minutes in gently boiling, salted water until soft. Mash and set aside.
- Whilst the potatoes are boiling, fry onions in the oil (if you want to be very French, use butter) until soft and slightly golden.
- Add the minced beef and cook until browned.
- Then mix in the garlic, tomato sauce and herbs.
- Season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Grate the cheese and prepare the breadcrumbs. Mix both together.
- Spoon the herby beef sauce into an oven-proof dish, Le Creuset is ideal obviously, (Funnily, a French friend who’s into cooking had never heard of Le Creuset) and let it cool slightly. It shouldn’t be sloppy otherwise the potatoes might do a Titanic when you spoon them on.
- Spoon the potatoes on top in blobs and spread roughly, using a fork, to cover the beef.
- Sprinkle the cheesy breadcrumbs over the top and place in the oven for 20/25 minutes.
For the next 25 minutes the aroma coming out of that oven will drive you insane with hunger.
The meaty, herby pie that emerges from the oven exceeds the promise of the aromas that have been tainting yout nostrils. Spoon generous portions on to warm plate and dive in. And if you have to eat it all in the one sitting, don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re only human.
On the rare occasions when we aren’t totally distracted by the smell of French shepherd’s pie cooking and remember to put together something to accompany it, we simply fry courgette slices in butter and garlic.
Tip: Place the ovenproof dish on a baking tray before putting it in the oven as French shepherd’s pie has a habit of getting over excited with little rivers of sauce spilling over the side of the dish.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+