Let’s talk comfort food. There is something really special about food that is not only designed to nourish the body, but the soul too. We all have those special comfort foods that instantly transform us back into kids when we take a bite. Think about that time when you had a cold and your mom made you chicken soup or the time when you got an A on your report card and a hot fudge sundae was in order.
Shepherd’s pie takes me back. My mom’s version was comprised of hamburger patties smothered in alphabet soup and topped it off with spot-on homemade mashed potatoes. It was called Hamburger a la Mode and it was gold. I grew up in a big family and my mom, more often than not, made three meals a day. I remember at the time wishing that I got to go out for pizza or burgers more often like my friends did. But now I definitely take that back. My mom’s hours in the kitchen have undeniably shaped me. It’s even why I’m writing this post now. Thanks, Mom. You rock.
But back to business. Vaquero pie business.
What is this concoction, you ask? It is a Mexican inspired shepherd’s pie. Aaaand my mouth is starting to water. Can I please have a bib so that I can get through writing this post? Vaquero Shepherd’s Pie is a mixture of ground beef and Mexi veggies (we’re talkin’ corn and sweet bell pepper) covered in a tomatillo sauce topped off with cheddar-roasted poblano mashed potatoes. Vaquero means cowboy in Spanish, so thus the ground beef instead of the traditional ground lamb. You heard right. This is kicked up comfort food on a whole new level.
That does it taste like? I’m so glad you asked. *Wipes drool with bib* The meat is hearty, spicy, and has a bit of an acidic kick from the tomatillos. Combine that with mashed potatoes that have a similar taste to pepper jack cheese and there you go. It’s like shepherd pie’s adrenaline junkie, sky diving cousin. Absolutely rad.
So munch love, but too little time? Try this hack! Sometimes the best way to make things easier is to make them ahead and make them in bigger batches. Try making 2 of these and throwing one of them in a disposable aluminum casserole dish. Pop it in the freezer and bake it when you need a super easy meal. To do this, follow all of the steps except the baking– make the meat and mashed potatoes, layer them, top it off with cheese, and freeze. Defrost the frozen dish for 24 hours in the fridge before baking for 40-50 minutes. Another hint; if the cheesy potatoes are getting too brown during the cooking process, just slap on some aluminum foil. Tada! Insta-dinner. And you made it. Go you!
So tell us about your comfort food experiences. What takes you back and do you have a version that’s different that is still made to this day? Tony and I would be thrilled to hear your story.
- 4 medium tomatillos in their husks
- 1 medium onion, medium diced and divided
- 1 small clove garlic, skin removed
- 1 medium serrano chile or more to taste, stem removed
- ½ tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 ½ pounds (80-20) ground beef
- 1 small red bell pepper, medium diced
- ½ cup frozen corn
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ cup beef broth
- 1 medium poblano chile
- 1 ½ pounds russet potatoes
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar, divided
- ½ cup milk (2% and whole work best)
- 1 egg yolk
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place the tomatillos, in their husk, on a heavy skillet or comal and place over high heat. Roast until the skins char on the bottom, about 7 minutes. Turn and repeat on the other side. You are aiming to have about half of the surface area of the tomatillo charred and half still green. Set the tomatillos aside to cool.
- Remove the husks from the tomatillos and place in a blender along with a tablespoon of the chopped onion, the garlic clove, and serrano. Blend until smooth, season with salt to taste and blend once more to combine. Set the mixture aside.
- Place a medium heavy skillet over high heat. After the pan begins to smoke a bit, add the vegetable oil followed by the ground beef and the remaining diced onion. Season generously with salt and pepper. Break up the ground beef as it cooks.
- Allow the beef to cook until it releases it juices, then continue to cook until the liquid evaporates and the meat begins to brown, stirring occasionally. Add the red bell pepper and corn, then sprinkle on the flour. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add 1 cup of the tomatillo mixture along with the beef broth. Cook until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Season with salt, again, if necessary. Set the mixture aside.
- Peel the potatoes and cut them into medium sized pieces, about ½-inch thick. Place in a large pot of cold water and place over high heat. Add a very heavy pinch of salt to the water. Bring the potatoes to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender and a fork easily slides in.
- While the potatoes are cooking, roast the poblano. This can be done by placing it over an open flame on a burner on your stove or under a preheated broiler. Roast and turn until all of the skin is charred and black. Set aside until cool to the touch, then rub off the charred skin. Resist the temptation to wash the charred skin off. That’s good flavor! Remove the seeds and stem from the poblano, then dice into medium pieces.
- Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pot they were boiled in, and place over medium heat. Cook until all of the remaining water evaporates from the bottom of the pan.
- Remove from the heat, then add the butter, ½ cup of the cheddar, and just enough milk to make the potatoes smooth. Mash and stir the potatoes until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the egg yolk and diced roasted poblano.
- Preheat the oven 400ºF.
- Pour the ground beef mixture into a medium casserole dish (about 9×12 inches). Spoon the potatoes onto the meat and spread to seal around the edges. This will help keep the juices in while cooking. Sprinkle the top of the potatoes with the remaining ½ cup of cheddar.
- Bake the vaquero pie until the top browns and the filling bubbles, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then dig in!