While meat stew is always tastier after reheating, there are times when there’s too much leftover and reheating over and over can make you bored with having the same dish day in and day out. The solution? Recycle meat stew into a new dish. Spread the stew in a baking dish, top with mashed potatoes, bake until bubbly and you have farmer’s pie.
Is farmer’s pie the same as cottage pie and shepherd’s pie?
Cottage pie traditionally refers to minced beef with a mashed potato topping. Shepherd’s pie is a term that came about a hundred years later and it refers to mashed potato topped pies with lamb or mutton as the filling. So, a similar pie with a chicken or pork filling wouldn’t strictly be a cottage pie. Nor would it be a shepherd’s pie. Ergo, I like the term farmer’s pie better.
There is some confusion outside the UK between shepherds pie and cottage pie.
Basically shepherds look after sheep, hence a lamb or mutton pie is called a shepherds’ pie (but not shepherd’s pie if you want to be pedantic)…
Any British beef and mashed potato pie is called a cottage pie. The name “shepherds pie” does not appear to be old, first appearing in the 19th Century, although the dish itself must be much older. It may well be that the name cottage pie was used for all pies of this type before the term shepherds pie came into use… [Source]
The issue about the proper name for a meat pie with a mashed potato topping seems to be a UK thing. This kind of pie is found in French (hachis parmentier), Spanish and Latin American (pastel de papas and pastelón de papas), North American (cowboy pie and pâté chinois) and Middle Eastern (siniyet batata) cuisines, and the political correctness of the names doesn’t appear to be an issue at all.
Farmer’s pie, in a nutshell
Whatever you want to call it, or whatever you grew up calling it, whether farmer’s pie, shepherd’s pie or cottage pie, it means the same thing. Meat underneath; mashed potatoes on top. The meat can be ground, minced or cut into larger chunks. It may be accompanied by other vegetables. It can have a red, white or brown sauce or even none at all. Personally, I find that the best meat filling for farmer’s pie is leftover stew. Aged stew. Stew that have had enough time to mellow and blend the flavors in it. You seal all that by trapping everything inside a generous layer of buttery mashed potatoes and you have one hell of a dish.
I have so many fond memories of farmer’s pie. The most vivid was Sam, then two years old, eating farmer’s pie on New Year’s Eve. Her father was taking a video of her, asking her what she was eating and, even at two years old, she knew exactly what it was. The girl who talked before she could walk said, “Farmer’s pie,” very clearly and articulately. Even years later, we loved watching the video.
Making farmer’s pie with leftover meat stew
Can any leftover stew be cooked as farmer’s pie? Generally, yes. But if the stew includes vegetables that can turn too soggy during baking, I’d recommend removing them.
And if the meat is in large chunks, you might want to chop it up first. See, the best filling for farmer’s pie consists of meat and vegetables cut into uniform-size pieces. That way, when you dig in to take a portion, you get everything. No worries about large pieces of meat sliding back into the baking dish.
Leftover Filipino menudo is an ideal stew to recycle into farmer’s pie. Just take it out of the fridge, allow to come to room temperature then spread in a baking dish.
Can’t the stew go into the baking dish straight from the fridge? I tried that once and… well, the mashed potato topping browned before the stew was bubbly. The result was a hot topping with lukewarm filling. Not a great experience.
But it isn’t just the uneven heating that poses an issue. When you reheat stew, especially a stew with vegetables (and recycling it into farmer’s pie is still, essentially, reheating), and you don’t allow it to reach boiling point, it spoils faster afterwards. I don’t know the scientific explanation for that. I just know, from experience, that that’s what happens.
For the topping, does the mashed potato need to be seasoned?
Yes, but very simply with salt, pepper and, optionally, herbs. If you’re using mashed potatoes that had been mixed with butter or milk, or both, make sure that the mixture is still stiff. A too soft mashed potato topping might sink into the meat stew underneath during baking.
How to spread the mashed potatoes on top of the stew? Just drop it in then use the back of a spoon to smooth it out. If you want a little texture, use a fork to rake through the top lightly.
Now, if you want to get fancy, you can put the mashed potato into a piping bag and pipe it over the stew. For inspiration, see the chicken potato pie recipe.
Get fancy with leftovers? Why not? Let’s say you cooked a huge pot of menudo for a Christmas reunion, you’re thinking of serving it again on New Year’s eve but you don’t want to let everyone in on the secret that it’s just recycled leftover. Get fancy then! Pipe the mashed potatoes into rosettes or other fancy shape and no one will ever guess that the stew underneath is the same menudo they had for Christmas.
And that is now to recycle leftover meat stew with style.