I’m recycling one of my blog posts from a few years ago today. Partly, of course, because I’m lazy. But mostly because a Scottish version of Don Day’s Wife’s shepherd’s pie will be on the menu at Bonds’ Robbie Burns Night in San Miguel this Wednesday. Now you can argue that shepherd’s pie is an English dish. You can argue that it’s an Irish dish. But when it’s piped into a licensed establishment on January 25, it is definitely a Scottish dish. Robbie Burns Day, when the Scots (and those that wish they were) celebrate the life and poetry of Robert Burns, will be held at Bonds, on the terraza at Hidalgo 30. Doors open at 4:00 pm. There will be pipers, readings and live music. There will be special, single malt scotches. There will be no cover. And, of course, there will be that shepherd’s pie made with barbacoa. Space is limited. So let Kenny Peters know if he can expect you at firstname.lastname@example.org. Yer aff yer heid if ya dinny go.
When Don Day was wee Donald Day, Sunday used to be a day of worship in our home. Each Sunday, Don Day’s father would pay homage to red meat.
The ceremony would begin on Saturday when Don Day’s father would religiously say to Don Day’s mother, “I’m off to the butchers”. What this actually meant was “I’m off to The Legion to drink beer, throw darts and shoot pool but I’ll be stopping at the butcher on the way home to purchase the roast for Sunday’s dinner.”
Don Day’s mother would then say to Don Day’s father, “Why don’t you pick up a nice leg of lamb this week?”
Don Day’s father would arrive home at exactly 6:10 pm (the butcher closed at 6:00 and was ten minutes from our home) with a prime rib roast of beef and, on the way to the bathroom, Don Day’s father would say, “I just didn’t like the look of the lamb.”
This ritual would be religiously repeated for about three weeks in a row until one Saturday on my father’s exit to The Legion my mother’s tone of voice would change. She would not word the farewell request for lamb in the interrogative, she would word it in the imperative. “Pick up a leg of lamb”, she would say quite succinctly.
On those days, Don Day’s father would arrive home with a leg of lamb instead of the prime rib of beef. For he knew, if he didn’t, Don Day’s mother would have a long list of chores for the following Saturday that would pre-empt Don Day’s father going to the butcher shop and therefore going anywhere near The Legion.
Don Day always liked beef more than lamb on Sundays. But not on Mondays.
If we had prime rib on Sunday we had cottage pie with the leftovers on Monday. If we had leg of lamb on Sunday we had shepherd’s pie with the leftovers on Monday. And Don Day much preferred shepherd’s pie to cottage pie. In fact, shepherd’s pie was one of Don Day’s very best favorite dishes when he was a kid.
Don Day is no longer a kid. None of Don Day’s children are kids. But he still has grandchildren that are kids and he has one grandson who, chip off the old block, would tell you one of his very best favorite dishes is shepherd’s pie. He loves it when Grammie (aka Don Day’s Wife) makes him shepherd’s pie, especially when she paints a big red ketchup heart on top.
That grandson is called Anderson by his parents and despite the fact that Don Day dislikes his full name and would much rather call him Andy, he is forbidden to do so. Also despite the fact that his father thinks he is going to be kidnapped and sold into slavery somewhere between the Benito Juarez International Airport and San Miguel de Allende, Andy…sorry, Anderson…is coming to visit Don Day this winter.
Which presents a quandary. There is no Legion in San Miguel and, as Don Day attempted to model his life on his father’s, there is therefore no leg of lamb on Sundays and therefore no shepherd’s pie on Mondays. So what to do?
Don Day and Don Day’s Wife thought about ordering a leg of lamb from Don Day’s favorite lamb supplier, Carniceria Nueva Aurora, but then they thought again. The best lamb they had ever tasted was the barbacoa from El Pato in San Miguel de Allende. Why not base the shepherd’s pie on the best lamb they’ve ever tasted? Wouldn’t that then potentially create the best shepherd’s pie they’ve ever tasted?
In order to purchase lamb from El Pato, you have to meet the woman in the photograph. The woman in the photograph is Pilar Ortiz. This woman is one of Don Day’s favorite women. This woman gives Don Day a giant bear hug when he enters her restaurant. OK, maybe she gives everyone a hug when they enter her restaurant but Don Day thinks his hug might be slightly bigger than the rest.
Like almost all of the women Don Day is attracted to, Pilar has a husband. His name is Jose Luiz and on most evenings, Jose Luiz takes a young lamb and places it along with some secret spices in a pit and creates the best barbacoa in the land of Mexico.
Don Day frequents El Pato quite frequently and the last time Don Day was there (for a superb rabbit mixiote) he purchased some takeout, a plastic bag that contained a half kilo of lamb barbacoa and a half litre of lamb consome, the wonderful juices that are caught in the dripping pot that Jose Luiz places under the lamb.
Don Day then went home to Don Day’s Wife and she created a recipe. In anticipation of Andy’s…sorry Anderson’s arrival…they would attempt to make the best shepherd’s pie ever. Only, in respect for the land they were temporarily residing in, they would make it Mexican style.
Traditional shepherd’s pie calls for a bed of lamb, ground from the previous night’s roast, layered with onions, carrots and peas (which are sometimes also leftovers) that is then topped with mashed potatoes.
Don Day’s Wife’s shepherd’s pie, Mexican style, called for a bed of El Pato‘s barbacoa that is finely chopped and then moistened with El Pato‘s consome.
Next, nopales were chopped and boiled to soften them and to get rid of some of that gooky stuff that comes out of them when they’re cooked.
Chopped garlic, red bell pepper and mild green chilis were then mixed with the nopales and sauteed in olive oil for about five minutes then spread across the top of the lamb to form the second layer.
Meanwhile, sweet potatoes were chopped and peeled and baby red potatoes were not chopped and peeled but left whole (not just because it’s too difficult to peel them but because Don Day likes the taste of the skins best). The potatoes were then boiled until they were soft and, after the water was drained, salt, pepper, sour cream, butter, more butter, and a teaspoon of Reese’s horseradish cream were added. They were then mashed by Don Day with an old fashioned masher and definitely not with anything that had to be plugged into a wall.
The mashed potatoes were layered on top and a couple of shakes of paprika were sprinkled on top, not so much for flavor but because Don Day’s Wife says we eat with our eyes as well as our mouth. The dish went in the oven for about 45 minutes then out it came with a golden crust on top.
Don Day’s Wife thought the shepherd’s pie, Mexican style, was OK. Don Day thought the shepherd’s pie, Mexican style, was absolutely awesome. Don Day’s Wife thought they should remove the nopales and replace them with canned peas in case Andy’s…sorry Anderson’s…father tells him that nopales come from cactus paddles. Don Day told Don Day’s Wife that Andy’s father would have no idea what nopales were.
The only thing that Don Day thought about the perfect shepherd’s pie was that Grammie shouldn’t put the ketchup heart on top for Andy…sorry Anderson…but then he thought again. He thought of how, when he was Andy’s age, he always wanted HP Sauce on top. He thought of how, when he was Andy’s age, he was not called Don, but Donald.
When Anderson comes to visit, Don Day will call him Anderson.
El Pato is located at Calzado de la Estacion 175B in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. It is open every day except Tuesday from 8:00 am until they run out of barbacoa, which is usually around 3:00 pm.