Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Barbecued beef shepherd's pie in 14-inch Dutch oven

Crossing Mother Lode Drive at
Mile Post 136.8.
Last Friday, the El Dorado Western Railroad maintenance-of-way crew crossed Mother Lode Drive in Shingle Springs, California, to clear culverts and cut brush along a one-mile section of of the former Southern Pacific rail line. The crew also begin repair of a major washout. The goal is to prevent further washouts on the right-of-way and adjacent trail by ensuring proper drainage.

Since I haven't cooked for the railroad in nearly two years, the crew boss and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to treat the hard-working crew to a Dutch oven lunch. With plenty of room to safely fire charcoal briquettes, I set up my kitchen on the tracks. The first charcoal chimney was fired around 9:30 a.m. The crew enjoyed lunch three hours later.

I wanted to change the lunch entree for this cook date. Over the past 10 years, I have often prepared some form of chili con carne for the railroad crew. For over a week I had been working on a Dutch oven version of shepherd's pie. Instead of a traditional shepherd's pie with lamb, shredded beef chuck road, braised in beer and barbecue sauce formed the protein base. Since the biscuits, cobbler and coffee are crew favorites, I left them on the menu. The menu consisted of:
  • Barbecued beef shepherd's pie in 14-inch camp oven
  • Cream coleslaw
  • Buttermilk biscuits in a 14-inch camp oven
  • Mixed berry cobbler in a 12-inch camp oven
  • Railroad coffee

We let the rail cars pass first as they were going to be working the area behind the camera. I set up my firepan and chuckbox between the rails to keep a safe distance from the brush.We don't cook with charcoal on the right-of-way in the summer months due to the fire danger.
The first thing I did was to bake buttermilk biscuits. To ease preparation on site, I weighed the dry ingredients and cut in the shortening at home on Thursday. The biscuit mix was stored in the refrigerator to keep the shortening cold. I added the buttermilk and cut large biscuits (3-1/2-inch diameter) once on the railroad.
    With the biscuits on heat, I turned to the coleslaw, berry cobbler and shepherd's pie, in order. To prepare the meat for the shepherd's pie, I braised a 3-1/2-pound chuck roast in beer and barbecue sauce on Thursday. After cutting the roast into large pieces, I seared them in bacon fat in a cast iron skillet. The braising liquid consisted of 1-1/2 cups IPA beer, 1-1/2 cups barbecue sauce, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 2 bay leaves and 1 teaspoon dried thyme. The braising liquid was poured over the meat in the skillet. After covering with aluminum foil, it was placed in a 300-degree oven for about 5 hours. Once the meat tender enough to pull, I placed it in a zipper lock bag and in the refrigerator. The braising liquid was strained and placed in the refrigerator as well.
    As the biscuits were baking in a 14-inch camp oven, I cooked 5 pounds red potatoes in the stockpot. Once mashed, the potatoes would be used as the topping for the shepherd's pie.
    To prepare the shepherd's pie, I shredded the chuck roast by hand and placed it in the 14-inch camp oven (see picture above with the peas). I then skimmed the fat off of the braising liquid and poured it over the pulled meat, along with 8 ounces frozen peas. Next a thick layer of mashed potatoes was spooned oven the meat and peas. I baked the pie with coals for around 375 degrees until crisp potato peaks had formed and the sauce was buddling, about 45 minutes. I used 1-1/2 rings of charcoal on the lid and 8 coals under the pot.
    The finished meal. Lunch was served to 8 crew members around 12:30. I was able to send cobbler, biscuits and shepherd's pie home with several crew members. We could've easily fed 12 to 15 with the 3 pots.

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