South African Shepherd's Pie (Bobotie)

When it comes to homey, tasty comfort food, it doesn't get better than this. Bobotie is a South African classic similar to shepherd's pie--a casserole layered with sweet and spicy ground meat topped with an egg custard in lieu of the Western mashed potatoes. I like to use a meatball combo of beef, pork, and veal (1/3 of each), my own spice blend, and red currant jelly for a rich flavor. Oh, and making these in individual ramekins makes it easier to bake them off in a water bath, which gives a creamy, custardy texture to the egg topping (instead of a quiche-like one).
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 1 hr 15 min
  • Active: 45 min
  • Yield: 4 servings
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Ingredients

Meat Filling:

1 slice white bread or brioche

2/3 cup milk

2 to 3 tablespoons canola oil

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

Kosher salt

1 to 2 green chilies (jalapeno or serrano), seeds removed if desired, chopped

1/4 teaspoon minced ginger

3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground garam masala

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

6 ounces ground beef

6 ounces ground pork

6 ounce ground veal

4 tablespoons red currant or apricot preserves

2 tablespoons malt vinegar

1 plum tomato, seeds removed, flesh roughly chopped

Egg Custard:

4 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup heavy cream

Large pinch salt

Chives, sliced, for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Place bread in a bowl and cover with milk. Let sit until ready to use, turning if necessary to make sure the entire piece of bread is soaked.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil and then the onions, chilies, and ginger with a bit of salt to draw out the moisture. Saute for 4 to 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add in the garlic and spices and saute for another 30 seconds to a minute, until the garlic is fragrant. (If necessary, add a bit of water to slow the cooking down.)
  4. Increase the heat to medium-high and push the vegetables aside a bit. Combine the different ground meats if necessary and add the ground meat and brown for 3 to 4 minutes. You can add a drizzle of canola oil if your pan is looking very dry. You want to develop color and deepen the flavor of the ground meat. Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, break up the meat with the onions and spices to mix. Add the preserves, malt vinegar, and tomato and season with salt. Lower heat and simmer uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes for all of the flavors to meld. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  5. Transfer mixture to a bowl using a slotted spoon and let cool briefly. Wring out excess milk from the bread and add to the meat mixture. Mix thoroughly, breaking up the bread, and season if necessary. Fill 4 (10-ounce) ramekins 3/4 full with meat mixture and place ramekins in a roasting pan or baking dish.
  6. Combine eggs, heavy cream, and pinch of salt and pour to fill ramekins to the top.
  7. You want to bake these in a water bath, so fill the roasting pan or baking dish with boiling water until it comes at least halfway up the sides of the ramekins (see Cook's Notes).
  8. Cook at 350 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes or until the custard is set. You want the custard to be supple, so don't overcook or it turns into an omelet topping. If it jiggles a bit in the center, that's fine. Just let it sit in the water bath once you've taken it out of the oven to firm up a bit.
  9. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. Serve in the ramekins topped with chopped chives.

Cook’s Note

A water bath is simply a pan of hot water in which you bake something like a custard or a cheesecake. The water insulates the dish from the direct heat of the oven and provides moisture circulation so your custard doesn't dry out. I like to start with a roasting pan and line it with paper towels. Then, I place the ramekins or other pan inside the roasting pan and (carefully!) fill halfway up with hot water. The paper towels prevent the ramekins from sliding, and filling up halfway means there's enough water so that it won't evaporate before the dish is done cooking.