Our root vegetable superstar, cassava (yuca), is an essential part of Escondidinho (es-con-gigi-no). Meaning Shepard’s Pie in Portuguese, this classic Brazilian comfort dish is traditionally made with sun-dried beef or shredded chicken, then topped with creamy mashed cassava. To make it more European-style, I used ground beef and turned up the flavor volume with Stout beer and homemade chicken stock. Bonus points if you use a Brazilian beer! To go a bit further with presentation I like to pipe cute patterns of mashed cassava with a DIY piping bag, or make lines with a fork.
Now, I should technically call this a Brazilian Beef, Beer, & Cassava Casserole because Shepard’s Pie is a touchy subject. There are the purists who believe it can only be called Shepard’s Pie with the use of lamb (as opposed to Cottage Pie which uses beef). Then there are the experimentalists who add new ingredients and flavors, subsequently putting it under the umbrella term Shepard’s Pie. Whichever one you are, I catered this recipe to both.
My parents, who are generally traditionalist, were the first to try this recipe. Their reactions were:
“Oh la la c’est bon, Tess, putin!” — Papa
“I think this is the best thing you ever made! I’m full but can’t stop eating.” — Mom
So you can either trust my parents biased opinions, or go on your merry way. The choice is yours. At the end of the day, do as you wish. Shepard’s or Cottage Pie is so versatile and usually comes out delicious no mater what you do. Make a roux with beef or chicken broth for a creamy gravy. Add diced jalapeño for a touch of heat. Skip the butter, milk, and cheese for a lighter version. Or go completely animal-free with my Vegan Variation below. Whatever you do, I hope you try this recipe and enjoy it as much my family and I did!
~*~ Brazilian Shepard’s Pie with Beer & Cassava ~*~
SERVES: 4 – 6⎪LEVEL: INTERMEDIATE
For the meat filling:
2 pounds ground beef or lamb
1 large onion
3 medium carrots
2 medium garlic cloves
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup dark beer, or red wine
1 cup chicken or beef stock
1 cup corn, frozen or canned
1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley
For the mashed cassava:
3.5 pounds cassava (yuca), frozen or fresh
1 cup milk or heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup grated Parmesan, cheddar, or Gruyere cheese (optional)
1. MASH THE CASSAVA
See my Cassava post to properly prepare the cassava. Once slightly cooled and its wordy core removed, return the cassava to the pot.* Pour in milk or cream and mash until smooth. Quickly stir in the eggs so they don’t cook, then stir in the grated cheese, if using. Season with salt & pepper, to taste.
*TIP* Or, transfer to a food processor for a creamier mash. Or use an immersion blender.
2. PREP THE INGREDIENTS
While the cassava boils, peel and grate the onion, carrot, and garlic. Mince the cilantro.
3. COOK THE MEAT
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium saucepan or Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add the ground meat, grated onions, carrots, and garlic. Break up the meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Keep cooking, stirring and and breaking the meat into small bits, until the beef is no longer pink.
4. ADD THE FLAVOR
Stir in the tomato sauce and 1 teaspoon each salt & pepper; cook and scrap the bottom for 5 more minutes. Reduce heat to medium then add the beer and meat stock. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce has reduced, about 20-30 minutes.* Stir in the corn and cilantro, then season with more salt & pepper to taste. Remove from heat until ready to assemble.
* If there’s still a lot of liquid, add 1-2 tablespoons of flour.
5. ASSEMBLE THE CASSEROLE
Position the oven rack to the center and preheat the oven to 350F. If using an oven-proof skillet or pot, simply top with the mashed cassava and spread it out evenly to completely cover the surface.* Or transfer the meat mixture to a baking dish or individual ramekins then spread with mashed cassava. If you wish, use the back of a fork to make rows of decorative lines.
*TIP* To prevent the mashed potatoes from mixing with the meat mixture, dollop rows of mash potato mounds, then use a fork or spoon to spread it out.
6. PIPE THE MASHED CASSAVA (OPTIONAL)
If you don’t own a piping bag.
Reinforce the corner of a ziplock bag with 2 layers of tape. Cut an inverted V-shape at the corn then open the back and fold the tip the other way and cut a line through the V to make a star point. Fill your bag with the mashed cassava. Practice on a work surface, squeezing the bag then pushing up when the cassava comes out. Cover the boarder or the pie completely.
Transfer to the oven and bake until the top is browned, about 30-40 minutes. For deeper browning, place the casserole underneath the broiler for the last few minutes of cooking. *Watch closely to prevent burning!*
~*~ CHICKEN VARIATION ~*~
Replace the ground beef with 1.5 pounds shredded chicken. In Step 3 and 4, sauté just the minced onions and carrots in oil. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute then add the shredded chicken and tomato sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add light beet or white wine, and chicken stock. Reduce over medium-low heat, until most of the liquid has evaporated.
~*~ SHEPERDLESS PIE VARIATION (V) ~*~
For the mashed cassava:
Replace milk/cream with canned coconut milk or nut milk. Use coconut or olive oil instead of butter.
For the vegetables:
Over medium-high heat, bring 1 cup Green French Lentils or 2 (14-ounce) canned chickpeas, 4 thyme sprigs and 2 cups vegetable broth to a simmer with 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat and continue to cook the lentils, partly covered, until tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Transfer the lentils to a bowl.
In Step 3 and 4, sauté the minced onions and carrots in oil. Add the garlic and tomato sauce, cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 3/4 cups vegetable broth and 3/4 cup beer or wine, and cook until the liquids has reduced and thickened. Remove thyme stems and stir in lemon juice, salt & pepper, to taste.
Sources & Inspirations
How would you use cassava in a comfort dish?