This shepherd’s pie is a flavorful casserole of seasoned ground beef, lamb, herbs, and vegetables. It’s mixed in a luscious gravy and topped with a soft layer of mashed potatoes.
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Shepherd’s pie is a traditional English dish made with lamb and inexpensive ingredients. In the United States, beef is more commonly added and is sometimes called cottage pie. My recipe has the best of both worlds as I use the two types of meat to balance the earthy flavors and make a heartier filling.
The dish is a blend of meats, carrots, onions, peas, and potatoes. This combination lets the subtle gamey taste of lamb shine through. However, instead of serving a side of mashed potatoes, it’s traditionally spread on top and creates a creamy crust when baked. When it’s time to eat, one or two big scoops are all you need.
Shepherd’s pie traditionally has ground lamb or mutton. The latter, aged sheep around three years, provides a sharper, gamey, and fattier flavor. I use an equal ratio of ground beef and lamb for this recipe to balance the taste and prevent the sauce from becoming too greasy.
I recommend between 80 to 90% lean ground beef. Although, the higher the meat percentage, the drier the texture due to the fat level. If desired, or based on availability at your market, you can use just one type of meat for the recipe.
Saute the vegetables
I find the dish more flavorful if you saute the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic to enhance the texture and aroma. Rosemary and thyme are robust herbs that complement the unique flavor of the lamb. Tomato paste adds a touch of sweetness to the dish. Tangy Worcestershire sauce has vinegar, tamarind, and anchovies to bring out the savory umami taste of the dish.
Thicken the filling
Two ingredients help create a gravy-like consistency in the shepherd’s pie; tomato paste and flour. The concentrated tomatoes disperse and lightly thicken the beef stock. The flour is stirred with the meat and then swells and reduces as the liquid simmers. These add body to the dish, so it’s not runny when served. For an even thicker consistency, double the amount of flour.
Russet potatoes are the best to use to make the potato topping. They are a starchy type of potato that more efficiently breaks down into light and flaky pieces when cooked. To prevent a gummy texture, I recommend rinsing the potato starches off before and after cooking. The results make it easy to spread across the top of the filling.
The mashed potato topping
Mashed potatoes are a popular side dish with meat and vegetables, but in this case, they become the crust on top. Using my classic mashed potato recipe ensures a fluffy consistency.
The essential step is using a sieve to press the pieces through to create a light and airy mouthfeel. A potato masher works too for a more rustic texture. The potatoes are gently combined with butter, warmed whole milk, and egg yolk for richness and color.
Use a large 12-inch cast iron skillet or another sizeable oven-proof pan. You make the filling in the pan, and then the potato topping is spread on top. I like to make a wavy design with a spoon or the tines of a fork that can be seen after broiling.
If you don’t have an oven-safe pan, simply transfer the filling to a casserole dish. I recommend a deep 9-by-13-inch size. Bake 400ºF (204ºC) until the pie is hot, about 20 minutes. Then broil for a few minutes to deepen the golden hue and form a lovely crisp crust.
If desired, the entire dish can be prepared and assembled three days ahead of time. Make sure to cover and refrigerate until ready to bake and serve. You may need to cook longer since the pan and ingredients will be cold.
Serve this with
A baked savory meat pie topped with mashed potatoes that originated in British sheep country. It’s a hearty meal using inexpensive cuts of ground or diced lamb.
Yes! Evenly portion the meat filling into 8-ounce, or larger, ramekins or oven-safe bowls. Top with the mashed potatoes and bake until hot. Broil for a few minutes to get the topping golden in color.
Traditionally cottage pie is made with beef, while shepherd’s pie is made with lamb. However, it’s common for recipes to include a mixture of both.
Starches affect the mashed potato texture
One trick is to rinse the starch from the raw diced potatoes before cooking and then again for 30 seconds with hot water after cooking. This process prevents excess starches from sticking together and swelling up when cooked, creating a gluey and thick texture.
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- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup yellow onion, ¼” dice
- ¾ cup carrots, ¼” dice
- ½ cup celery, ¼” dice
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried
- 2 teaspoons chopped thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1 pound ground beef, 80 to 90% lean
- 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup unsalted beef stock, or broth
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ¾ cup peas, fresh or frozen and defrosted
- 8 cups water
- 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 2 pounds russet potatoes
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- Saute the Vegetables – Set a large 12-inch oven-safe skillet or cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil. Once hot, add onions, carrots, and celery. Saute for 3 minutes.
- Add the Aromatics – Add garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add rosemary and thyme, saute for 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and saute for 1 minute.
- Cook the Meat – Add lamb and beef, saute until lightly browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes.
- Thicken the Filling – Stir in salt, pepper, and flour. Add beef stock and Worcestershire sauce. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook until thickened, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the Peas – Stir in peas and cook until warmed through, about 1 minute.
- Prepare for the Topping – Taste and season with salt and pepper. Evenly spread the meat mixture in the pan. If your pan is not oven-safe, the filling can also be transferred to a 9 by 13-inch baking dish.
- Preheat the Oven – Set the oven rack to the middle position and the temperature to 400ºF (204ºC).
- Boil the Water – In a large pot, add water and 1 teaspoon of salt, bring to a boil.
- Prepare the Potatoes – Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch pieces. Add them to a colander and rinse under cool water until the starchy water is transparent. Drain well.
- Cook the Potatoes – Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and rinse them with hot water to remove any residual starches, 30 seconds.
- Mash – Set a food mill or fine mesh strainer over the pot used to cook the potatoes. Press and pass them through into the pot. Alternatively, use a potato masher.
- Season – Add butter and gently fold into the potatoes. Microwave the milk for 30 to 45 seconds until warm, about 120ºF (49ºC). Add ½ teaspoon of salt to the milk and whisk to dissolve. Gradually fold the milk into potatoes in three additions until the milk is absorbed. Add egg yolk and stir until combined.
- Spread Over the Filling – Evenly spread the mashed potatoes over the meat filling. Make sure to cover the edges of the dish to keep the filling from rising up the sides.
- Bake and Broil – Cook in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes to warm the potatoes and dry the surface. Turn the oven to the broil setting and cook until the surface is golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Serve – Allow the dish to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with black pepper and chopped parsley.
- For a Thicker Filling: Add ¼ cup of flour to the meat mixture.
- Make it Gluten-Free: Use equal amounts of cassava flour instead of the all-purpose flour. If using arrowroot powder mix 5 teaspoons with 10 teaspoons of water. For cornstarch mix 1 tablespoon with 2 tablespoons of water.
- Make it Dairy-Free: Use unsweetened oat, soy, cashew, or almond milk. Use margarine or vegan butter.
- Storing: Cool completely, cover, and store in the refrigerator up to 5 days or freezer for 1 month.
- Reheating: Cover and reheat individual portions in a microwave-safe bowl on high in 30-seconds increments until hot.
- Make-Ahead: Assemble the entire pie in the pan, tightly cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Increase bake time as needed to keep pie layers hot.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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