Shepherd’s pie with a blend of seasoned ground beef, lamb, herbs, and vegetables in a luscious gravy. The meal is topped with a fluffy layer of mashed potatoes and baked until hot, bubbly, with a golden brown surface.
Shepherd’s pie has culinary origins from England and its creation was inspired by the workers who tend to sheep. The meal uses lamb and simple ingredients to create a tasty casserole. In the U.S. beef is more commonly added to the recipe and is sometimes referred to as cottage pie. This version has the best of both worlds! I use the two types of meat for a balance of earthy flavors and a hearty filling.
The dish is a blend of rich meats, carrots, onions, peas, and potatoes in a tasty sauce. This let’s the subtle gamey taste of the lamb shine through. Instead of serving mashed potatoes on the side, it’s spread on top and then baked to create a creamy vegetable crust. It’s exciting to break through the surface of the topping to reveal the colorful piping hot filling below.
What type of meat do you use?
You can use any ground meat you’d like or even use a mixture of both as I did. For this recipe, I selected a lean type of ground beef and lamb so that the sauce wouldn’t become too greasy. However, shepherd’s pie is traditionally made with ground lamb. Although mutton, which is an aged sheep around 3 years will provide a sharper gamey and fattier flavor.
What ingredients make the filling taste better?
Once the meat is selected, other vegetables and herbs are added to make the filling more interesting. Onions, carrots, celery, and garlic are sauteed to give 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 provides balance and makes the flavors in the filling more vibrant.
How do you thicken the consistency of the filling?
Two ingredients help to create a gravy consistency in the shepherd’s pie; tomato paste, and flour. The concentrated tomatoes disperse and lightly thicken the beef stock. The flour is stirred in with the meat, and then swells and thickens as the liquid simmers. These add body to the dish so it’s not runny when served.
To make the dish gluten-free you can also use a cornstarch slurry or arrowroot powder instead of flour, just make sure to disperse in water before adding to the hot filling.
What kind of potatoes are used for the topping?
Russet potatoes are the best to use to make the mashed potato topping. They are a type of potato that is very starchy, and when cooked easily breaks into light and flaky pieces. The texture makes is very easy to spread across the top of the filling. The potatoes are gently combined with butter, warmed whole milk, and egg yolk for richness and color when baked.
How do you make shepherd’s pie in one pan?
Use a large 12-inch cast iron pan or another oven-proof skillet. The filling can be made in the pan, and then the potato topping can be spread on top. The dish is then baked until hot and then broiled for a few minutes to get the surface golden in color. If you don’t have a pan that can be used in the oven, simply transfer the filling to a similar size casserole pan or baking dish.
Can shepherd’s pie be prepared in advance?
Yes! The entire dish can be prepared and assembled ahead of time. Make sure to cover and refrigerate until ready to bake and serve. You may need to add more time to cook in the oven since the pan will be cold, check to make sure the filling and topping is warmed through before broiling.
How long does it last in the fridge?
An unbaked pie can last up to 3 days in the refrigerator. Once the dish is baked, it will last 3 to 5 days. Reheat any leftovers in individual servings in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes.
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How do you make the mashed potatoes light and fluffy?
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 prevents excess starches from sticking together and swelling up when cooked which can create a gluey and thick texture in the potatoes.
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Shepherd's Pie Meat Filling
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup yellow onion, ¼-inch dice
- ¾ cup carrots, ¼-inch dice
- ½ cup celery, ¼-inch dice
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 2 teaspoons chopped thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup unsalted beef stock, or unsalted beef broth
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ¾ cup peas, fresh or frozen and defrosted
Mashed Potato Topping
- 8 cups water
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 2 pounds Russet potatoes
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ cup whole milk
- black pepper, as needed for seasoning
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Shepherd's Pie Meat Filling
- Heat 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 garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add rosemary and thyme, saute for 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and saute for 1 minute.
- Add lamb and beef, saute until meat is lightly browned and cooked through, 5 minutes.
- Stir in salt, pepper, and the flour.
- Add beef stock and Worcestershire sauce. Bring liquid to a simmer and cook until thickened, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Stir in peas and cook until warmed through 1 minute. Taste meat filling and season with more salt and pepper as needed.
- Evenly spread meat mixture in the pan. The meat can also be transferred to an 11-inch by 7-inch baking dish if the pan is not oven safe.
Mashed Potato Topping
- Set the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat to 400ºF (204ºC).
- In a large pot add 2 quarts (8 cups) of water and 1 teaspoon salt, bring to a boil.
- Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Add to a colander and rinse under cool water, removing starchy water until clear about two to three additional times. Drain potatoes and add to boiling water.
- Cook until fork tender, about 15 minutes.
- Drain and rinse the potatoes to remove any residual starches, 30 seconds.
- Set a food mill, ricer, or fine mesh strainer over the pot used to cook the potatoes and pass the potatoes through into the pot. Alternatively, use a potato masher to break down the potatoes.
- Add butter and gently fold into the potatoes.
- Whisk together milk and ½ teaspoon salt. Gradually fold into potatoes in three additions, until the milk is absorbed. If needed, rewarm the potatoes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- Add egg yolk and stir until combined.
- Evenly spread the mashed potato topping over the meat filling. Make sure to cover the edges of the dish to keep the filling from rising up the sides.
- Bake for 20 minutes to warm the potatoes and dry the surface. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes until the surface is golden brown.
- Allow the dish to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with black pepper and chopped parsley.
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