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Shepherd's Pie: A Classic Comfort Food (VIDEO)

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Shepherd's Pie is a hearty, comforting inexpensive dish that has been a staple in many households for many generations. Great make ahead one pot meal also great way to used up leftover mashed potatoes.

Shepherd's Pie

Originating from the UK, this beloved casserole combines deep savory meat, vegetables, and a creamy traditional mashed potato or (cheesy cauliflower) topping, making it the perfect one pot meal for any time of the year that you’re in need of some comfort food.

For me this dish has a bit of nostalgic meaning, because this is one of two dishes that my future husband cooked from "scratch" for me after arriving in the US. Being half Irish, his mom often cooked traditional shepherd's pie every couple of weeksThe other dish that she enjoyed making was from "scratch" beef chili.

big pot with a soup

History of Shepherd's Pie

The origins of Shepherd's Pie can be traced back to the late 1700s and early 1800s in Ireland and the United Kingdom. As is done in many other cultures, this dish was created as a way to use up leftover meat from a feast or Sunday supper. The term "Shepherd's Pie" was traditionally used for a dish made with lamb only, while "Cottage Pie" referred to a similar dish made with beef. Over time, however, the terms have become more interchangeable, especially outside the UK.


Traditional Ingredients for Shepherd's Pie

Classic Shepherd's Pie is made with ground lamb (or beef for Cottage Pie), mixed vegetables (typically peas, carrots, onion, celery and corn), and a rich gravy. The topping is a layer of creamy mashed potatoes that is often sprinkled with cheese before baking for a golden, crispy finish.

shepherd's pie

Basic Recipe for Shepherd's Pie:

  • Meat Filling: Ground lamb or beef sautéed with garlic, herbs such as thyme, rosemary, marjoram, etc. then simmered with carrots, celery, onions and peas/corn sometime in a flavorful gravy.

  • Mashed Potatoes: Creamy mashed potatoes made with butter and milk, and optionally flavored with garlic or cheese. If you don't have leftover mashed potatoes in your fridge, like I did in the video, make it from scratch and make it right. Try this recipe for perfect mashed potatoes that can be a star of the table on its own.

  • Assembly: The meat filling is spread in a baking dish, followed with cooked veggies and topped with mashed potatoes, then baked until the top is golden and crispy.

Don't stop here, try a variations on a Classic

While the traditional recipe is a favorite, there are numerous variations to suit different tastes and dietary needs:

  • Vegan Shepherd's Pie: Use legumes (lentils, beans, boiled peanuts) for the filling and dairy-free mashed potatoes.

  • White meat Shepherd's Pie: Substitute ground turkey or chicken and use sweet potatoes or cauliflower mash instead of regular potatoes.

  • Fancy Shepherd's Pie: Enhance the filling with red wine, stock, fresh herbs and top with a mixture of different good cheeses, such as Gruyere, Fontina, good Cheddar.


Cooking Tips for a perfect Shepherd's Pie

  • Choose the Right Meat: For a traditional Shepherd's Pie, lamb is the first choice due to its rich flavor. If using beef, try to use a cut with a bit of fat for extra flavor.

  • Perfect Mashed Potatoes: Ensure your potatoes are well-seasoned and fluffy. Use Yukon gold, which is my all time favorite for their yellowish color and fluffy mixture, or use russet potatoes. Avoid over-mashing to prevent a gluey texture.

  • Crispy Topping: For a golden top, you can dot the potatoes with butter and finish under the broiler for a few minutes. I like to add parmesan cheese to mashed potatoes not only for extra crisp but also for a deeper umami flavor.

  • Vegetable Options: While onion, celery, peas, corn and carrots are classic, you can add other vegetables like mushrooms, parsnips, green beans, lima beans for added texture and flavor.


How to Serve Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's Pie is a complete meal on its own, but I always serve it with a side salad (here you can find a great collection of salads that can suit anyone) to balance the richness. A slice of crusty bread can also be a great accompaniment to soak up any remaining gravy.

shepherd pie whole in a baking dish and one slice on a plate

Last few words on classic

For people like me who think and talk with food as words, Shepherd's Pie is more than just a meal; it's a piece of culinary history that has survived the test of time. Whether you stick to the classic recipe or experiment with new variations, this dish is sure to bring warmth and comfort to your table. So, next time you're looking for a cozy dinner option, remember the humble Shepherd's Pie – a true comfort food classic.


Let's make it...


Prep time: 10 minutes

Making time: 15 minutes

Baking time: 30-40 minutes

Total time: 1 hour 5 minutes

Serves: 4 or 8 people with a nice side salad and crusty bread

ingredients for the pie

Ingredients

1 lb. ground lamb or beef

1&1/2 cups chopped onion

1&1/2 cups chopped carrots

1&1/2 cups chopped celery

2 large cloves of garlic

3-4 cups warm mashed potatoes (leftover mashed potatoes are great, reheat generally in an oven)

1 extra large egg

1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons pink salt

1&1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

A few sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

3/4 - 1 cup beef or chicken stock

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter


Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.

  • To the cast iron pan add 1 table spoon of olive oil, meat, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes (if using).

  • Cook until the meat is nice and slightly brown. Turn off heat. Don't overcook.

  • Grate one clove of garlic. Mix all together, then sprinkle with thyme.

  • Move into a baking casserole dish using a 9 by 13 or 9-1/2-Inch pie dish and set aside.

  • To the same pan add a little bit more olive oil and butter. Let it melt. Then add chopped veggies (onion, carrots, and celery). Add salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes if using. Stir once in a while. Cook until veggies are translucent. Add stock. Stir, let cook for a minute or two. Meanwhile grate another clove of garlic into the pan. Stir. Sprinkle some fresh thyme and then turn off the heat.

  • Pour cooked vegetables over the meat layer, level up with a wooden spoon. Let it cool.

  • If you are using mashed potato leftovers, like I used in the video, first warm up gently. Make sure they don't burn at the bottom of the pot. I like to use a Dutch oven for this step. Next, make sure the potatoes are warmed and not too hot and add the cheese and egg mixing everything quickly. If your potatoes are too hot, the egg can turn into a scrambled mess.

  • Using a pastry pipe or cookie scoop, lay mashed potatoes on top of the layered vegetables.

  • Place in a 375°F oven and cook until browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes. If necessary, broil for the last few minutes to help the surface of the mashed potatoes brown.

  • Serve right away or even better if you let the pie to rest and observe all the juice back into a pie. If you serve right away be ready to have a lots of juice in a dish.


NOTE on FREEZING and REHEATING

Freezing shepherd's pie is a great way to have a ready-to-eat meal on hand. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  • Cook the filling: Prepare the meat and vegetable filling

  • Prepare the mash: Make the mashed potato topping or use leftover mashed potatoes.

  • Spread the meat and vegetable filling evenly in a baking dish.

  • Mix egg and parmesan cheese into mashed potatoes then lay on top of the filling.

  • Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze.

  • Or bake, cool Completely. Allow the assembled shepherd's pie to cool completely at room temperature. This helps prevent condensation inside the wrapping, which can lead to freezer burn.

  • Wrap for Freezing For individual portions: Divide the shepherd’s pie into individual servings. Place each serving in a freezer-safe container or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil.

  • For the whole pie: Wrap the entire baking dish tightly in plastic wrap, then cover with a layer of aluminum foil. Ensure it's sealed well to prevent freezer burn.

  • Label and freeze. Label the container with the date and contents.

  • Place the shepherd’s pie in the freezer. It can be stored for up to 2-3 months.

  • Reheat. When you're ready to eat the shepherd's pie, you can reheat it directly from frozen or thaw it in the refrigerator overnight.

Reheating from Frozen:

  1. Oven: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove any plastic wrap and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 60-75 minutes, or until heated through. Remove the foil for the last 20 minutes to allow the top to brown.

  2. Microwave: For individual portions, you can use the microwave. Place the frozen pie on a microwave-safe plate and cover loosely with microwave-safe wrap. Heat on medium power in 2-3 minute intervals until heated through, stirring occasionally.

Reheating from Thawed:

  1. Oven: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until heated through.

  2. Microwave: Place the thawed portion on a microwave-safe plate and heat on high for 1-2 minutes, or until heated through.

By following these steps, you can enjoy a homemade shepherd’s pie even on the busiest days!

Did you love the recipe? Please leave a comment and give me some stars below!

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