Shepherd’s pie might just be all time favorite comfort food. It’s deliciously simple, with a great flavor base of ground beef (lamb) and veggies, simmered in a delicious sauce, and topped with fluffy, creamy mashed potatoes.
Use your favorite mashed potatoes recipe for the topping. We love using russet potatoes with air fryer roasted garlic and half and half. When it comes right down to it, shepherd’s pie is a classic comfort food so you can play with this recipe to suit your own preferences. The most important things are the ground lamb or beef and mashed potatoes.
What is Shepherd’s Pie?
Shepherd’s pie is a very old traditional Irish dish. Once upon a time, Irish peasants had to get very creative with their leftovers because most of the food they grew was exported to England. By grinding up any leftover meat - usually lamb or mutton - and adding hardy root vegetables and, of course, plenty of potatoes, they were able to make their rations last for much longer.
The typical structure of a shepherd’s pie is a savory minced lamb filling that is topped with mashed potato. The filling is usually simmered with the typical mirepoix veggies of diced onion, carrot, and celery, with peas often added for good measure.
It’s not unlike a chicken pot pie, but with no crust. Because potatoes were one of the few crops that thrived in Irish soil, and formed a staple foodstuff of the Irish peasant diet, mashed potatoes became the go-to carb for this meal.
Shepherd’s Pie Ingredients
Shepherd’s pie is actually very similar to cottage pie. Cottage pie is made using beef, while shepherd’s pie is made using lamb, mutton or beef nowadays. To make a shepherd’s pie, you’ll need the following.
- Ground Lamb or beef: Ground lamb is traditional, but we like to use beef, you can substitute for turkey for a lean, clean variation.
- Vegetables: The traditional vegetable inclusion is carrots, celery, peas, and onions. Of course, you can always toss in more vegetables. We love to use mixed frozen vegetables, celery, garlic and onion for this recipe.
- Broth: We love using chicken broth with lamb. If using beef, use either chicken or beef broth.
- Tomato Paste: Tomato paste provides both thickness and a distinctive umami flavor to your sauce.
- Worcestershire Sauce: It adds plenty of depth of flavor to the meat filling.
- Mashed Potatoes: The trick is to mash your potatoes just right so you have irresistibly fluffy, creamy potatoes to top your mince.
- Seasonings: We use curry powder, dried thyme, paprika, salt and pepper.
- Flour: It helps to thicken the sauce.
How to Make Shepherd’s Pie
- The first step is to make your mashed potatoes. You can either do this the day of serving, or make the day ahead.
- To make the filling, first saute your fresh vegetables and meat together. Do this until cooked through. Once you’ve done this, add your aromatics, flour, flavorings and chicken/beef broth, simmering for a few minutes. The sauce should thicken just a bit. Add frozen vegetables at the end because they can get mushy very easily.
- Transfer to a lightly greased 9x 13-inch casserole dish or tray.
- The final thing to do is dollop and spread your mashed potatoes on top of the minced meat mixture filling. Once you’ve done that, you can transfer the shepherd’s pie to the oven, broiling for about 5 minutes at 550F. Keep an eye on the oven to ensure that your potatoes don’t burn.
While the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably in the United States, they are actually different dishes. A good rule of thumb is that shepherd’s pie is made using lamb or mutton, while a cottage pie is made using beef. As you may have guessed, the name “shepherd’s pie” comes from the use of lamb mince.
Of course! This recipe is a great way to use up any leftover mashed potatoes you might have lying around in the fridge. You’ll want to use about 6 cups’ worth of mashed potatoes for this recipe. The first thing to do is warm your potatoes up so they are creamy and easy to spread.
One of the cool things about this recipe is how flexible it is with substitutions. A lot of great, traditional peasant food is like that. Shepherd’s pie really started out as a way for Irish farmers to get the most out of their leftovers. Times really haven’t changed much since then! You can substitute the vegetables in this recipe for a variety of other chopped and sauteed vegetables. You can use zucchini, mushroom, squash, or any vegetables you have lying around. Avoid using vegetables that are too strongly flavored as they will overpower the taste of the meat.
You can refrigerate shepherd’s pie leftovers pretty easily. The trick is to cover the pie and keep it in an airtight container until ready to eat, then refrigerate until it’s ready to reheat. You can easily reheat a shepherd’s pie in the oven for 30-35 minutes at 400 F.
You can also freeze any leftovers. Once your pie has cooled, cover with foil and freeze. It will keep in the freezer for up to two months. Be sure to let the pie thaw out overnight in the fridge before reheating.
Learn the best ways to Reheat Shepherd's pie.
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