If you’ve never tried Shepherds pie you’re in for a treat. This is the type of comforting recipe that works great any time of the year and with so many different ingredients. You could make it every week with different produce from the garden, or with a different mashed topping, and make it feel like a completely different dish.
Versatile dishes are some of my favorites. There’s plenty of dishes out there that call for very specific ingredients; if you deviate from those it turns into an entirely different dish. Shepherds pie is not one of them.
Origins of Shepherds Pie
Shepherds pie is traditionally made with lamb, so technically this is Cottage pie since it is made with beef. But most of us here in the US know it as Shepherds pie. We’re rebels over here!
This dish has origins that date back to the late 1700s/ early 1800s. I was not surprised to find out that this dish was developed as a way to use leftovers. We can thank the Irish for this, they knew how to make something out of whatever was left over and make it taste great!
A Versatile Dish
About the only thing that doesn’t really work in this dish is white meat. Adding white meat, like chicken and turkey, makes it more like a pot pie but with potatoes instead of a crust. I have a few bags of mixed vegetables in my freezer, so that’s what I used as the vegetable portion in this recipe.
This would be a great way to use up that zucchini in the summer that just won’t stop producing. Peas, carrots, green beans, corn, even tomatoes work great! I bet you could even throw some eggplant in this and have it taste wonderful if you like eggplant. It’s not my thing so I don’t think I’ll be trying it, but if you love it give it a try.
The basic layout of Shepherds Pie is a meat and vegetable layer topped with mashed potatoes. You can go further and top the potatoes with cheese. I’ve had it like that and it wasn’t my favorite way to eat it. But you’ll never know unless you give it a try!
The Irish traditionally used mashed potatoes as the topping, but I bet you could make this taste good with other mashed root crops as well. You could even probably use mashed cauliflower. I’ve only made it with potatoes, I can’t speak to how good it would be topped with anything else. But this is the kind of dish that would work with a variety of different ingredients. You never know until you give it a try!
One thing I haven’t tried that my husband, the chef, mentioned as I was making this is that you can put a thin layer of grated parmesan cheese on top of the potatoes and get a really nice, crispy topping. I was tempted but chose not to do that this time. Maybe I’ll try it next time and report back if it was good or not.
Shepherds Pie Was Made To Use What You Have
Ground beef was the meat we chose to use instead of the traditional ground lamb. Ground lamb isn’t something we typically have on hand, and I’m a big believer in using what you have. I don’t like running to the store because the meal I’m making requires something very specific that we don’t normally use.
Seems like a waste of time, money, and resources to me. This is also why I love versatile dishes so much, taking whatever is coming out of the garden and what is in the freezer and making a great meal out of it is so satisfying. And it’s an important homesteading skill that I’m trying very hard to become more proficient in.
Making Shepherds Pie
To make Shepherds Pie, start by peeling your potatoes and getting them into boiling water. Cut the potato pieces small enough that they won’t take a long time to cook. I find about 1 inch pieces cook at about the right pace for this dish.
Preheat the oven to 350℉, 176℃.
Make the mashed potatoes in my mashed potato recipe and add a little more salt, about a half to 1 teaspoon more depending on your taste buds, and a little more cream. Instead of holding their own on the plate, you want them a bit thinner so they spread out well.
While the potatoes are cooking, brown the meat. I started by putting a Tablespoon of bacon fat into my cast iron skillet and melting it. This isn’t a necessary step, I just like the little bit of flavor it added to the dish. If you don’t have bacon fat (start keeping it!) you can skip this. Most ground meat has enough fat that you don’t need to add more when cooking.
It doesn’t matter which meat you’ve chosen, brown it to where you start to see dark brown, almost blackened spots on the meat. This isn’t burning the meat, it’s just bringing out the flavor in it.
When the meat is browned, drain the fat (if you have particularly fatty meat you may have to do this before it’s fully browned).
Add the broth, salt, garlic, tomato paste, Worchestershire Sauce, and seasonings to the meat. Continue cooking and incorporating everything well. If you are using fresh vegetables add those in now, too, and let them cook a little bit before the dish goes into the oven.
Finish preparing the mashed potatoes. While the meat is soaking up all the seasoning flavors, go ahead and drain the potatoes and mash them up with butter, salt, and cream. I like to use a hand mixer to mash the potatoes and get a good consistency, but if all you have is a basic potato masher that works well too.
You can pull the meat off the burner when the broth has reduced and is more of a gravy consistency. If you’re using frozen vegetables like I was, add them at this time and thoroughly mix.
Take a 9 x 13 baking dish and pour the meat and vegetable mixture into it. Evenly spread it through the baking dish. You want a good amount in every bite.
Top the meat and vegetable mixture with the potatoes, making sure to also spread them out evenly. At this point, if you want to top the dish with cheese go for it.
Place the baking dish, uncovered, into the preheated oven and set the timer for 40 minutes. Pull it out when you start to see the top of the potatoes turn a golden brown.
When I make this, I don’t usually serve anything else with it. Since the meal contains meat, vegetables, and carbs it’s pretty good at being a complete meal on its own. That also means less dishes for you, and who doesn’t like that!
Enjoy your all in one meal, I know we sure did!
- 1 1/2 lbs ground meat (beef or lamb)
- 1 Tbsp bacon fat (optional)
- Mashed Potato Recipe
- 12 oz bag of frozen mixed vegetables, or your chose of fresh vegetables
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 1/2 c beef broth
- 3-4 garlic cloves
- 1 Tbsp Worchestershire Sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/8 tsp cayenne
- 1 1/2 tsp parsley
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 1/4 tsp coriander
- 1/4 tsp tarragon
- pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350℉, 176℃
- Peel, dice and boil potatoes until soft
- Add 1 Tbsp bacon fat if using and melt in skillet
- Add meat and brown
- Add broth, tomato paste, garlic, fresh vegetables if using, Worchestershire Sauce, and all spices to skillet and cook until the broth reduces to a gravy consistency
- Mash potatoes and prepare according to my mashed potatoes recipe, adding 1/2-1 tsp more salt and some extra heavy cream to make potatoes easily spreadable
- Add frozen vegetables to meat if using
- Layer meat and vegetable mix on the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish
- Add potatoes and evenly spread to cover meat and vegetable mixture
- Place in oven, uncovered, and cook 40 minutes or until potatoes are a golden brown on top