My first introduction to shepherd’s pie was in the lunch line at my high school cafeteria. That was many more moons ago than I’d care to share. But, not so long ago that I don’t still remember. I’d never heard of it before and had no idea what it was. All I knew was that it was some kind of meat covered with mounds of mashed potatoes. That was enough for me to give it a try. And, I liked it, which was more than I can say about the rest of the so called food they served in that cafeteria. It may have been mystery meat, but it was pretty darn tasty mystery meat.
I never thought much about shepherd’s pie after high school, and spent many years contentedly living my life without it. It wasn’t until about four years ago, when I found myself in Scotland, that shepherd’s pie and I were reacquainted – and became BFFs.
The exact origin of shepherd’s pie is a bit sketchy. By some accounts, it is a British dish. By others, it’s an Irish one. Still others, swear that the dish’s roots are Scottish. The only thing that most will agree on is that it came from somewhere over the pond. I say, who cares? I’ve enjoyed it in all three countries and have never tasted a version that I didn’t love.
Shepherd’s pie is a savory dish made with a meat base – usually ground lamb, beef or a combination of the two - that is simmered in a brown sauce with vegetables, topped with potatoes and baked to burnished perfection. From what I gather, the dish was created by resourceful housewives as a way to use up leftovers. It makes sense. Take a little of this and a bit of that, bake it all together in a pie and voilà! It’s not leftovers anymore. It’s a whole new and delicious dinner. I don’t think there is one right way to make it either, as I’ve seen and heard of it done many different ways with an assortment of ingredients.
It’s been a little gray and dreary lately here in SGCC Land! We’re not getting slammed by the same bitter cold, icy blast that many of my blog brethren are, but it’s still pretty miserable just the same. The wind is howling and blowing something fierce outside. I’m just praying that none of those low-lying branches perched over my roof decide to break loose and fall on my house! When the weather gets like this my body craves hearty, rustic comfort foods that warm from the inside out. A shepherd’s pie is the perfect thing.
Making a shepherd’s pie is pretty easy peasy. For my pie, I used a mixture of ground lamb and beef. I also added some onions, carrots, peas and corn. I don’t know about you, but I just can’t eat mashed potatoes without corn. It must be some kind of personality defect.
The first thing you need to do is sauté your onions and carrots in a frying pan. Then, add the meat, seasonings and some stock, and let it all simmer for a while.
I thicken the mixture with a little flour, but you don’t really have to if you don’t want to. I just think it gives a little more body to the sauce. I also use frozen peas and corn, but if you’re a perfectionist and have loads of extra time on your hands, by all means, use fresh. But, I’m here to tell you that, in this dish, it really doesn’t make a difference.
Once your meat and veggies are happily bubbling away in their sauce, it’s time to top the pie with some potatoes. Most people use mashed potatoes for shepherd’s pie, but I’ve seen it done before with sliced potatoes and even hash browns. I may try it that way one day, but for now, I’m going with mashed.
I like to use my biggest cast iron skillet to make shepherd’s pie. Doing all of the sautéing, simmering and baking in one pan, makes things that much easier. If you love washing extra dishes, you can certainly use a separate casserole dish to bake your pie. Far be it from me to rain on anyone’s parade. One thing I do recommend, though, is setting your pie on a baking sheet in the oven. That sucker bubbles like crazy and tends to drip all over.
AHHH! Now, doesn’t just looking at this shepherd’s pie make you feel all warm and cozy?
For the mashed potatoes:
2 pounds russet potatoes
1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and white pepper to taste
For the filling and pie:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 cups chicken or beef broth
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 cup fresh or frozen English peas, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Sweet paprika for dusting
To make the mashed potatoes: Peel the potatoes and cut into 2-inch chunks. Place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease the heat to medium and simmer until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and set aside.
Place the pot back on the stove over medium-low heat. Add the cream and butter and stir until butter has melted. Return potatoes to the pot and mash until smooth, incorporating the cream and butter as you go. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
To make the pie: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Prepare the filling: Pour the oil into a 12-inch cast iron skillet or oven safe frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrots and sauté just until they begin to get tender, about 5 minutes. Add the meat and cook until browned, breaking it up as it cooks. Stir in ketchup, broth and Worcestershire sauce, and bring to a simmer. Sprinkle in the flour and mix well. Continue to simmer gently over medium-low heat until the sauce is thickened slightly, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Add the corn and peas to the meat mixture and stir until combined. Season filling with salt and pepper to taste. Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up. (Good luck with that!) Smooth the potatoes with a spatula as best you can. Dot the potatoes with bits of butter and dust with paprika.
Place skillet on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the potatoes have browned. Remove and cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.