Shepherd's Pie: Cozy Food for Cold Nights

"Man, I was on the shepherd's pie last night like you wouldn't believe. I had, like, MASH in my EYEBROWS by 10pm. I was on a total mince rush!" — Caitlin Moran

When I was little, my mom made shepherd's pie from the leftovers of a roast beef dinner. She would grind the leftover roast beef with a meat grinder that attached to the kitchen table edge. She would then top the meat with leftover mash and serve it with the leftover gravy.  I even remember one time she used leftover prime rib, and that was delish. I loved my mom's shepherd's pie, but I wouldn't make it that way today. Hash is the thing to make with leftover roast beef (another of my mom's recipes- so simply good with lots of ketchup on the side- but that's another blog day). 

Shepherd's pie isn't even made with beef, of course, but my French Canadian mother hadn't ever been to England and Google didn't exist, and I'm sure lamb was about impossible to buy. Nevertheless, her shepherd's pie (which was actually a cottage pie) was the best and only shepherd's pie I'd ever had, and when I moved to England and had real shepherd's pie, I quickly became enamored and had to make it for myself, because as you know, homemade is usually best (hmm, guess that really depends on the cook). 

I have made many, many shepherd's pies now and have eaten even more, and I can tell you with much certainty that this recipe is the best one and if you care to disagree, I'd love to taste yours or at the very least, read your recipe and decide for myself if it's worth making. But I digress...

Felicity Cloake's recipe for shepherd's pie is my very favorite. I change it a little, but not much, and her method of really browning the lamb is remarkably important, although it is just that (brown, brown, brown the lamb!) and really nothing more. 

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground lamb, 
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 sprigs each rosemary and thyme, leaves picked and roughly chopped
  • about 1 cup of frozen sweet baby peas
  • dash of colatura, soy sauce, or fish sauce (optional)
  • dash of yellow curry powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/4 cup beef stock
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree or ketchup
  • about 4 medium sized floury potatoes
  • 2-3 tbsp butter
  • dash of milk or half & half
  • Nutmeg, to grate

Heat the oil and brown the lamb over medium heat in a dutch oven type casserole dish, if you have one. If not, a heavy skillet will do, and you can transfer everything to a casserole dish later. Brown the lamb in 2 batches (to avoid crowding the pan and steaming the meat) and get it very brown without burning it. When the lamb is browned,  scoop the meat out of the pan and set it aside. 

Next, saute the onion until soft and add the carrots, celery and herbs, and cook until just tender.  Sprinkle the flour over the veg and stir well (I like to very lightly brown the flour), then add the stock, Worcestershire sauce, tomato puree, and colatura.  Stir very well, making sure to deglaze all the lovely brown bits. Add the peas, curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. Add back in the lamb, pop on a lid and turn the heat to low. Simmer for 50 minutes, take off the lid for the last 10 minutes if it seems too watery. 

Make mashed potatoes while the lamb/veg is simmering. Add nutmeg, and enough milk and butter to make the potatoes easy to dollop and spread over the meat and veg mixture.  Use a fork to rake through the potatoes, and dot the top with dabs of butter. Bake in the oven at 350F for about 30 minutes, when it looks like mine above, it's time to take that baby out. Let cool for 1 minute (if you can wait that long)and dish it up. I love to eat it in front of the telly, while watching something British with my Englishman.  And like Caitlin Moran, I often end up with potatoes in my hair.