Shepherd’s Pie (or Cottage Pie)
Shepherd’s Pie – or Cottage Pie – is cold weather comfort food at its best! A rich and hearty casserole made of seasoned ground meat (lamb or beef) and veggies in gravy, topped with cheesy mashed potatoes.
This classic Irish/British recipe is delicious year-round, but also a great way to celebrate St Patrick’s Day if you didn’t have time to make Corned Beef and Cabbage or Guinness Beef Stew. It’s quick, easy, and made with ingredients you probably have on hand!
Craving comfort food but don’t have time to simmer or braise something for hours? Cue to this easy shepherd’s pie, which is a meal in itself and can be made ahead!
This dish is the epitome of simple home cooking and one of our family favorites. It is also a classic Irish dinner for St. Patrick’s Day! ☘️ Way Irish-er than corned beef and cabbage, which is an American invention and not something you will find in Ireland.
If you’re familiar with Brazilian cuisine, you will find that shepherd’s pie is quite similar to our Escondidinho. It also has versions in Chile (Pastel de Papa), France (Hachis Parmentier) and Netherlands (Philosopher’s Stew).
Potatoes and meat are a staple in cuisines all over the world, so it doesn’t surprise me that everybody has a similar dish that combines both! 😊
What is Shepherd’s Pie?
Shepherd’s Pie is a hearty dish of ground meat in gravy, topped with mashed potatoes. It has origins in the United Kingdom and Ireland, although its exact roots are hard to pinpoint.
This dish most likely originated in the late 1700s and early 1800s, with the name cottage pie. It was a way for the poor (who lived in cottages) to make use of leftovers, such as unused meat from a roast. It also used affordable (and filling) potatoes for the topping, making it a favorite of frugal housewives.
Since the Irish couldn’t typically afford beef, chances are the earliest forms of this pie were made with mutton, which was more affordable than beef or lamb.
It wasn’t until 1854 that the term shepherd’s pie appeared. At first, both names were used interchangeably, but eventually a distinction was made: cottage pie was made with beef and shepherd’s pie was made with lamb.
Shepherd’s Pie VS Cottage Pie
The main difference between them comes down to the type of meat filling used. Shepherd’s pie is made of ground lamb while cottage pie uses ground beef. After all, shepherds don’t herd cows! 😉
- In Gaelic, this dish is called “pióg an aoire” (pronounced pih-ogue on ee-ra).
- If you top a cottage or shepherd’s pie with breadcrumbs, it is then called “Cumberland pie”!
To make this easy Shepherd’s Pie, you will need:
- Ground Lamb or Beef – Shepherd’s Pie is traditionally made with ground lamb, but you can use ground beef (or a mix of both) if you prefer. Choose something lean, 85% or higher.
- Aromatics – Onion, garlic, carrots, celery, rosemary and thyme create the flavor foundation for this dish. I use fresh herbs, but you can substitute for dried if that’s what you have on hand.
- Frozen Veggies – I like to add peas and corn, which are traditional, but you can add whatever veggies you fancy! No need to thaw from frozen, as they will defrost while they cook with the filling.
- Red Wine – A splash of red wine is used to deglaze the pan, adding depth of flavor to this dish. The alcohol will mostly cook off, but you can omit if needed and just use extra stock instead.
- Beef Stock – I prefer using stock than broth, for a richer gravy. If all you have is beef broth, you can use that instead! Chicken stock or broth can be used as well.
- Flour – To thicken the filling. You can use rice flour for a gluten-free alternative.
- Worcestershire Sauce – Adds umami and enhances the savory flavors.
- Tomato Paste – A touch of tomato paste adds sweetness, intensity and helps thicken the filling.
- Oil – Vegetable oil for browning the meat and sautéing the vegetables.
- Potatoes – For the mashed potato topping. Russet potatoes are traditionally used, but you can substitute for Yukon Gold if needed.
- Cream – You can use either half and half or heavy cream to make the mashed potatoes. Milk can also be used, if you want to reduce fat, but the potatoes won’t be as creamy!
- Cheese – Choose a nice, aged cheddar for the mashed potatoes. I LOVE the sharp flavor of Collier’s Welsh Cheddar and highly recommend it if you can find it near you!
- Butter – We’ll use butter to make the mashed potatoes
- Yolk – Adding an egg yolk to the mashed potatoes make them extra rich and more flavorful!
- Salt and Pepper
How to Make Shepherd’s Pie
As I already mentioned, this recipe is super easy to make! You can even use leftover mashed potatoes for the topping, if you have some, saving even more time (and a dish to wash).
There’s no right or wrong way of making shepherd’s pie or cottage pie. Every household has their own version! This is how my family likes it, and I use non traditional ingredients like red wine and tomato paste. Trust me, sometimes we have to let go of tradition to embrace deliciousness! 😉
This recipe also works, as-is, with both lamb or beef. So use whatever you like! Some people swear by a combination of both, saying adding a little bit of beef cuts the intensity from the lamb.
Here’s how I make this Shepherd’s Pie recipe. As always, you will find the printable (and more complete) version of the recipe at the end of this post!
Step 1: Make the meat filling
- Heat oil in a sauté pan and brown the ground meat. Season with salt and pepper, then reserve.
- Sauté the onion, carrots, celery, garlic and herbs. Season with salt and pepper.
- Deglaze the pan with the red wine and cook until evaporated. You can skip this step or deglaze with beef stock if alcohol is an issue.
- Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a minute or two, until it changes from bright red to a deep red color. Cooking the tomato paste for a couple of minutes enhances its flavors and brings forward its underlying sweetness.
- Add the flour and cook for a minute, to get rid of the raw flour taste.
- Stir in the stock and Worcestershire sauce, cooking until thickened. Then, add the reserved beef and any resulting juices.
- Cover, lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
- Add the frozen veggies and continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
- Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Step 2: Make the mashed potatoes
- Quarter the potatoes (so they cook faster) and rinse them to get rid of any extra starches. Cook them in salted water until fork-tender. Drain in a colander.
- Using a potato ricer, rice them back into the pot where you cooked them. If you don’t have a potato ricer, a potato masher works as well!
- Add the cream, butter, cheese, yolk, salt and pepper. Mix vigorously, until the cheese and butter have melted and the mashed potatoes are smooth.
- Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Step 3: Assemble the Shepherd’s Pie
- Top the meat filling with the mashed potatoes.
- Drizzle melted butter and sprinkle some more shredded cheese.
- Place the pan on a baking sheet, that way if anything bubbles over it won’t make a mess out of your oven!
- Bake at 375ºF for 30 minutes. If desired, pop under the broiler for some extra color!
- Let it rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.
- Using an ovenproof sauté pan (or a cast iron skillet) means you will have one less dish to clean, as you can assemble the shepherd’s pie right in the pan you used to cook the filling. If you don’t own one, don’t worry! You can assemble your pie in a large (3qt) baking dish.
- Shepherd’s Pie shouldn’t be soupy, but I like it to be juicy, with a little bit of gravy. If you like yours thicker/firmer, just cook the filling under medium-high heat until all the liquid is gone.
- Make sure to rinse your potatoes before cooking and to drain them really well after cooking, so the mashed potatoes don’t end up gummy.
- Got leftover mashed potatoes? Use that instead and save yourself time! You will need about 4 cups of mashed potatoes for the topping.
- For a more sophisticated presentation, make individual shepherd’s pie, using 8-ounce ramekins or individual cast iron serving bowls.
Shepherd’s Pie is already a meal in itself, containing protein, starch and veggies! That being said, you can round out the meal with a side of roasted or steamed veggies, a green salad and/or some bread, such as a loaf of Irish Soda Bread!
Shepherd’s Pie Variations
Everybody makes shepherd’s pie a little bit different! It is a very versatile dish and you can customize it to fit your taste and needs.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Make it with ground beef (turning it into a cottage pie), chicken, turkey or pork.
- Use sweet potatoes for the mashed potatoes topping!
- Make it low carb by using mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes.
- Do a vegetarian version (or “shepherdless pie”) with lentils and mushrooms instead of the meat.
- Use up whatever veggies you have sitting in the fridge!
- Make it even more Irish by using Guinness instead of red wine. You can even sub some of the beef stock for the Guinness for a deeper flavor!
Make Ahead, Storage and Reheating Instructions
- Make Ahead – Shepherd’s Pie can be prepared and assembled 2-3 days ahead of time. Let it cool completely, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. It will take a little longer in the oven, since it will be cold from the fridge.
- Leftovers – Leftovers will keep in the fridge, tightly covered or stored in an airtight container – for 3 to 5 days.
- Freeze – You can freeze shepherd’s pie for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before baking.
- Reheat – Reheat your shepherd’s pie in the oven, covered with foil, at 350ºF, for 1 hour or until hot.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can make shepherd’s pie with whatever ground meat you’d like! Snobs will say it can’t be called shepherd’s pie unless it is made with lamb, but – honestly – who cares? 😂
If your casserole is too runny, chances are you either didn’t add enough flour to thicken the gravy or you didn’t simmer it long enough to reduce the liquid. Also, make sure your potatoes are thoroughly drained before making the mashed potatoes, so the topping is not too sloppy.
I do not like my shepherd’s pie stodgy, so it naturally spreads a little when plated. Make sure you are not serving it while piping hot, so it has a chance to settle. If you’d still like it to be firmer, next time you can add more flour to thicken the gravy even more, reduce the liquids longer and/or add less cream to the mashed potatoes.
More Irish Recipes
- Cheddar Boxty
- Homemade Irish Cream
- Sausage and Cabbage Skillet
- Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 pounds lean ground lamb (or beef)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
- 2 celery ribs, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 cups beef stock
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- ½ cup frozen peas
- ½ cup frozen corn
- 2 ½ pounds Russet potatoes, peeled, quartered and rinsed
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 ¼ cups shredded aged cheddar cheese, divided
- 1 cup half and half, warmed
- 1 yolk
- Ovenproof Sauté Pan
- Large Pot
- Potato Ricer
- Heat the oil in a large ovenproof sauté pan (see notes), over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the lamb (or beef) and cook – breaking apart with a wooden spoon – until browned, about 5 – 8 minutes. Drain off the excess fat, season with salt and pepper, then remove with a slotted spoon to a plate. Reserve.
- Add more oil if needed, lower the heat to medium, then stir in the onion, sautéing until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and continue sautéing, until the veggies have softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and herbs, cooking for another minute. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Pour in the red wine to deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the wine is almost fully evaporated.
- Stir in the tomato paste and stir to combine, cooking for a minute or two until it turns from bright red to a deeper red color. Once dissolved, stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute.
- Pour in the beef stock and Worcestershire sauce. Cook until it begins to boil, then return the ground beef to the pan. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes.
- Add the peas and corn, mixing to combine. Cover and continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
- Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Reserve.
- Preheat oven to 375ºF.
- Place potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender. Drain in a colander.
- Using a ricer, rice the potatoes back into the pot. Stir in the butter (sliced), warm cream, 1 cup of the cheese, yolk, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Stir until the butter and cheese have melted and everything is well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Top the meat with dollops of the mashed potatoes, using a spatula to spread them out evenly. Melt the remaining butter in the microwave, then drizzle over the mashed potatoes. Finish with the remaining shredded cheese.
- Place the sauté pan on a baking sheet (to catch any drips) and in the preheated oven. Bake until the potatoes are lightly browned and the edges are bubbling, about 30 minutes. If desired, pop under the broiler for 3 to 5 minutes for deeper browning.
- Let the shepherd's pie rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.