Tuesday, 23 July 2024

Foodie Freak: Shepherd's pie

On average, it takes me about 30 hours to write each column. I research through books, magazines and the Internet in an effort to be as thorough as possible, check my facts and have the most updated information. I typically putter through each column a little bit each day and have over a dozen different columns going at the same time. I’m already working on some of March’s columns.

I started writing this particular article in early November, so I got a good laugh this week at the timeliness of the topic.

On Sunday I was listening to “The Culinary View“ on the local radio and Julie Hoskins was talking about pasties and meat pies, then on Wednesday Ron Jones’ column was about mincemeat pie; all I could do is laugh out loud about how foodies tend to think alike. Pasties, mincemeat pies, and shepherd's pies all stem from the same basic recipe.

Shepherd's pie is the perfect winter dish for your family since it is an all-in-one meal. You have meat, vegetables and potatoes all in the same dish. To help plan meals ahead you can make two of them, freeze one and eat the other one. Shepherd's pie is a great thing to make on a Sunday afternoon. If you like rustic food you can’t get more rustic than this unless you are making meat on a stick over a fire.

Shepherd's pie is basically a thick, lamb-based stew baked with a mashed potato topping. It’s a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs winter dish, although you can lighten it up a little bit here and there by substituting ingredients. You can make this dish with beef but then it’s technically called cottage pie (shepherds don’t raise cows, duh). It’s also been made with chicken, salmon, sausage and turkey, and I’ve even seen vegan versions.

I like to make various versions of shepherd's pie, especially since my wife likes lamb but my daughter doesn’t. My daughter's "petting zoo vegetarianism" causes her to hate eating anything cute and cuddly, so I try to pass things by her from time to time.

In her own defense she has developed a palate much more sophisticated than most people. She will take one bite of shepherd's pie, drop her fork and say, “This is lamb,” and then walk to the kitchen to find leftovers to eat. Months later I’ll make the exact same recipe with beef and she’ll love it. (We've established that cows aren't “cute.”)

My wife loves lamb – just not in the same way my daughter loves lamb, but that’s what keeps my kitchen interesting. My wife also loves curry, my daughter doesn’t ... OK, so it’s not interesting, it’s hell.

Chefs have a love/hate relationship with shepherd's pie since, on the one hand it is a cheap to make dish (love), but on the other it has no “sex appeal” (hate). It's not fancy, it's not complicated, it's not stylish or trendy. Unless you are going to an Irish pub, nobody goes out to a restaurant to have shepherd's pie. I suppose shepherd's pie is too plebeian for most restaurants.

Originating in the Middle Ages in England, shepherd's pie started out as a stew baked into pastry “coffyns.” When the potato made its way to England in the 18th century the mashed potatoes were added, but unlike in today's common recipes the mashed potatoes completely surrounded the stew. It was seasoned with cloves, pepper, prunes, raisins, etc. Seasonings were typically very strong; since there was no refrigeration and meat spoiled quickly, the strong seasoning could cover the taste of meat that might be past its prime. As with many rustic-style foods, it was designed to use up the little bits of this and that which might be lying around the kitchen.

Mincemeat pies were, and still are, popular in England. One of my favorite culinary memories is eating pasties (PAS-tees), which is another form of mincemeat pie. They're like little handheld pot pies. I remember eating pasties out in the snow with mittened hands, the cold air chilling my tongue just before the hot pasty hit it.

In this recipe if I use ground lamb I like to grate the vegetables, but if I use cubed lamb I also cube the vegetables. It just seems to give a desirable level of consistency. When modifying it for my daughter's taste, I use this exact recipe but substitute beef for the lamb and rosemary for the curry powder to make cottage pie.

OK don’t tell anybody I said this but if you are in a pinch you can use potato buds or freeze dried potatoes and it will come out just fine.

Shepherd's Pie


1 pound lean, ground or cubed lamb (or whatever meat you choose).

1 large carrot, grated (about 1 cup)

1 onion, grated (about 1 ½ cups)

2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons tomato paste (I like the sun dried tomato paste)

1 tablespoons curry powder

¾ cup red wine

¾ cup chicken stock


4 Russet or starchy potatoes

½ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup cheddar cheese

Pinch salt and white pepper

Heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Brown the meat in a fry or sauté pan on high heat for a couple of minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients for the filling and continue to cook on high until the liquid is almost evaporated, stirring frequently (about 10 minutes). Pour into a 9-inch round casserole or equivalent.

Meanwhile peel and cube the potatoes and boil in salted water until tender, drain, process through a food mill or ricer, or mash and mix in the rest of the topping ingredients. Carefully spread your potatoes over the filling, trying not to mix them together. One way to make this easier is to take a zip top bag, put the potato topping in it (after it has cooled some) and then cut off one corner and pipe it onto the filling.

Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until the potato topping starts to brown.

Frozen shepherd's pie should be thawed, then cooked at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until it starts to bubble.

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community. Follow him on Twitter, http://twitter.com/Foodiefreak .

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