Shepherd's Pie - that comfort food classic made of tender minced meat and vegetables in a tasty gravy, nestled under a blanket of fluffy mashed potatoes. Originally made to use up leftover lamb, you can also make it with ground beef. Both versions are included in the recipe below. (Skip to recipe.)
The Easter feasting was delicious, and it was great to have a house full of family here to celebrate. All that was left yesterday morning were the remnants of a few chocolate Easter eggs, a piece of dried out cake, and something much better - a lovely platter heaped with tender chunks of cooked lamb left over from the roasted leg of lamb we enjoyed. I'd been rubbing my hands gleefully, imagining all the things I might make with it; I couldn't stop thinking about Shepherd's Pie.
It's still snowy and cold outside, so we're still needing comfort food here in northern Alberta. Has nobody told the weather gods it's April yet? (The poor Easter bunny had to hide the baskets inside - no easy feat this year with big overloaded baskets for our big overgrown kids.) After a strenuous basket hunt we celebrated with that delicious lamb and a yogurt sauce, duck-fat roasted potatoes, baked asparagus, and fresh green salad. Hence, my fridge stash of leftover lamb.
A dish of hot Shepherd's Pie bubbling away in the oven is just the antidote for our end-of-winter blues.
There's an ongoing debate about what to name this classic dish. If you want to be technically accurate, you can only call it Shepherd's Pie if you use lamb (lamb→sheep→shepherds); if you use beef it should be called Cottage Pie.
This dish is savoury and comforting no matter what you make it with or what you call it. Rich, flavourful gravy holds together a base of tender chopped or ground meat dotted through with colourful chunks of veggies. Then you mound the top with a thick crust of soft mashed potatoes and bake it til it's bubbling up around the edges and all crusty and golden on top, with the aroma wafting through the house. You'll have family members coming out of hiding, following their twitching noses to see what's for dinner.
The beauty of a Shepherd's Pie is that it is a most delicious way to use up leftovers. Leftover roast lamb or beef (even pork or turkey) become a whole new meal in their own right. In fact, you'll want to cook up a bigger roast than you need, just to make this casserole. And if you don't have leftover meat, you can make it with regular ground beef or ground lamb just as easily. I've made it both ways and it's always a hit.
Chop the cooked meat fine, or do it quickly in the food processor. Just a few whirls and it's almost the same texture as ground beef. You can leave it more chunky if you'd like. Sauté up a few handfuls of vegetables, add a rich silky gravy, and pile in the tender bits of roast meat. You've got a flavourful base for a great shepherd's pie.
If you have leftover vegetables or gravy - throw them in. Leftover mashed potatoes - use them up, too. Anything goes and anything tastes great when you cover it in luscious gravy and softly melting potatoes baked to golden crispy-edged perfection.
If you've got a pile of leftover turkey, try this other version of Cottage Pie.
I didn't grow up eating shepherd's pie, but the flavours are familiar. Mom often made savoury meat dishes with some variation of these flavours. Potatoes weren't my favourite food as a kid, but boy do I crave them now. Creamy and mashed, or scalloped with cream, maybe boiled and topped with cheese. Any old way. It's a miracle I don't look like a doughboy yet, with how I love to eat potatoes!
Which comfort foods transport you back to the past? Is Shepherd's Pie one of them?
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Kitchen Frau Notes: The amounts for meat and vegetables below are just guidelines. If you have a little more or less meat, use it anyway. If less, add an extra handful of vegetables. If more, add a few extra tablespoons of beef broth. Use leftover vegetables if you have them, or even frozen mixed vegetables instead of the peas and carrots (use 3 heaping cups of frozen veggies). If you have enough leftover gravy, use that instead of the beef broth and flour in the recipe below and use less salt. If you've only got a bit of leftover gravy, toss it in with the rest. Same with mashed potatoes. Heat up the leftover mashed potatoes and thin them out with a bit of milk, so they are easier to spread over the top of the meat mixture.
For the potato topping:
- 2.2 lbs (1 kg) potatoes (4-5 large potatoes)
- ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon butter (60gms+15gms)
- ½ cup (120ml) milk
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- *or use about 4 cups (1litre), packed, leftover, seasoned mashed potatoes instead of the above ingredients.
For the ground meat base:
- 1 lb (454gms) leftover cooked lamb or beef (about 4 cups finely minced) or 1½ lbs (680gms) uncooked lean ground beef
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 large onion, diced (1½ cups)
- 2 stalks celery, diced (½ cup)
- 3 carrots, diced (1½ cups)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 2 teaspoons paprika + some for dusting the top
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 cups (480ml) beef broth
- 3 tablespoons sweet rice flour (or regular flour for non gluten-free)
- 1 tablespoon gluten-free Worcestershire sauce (or substitute with 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar + 2 teaspoons gluten-free soy sauce or tamari)
- 1½ cups (215gms) frozen peas
Peel potatoes and set them to boil in salted water. Drain when they are cooked.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
While the potatoes are boiling, mince the leftover cooked lamb or beef - the food processor works really well for this. Cut the meat into chunks and grind it just until it is the coarse texture of cooked ground beef. Or chop it finely by hand. Set aside. If using uncooked ground beef, brown the meat in a skillet until all the moisture is evaporated, breaking it up with a spatula as it cooks. Set it aside.
In a deep skillet or medium-sized dutch oven, heat the oil and add the diced onions, celery, and carrots. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the carrots are tender crisp. Add the minced garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, and thyme. Cook for 1 more minute. Add the minced meat and pour about 1½ cups of the beef broth into the vegetables. Whisk the sweet rice flour with the remaining ½ cup of broth and add that to the pot, too. Add the Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the frozen peas. The mixture will be quite thick.
Pour the meat mixture into a 2½ quart/2.5litre casserole dish (or about 8"x 12"/20x30cm) and smooth the top.
Mash the potatoes with ¼ cup of the butter, the milk, salt, and pepper. (If using leftover mashed potatoes, heat them and add enough milk to make them soft enough to spread.) Plop the mashed potatoes in spoonfuls all over the meat base. Use a spoon to gently smooth the potatoes and push them right up to the edges of the dish, sealing any gaps. Scrape decorative lines across the top with a fork. Sprinkle lightly with paprika, and dot with the remaining tablespoon of butter.
Set the casserole dish onto a cookie sheet to catch any drips in case it bubbles over.
Slide the cookie sheet with the casserole into the oven and bake for 45 minutes.
Let cool 5 minutes. Scoop out portions to serve.
Serves 4 to 6.
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