Shepherd’s Pie is classic British comfort food. I grew up eating generations of family shepherd’s pie recipes and this one is my take on the original. Some people like to put peas and carrots in their pie, but I much prefer to serve mine on the side. The meat filling is simple but flavourful, resulting in a hearty pie that is both warming and delicious. Be sure to check out my Braised Dutch Carrots and Baby Peas recipe for the ultimate shepherd’s pie pairing.
Before I get started, I really need to clarify an important point because it seems this causes confusion for some. Shepherd’s pies are made using lamb mince, not beef. When was the last time you were told the story of a shepherd watching over cows? That’s right, never. If you use beef in your potato-topped pie, it’s a cottage pie. If it’s lamb, it’s a shepherd’s pie. That said, this recipe works just as well using beef mince. Now that that’s cleared up, on with the recipe…
Easy as pie
There’s not too many ingredients to this pie. The meat sauce is mainly lamb, leek, onion and garlic. The extra flavour is all in the mash potato topping. Using cheese and spring onion in the potato makes it taste so amazing you’ll want to eat it like this all the time (spoiler: I do!). Don’t fuss about adding milk or anything, it doesn’t need to be a creamy mash for this recipe to work. It also doesn’t really matter which red wine you use. I’m using Tempranillo today but full bodied wines work just as well. When buying Worcestershire sauce though, keep an eye out for Lea & Perrins – it’s the original and the best!
I always prepare all the ingredients for the pie up-front. There’s quite a bit of chopping to do and trying to do this once things are on the cooktop is a nightmare. I like to chop all the onions quite finely. This results in a silky smooth meat sauce that melts in your mouth. It’s important to cook the onions on a medium heat. The idea is to slowly heat them through so that they stew rather than fry. Keep cooking until the onion turns translucent and the mixture has softened. If the onions start to brown, reduce the heat and let them cool a little before continuing.
The sauce is key
The trick to an amazing Shepherd’s Pie is all in the preparation of the meat sauce. It needs to be reduced almost completely before being placed into the baking dish. The sauce shouldn’t be dry, but it must be cooked all the way to the point where there’s no visible liquid when it sits in the saucepan. For this reason it needs to be cooked at a fairly high heat for the first 15 minutes.
A rolling simmer is ideal so that the sauce really thickens. Once most of the liquid has gone, reduce the heat so as to not burn the meat, and continue to bubble, stirring occasionally, for a further 15 minutes. By this point the meat will almost be frying on the bottom of the saucepan. Aim to get it to that point, but keep stirring so that it doesn’t actually burn!
When the meat sauce has been added to the baking dish, it’s then time to add the potato layer on top. Roughly spoon the mashed potato onto the meat. Avoid the urge to move it around and spread it out, as the more you play with it, the more likely it will submerge in the sauce. This is where you’ll know if you reduced the meat sauce enough!
Now go gently over the rough mashed potato with a fork and spread it into an even layer. Push the mash into all the little gaps, being sure to spread it all the way to the edges. Finally, run the fork over the top to create a rough pattern. Doing this will give the cheese something to hold onto and will make the potato extra crispy. Now just add the cheese and oregano and bake!
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Bake until golden
After about 20 minutes in the oven the pie should turn a golden brown colour and be crispy on top. A good guide is to keep an eye on the meat sauce. It will start to bubble up the sides of the potato when the pie is ready. If your filling takes up all the space in the baking dish, be sure to place a tray or some aluminium foil beneath the pie in the oven. This will catch any sauce that bubbles over and save you a messy oven cleanup!
The final trick is to let the pie stand for a good 10 minutes after removing it from the oven. If you try to serve it immediately, the meat sauce will run all over the plate. Let it settle in the baking dish and when you spoon it out, you will get perfect pie portions for everyone. Serve the shepherd’s pie with a side of vegetables. I like to serve it with my Braised Dutch Carrots and Baby Peas but you could also use green beans, broccoli or my Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts.
This really is one of my all time favourite meals. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! If you’re craving more hearty winter food, take a look at my Beef and Vegetable Casserole and Beef Massaman Curry recipes.
- 30 ml olive oil
- 1 brown onion, large, peeled and finely diced
- 2 leeks, trimmed, halved lengthways and finely sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 kg lamb mince, lean
- 30 ml Worcestershire sauce
- 400 g tomato purée
- 200 ml red wine
- 250 ml chicken stock
- 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves chopped
- sea salt
- black pepper
- 1¼ kg potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
- 50 g unsalted butter
- 3 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
- 130 g tasty cheese, grated
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and cook the onion, leeks and garlic for 5-10 minutes until softened and the onion turns translucent.
- Increase the temperature and add in the lamb, stirring vigorously to break up the mince. Season with salt and pepper. When the meat has browned all over, add the Worcestershire sauce and red wine. Allow the mixture to bubble for a few minutes to cook off the alcohol, then make a well in the centre and add the tomato purée. Cook the purée for a couple of minutes then stir it through the mince.
- Pour in the chicken stock and bring the pan to the boil. Reduce to a steady simmer and add the rosemary. Simmer for 15 minutes to reduce the sauce. When the sauce has thickened, reduce the temperature and continue to cook for a further 15 minutes until the meat mixture has completely thickened.
- While the meat is reducing, preheat the oven to 180ºC. Fill a saucepan with salted water, add the potatoes and bring to the boil. Cook until tender then drain and mash until smooth. Mix in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Add the spring onion and two-thirds of the grated cheese, stirring to combine then set aside.
- Place the lamb mixture into a oven-proof oval baking dish or casserole. Carefully spoon over the mashed potato to form a layer on top of the meat sauce, being careful not to apply too much pressure otherwise the potato will sink. Using a fork, gently even out the potato layer to fill any gaps. Rough up the top and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese, dried oregano and a few cracks of pepper.
- Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the cheese and potato is golden and meat sauce is bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Serve with a side of carrots and peas.
- Serving suggestion: Pair this shepherd’s pie with my Braised Dutch Carrots and Baby Peas recipe.
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