On paper shepherd’s pie consists of little more than mashed potatoes, ground meat, peas, and carrots. In practice, though, it’s a savory casserole dish that far exceeds the sum of its parts. It’s no wonder this comfort food is a British national treasure.
The use of ground lamb in this dish is what distinguishes the classic from cottage pie (which is usually made with ground beef). If you like you can substitute ground turkey (we prefer dark meat) or ground chicken. Whatever you choose, brown the meat well with onions and carrots, then simmer with chicken broth, tomato paste, and fresh herbs before tossing in the peas. Top the saucy mixture with a thick, even layer of creamy mashed potatoes and Bob’s your uncle.
Scraping a fork across the surface gives the potato topping the familiar hatched appearance. When baked, those ridges are more likely to turn crisp in the oven than a flat surface would. Bake the shepherd’s pie until the spuds are golden brown, and make sure to wait a few minutes before digging in—that gravy will be boiling hot and needs a few minutes to cool.
Editor’s note: The recipe was originally published in the October 2007 issue of ‘Cookie’ and first appeared on Epicurious in September 2007.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 pound ground lamb (or substitute half with another ground meat)
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh or dry rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
1 cup frozen peas
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup milk
Kosher salt to taste
Special equipment: 1½-quart baking dish, potato masher
Instead of using a baking dish for this shepherd’s pie recipe, keep the filling in the (ovenproof) sauté pan in which you cook it, top with the crust, and bake it all in the oven for a skillet version that won’t dirty another dish. For a sweeter crust, boil a few carrots, parsnips, or a combination with the potatoes.