Delicious, Savoury Shepherd’s Pie

My first time encountering shepherd’s pie was as a child at a local grocery store’s frozen section. My family was not one that usually bought frozen foods, simply because we didn’t see a point. Frozen foods would most definitely have some amount of preservatives, the price for anything decent was going to be higher than cooking, and we had the time to cook our own meals most of the time. But, that day, the shepherd’s pie especially piqued my interest because I’d never seen something like it. A savory-filled pie? Weren’t pies supposed to be sweet and fruity? And on top of that, it was covered with mashed potatoes as opposed to a crust. The novelty of such a dish got me to really want to try it and, with it on sale as well, it wasn’t too expensive to try.

Despite it only being a small 99 cent frozen pie, I loved it. The flavours were strong, but not overbearing, seasoned to just the right amount, and each bite just made me want more. And with that, it would be the last time I ate Shepherd’s pie until only recently, around 2 decades later. Now that I think about it, that discounted frozen pie probably wasn’t really that good, especially if I ate it now. But still, my first impression of it was excellent, and I thought to myself – if I liked a frozen pie so much, how much would a properly cooked version, fresh from the oven and made from good ingredients taste. With that in mind, I made my version of the dish I fell in love with 2 decades ago.

So, here’s my take on the recipe – it’s slightly different from most versions that are considered “authentic”, in that there’s no cheese mixed into the mashed potatoes because my girlfriend isn’t too fond of cheese. But, it nonetheless lived up to my highest expectations of what it was supposed to taste like. Hopefully, you’ll like it as well!

Ingredients (makes 3 servings)

Filling

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1/4 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 lb ground lamb
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup frozen corn
  • 1/3 cup frozen peas

Mashed potato crust

  • 3 Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese (optional, I did not use)

Top with some chopped celery leaves or fresh herbs

Directions

  1. Start by boiling potatoes as it takes the longest time. Add potatoes, skin on, to cold water and bring to a boil. Cover, and let them simmer on low heat while proceeding to make the filling in parallel. Cook for around 30 minutes, or until the potato softens to the point where you can poke a fork in rather effortlessly.
  2. For the filling, begin by preparing the vegetables by cutting them into small pieces. Carrots should be cut into small cubes ~1cm cubed, celery and onion should also be cut into pieces around that size. The size of the celery and onion matter much less than the size of the carrots because they cook and get soft. As a result, they blend in well with the rest of the filling, unlike carrots, which more or less stay the same size throughout. Mince or cut the garlic into thin slices.
  3. Add a bit of oil to a hot pan and place in the onions and garlic in first. On a medium flame, sweat the onions a little until they give out a nice aroma. Then, put in the carrots and celery, stir frying on medium high for about a minute. Add a bit of water, or chicken stock, about 2 tbsp, and then cover and let simmer on low heat until the carrots soften. This takes around 10 minutes. Keep an eye on the vegetables during this process, as your pan may start to dry up. If it does, simply hydrate with a bit more water.
  4. Add in all the ground lamb. Season with salt, Worcestershire sauce, and parsley, and then continue to stir until the meat is just cooked.
  5. Sprinkle in the flour and mix well with the rest of the filling. Then, pour in the rest of the chicken stock on a high flame and bring the mixture to a simmer. The goal is to have a thick, gravy-like mixture and the amount of chicken stock used is only an approximate guideline. If you find your mixture a bit too runny, just let it boil off a little. On the other hand, if it’s too thick, then compensate with a bit extra stock or water.
  6. Once you are satisfied with the consistency of the meat and vegetables, pour in the frozen corn and peas, turn off the flame, and mix together. There’s no need to really cook these because they’ll be heated by the baking process anyways.
  7. Transfer all the filling to a casserole or any oven save container and pat down the filling to pack it into a dense foundation.
  8. By now, the potatoes should be done. Peel the skin and mash, adding in the milk, butter, salt, pepper, and cheese. Again, the amounts in the ingredients are general guidelines, and what I found to taste good and not have too much fat content. Season and adjust to your taste.
  9. Continue mashing until the mixture is smooth and creamy, and then transfer it to the container over the meat and vegetables. Start with the edges and pack the perimeter tightly so that the juices are locked in and have a lower chance of leaking out. One form of decoration is to texture the top surface of the mashed potatoes, usually with a fork, so that it becomes rougher. This helps the surface become more defined and crisp more easily when baked.
  10. Bake at 400F for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, if the surface doesn’t have the nice golden crust that you want, turn on the broiler for 3-5 minutes. Keep watch during this time, as it’s very easy for the intense heat of the broiler to burn the top! Remove from the oven when done and serve piping hot 🙂

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