Traditional shepherd’s pie is a savory meat pie topped with creamy mashed potatoes, a classic comfort food for cold weather months. Great to make with left-over mashed potatoes.
Make extra mashed potatoes this year for Thanksgiving, they’re great on a traditional shepherd’s pie. While Shepherd’s pie originated in Great Britain and Ireland, it’s a pretty common dish in the US. It was originally called “cottage pie” and “shepherd’s pie” was the same dish but made with lamb instead of beef. The terms are used interchangeably now, and almost anywhere in the States you will find it made with beef.
You could use leftover beef in any form, but cooking ground beef with the seasonings gives the meat portion more flavor. Some folks like to throw in corn and peas, but who wants peas in a casserole, they’re just going to get mushy. I prefer mushrooms, onions and carrots.
Whatever you choose to add to the meat mixture, all cottage and shepherd’s pies are covered in mashed potatoes and then baked until the top is golden brown. It doesn’t matter what you put in your mashed potatoes, they’ll be great on top of this casserole. This might sound like a lot of work but I have a few suggestions to make this an easy weeknight meal.
How to simplify this recipe
- Make a double batch of mashed potatoes and freeze the leftovers, you can freeze them for up to three months, longer if you vacuum seal them.
- Make this the day after Thanksgiving with leftover mashed potatoes, when you still have a crowd to feed but don’t want to spend much time in the kitchen. You can make the meat portion in less than 30 minutes.
- Top with Grits instead of potatoes, like I do with chili sometimes.
Why you’ll love this shepherd’s pie recipe
- If you love creamy mashed potatoes, than this has your name on it
- A savory meat filling flavored marsala wine
- You only have one pan to clean up
- This is a hearty meal that can serve 8, great when the gangs all home for dinner
What you’ll need
- Ground beef – you can use ground chuck for more flavor but you’ll need to drain the grease before adding the remaining ingredients. I prefer ground sirloin for this dish since there are so many other flavors added to the mixture.
- Baking soda – this is added to the raw ground beef and helps tenderize the meat. It does this by locking in the moisture.
- Onions, Mushrooms, Garlic and Carrots– All of these are the flavor base for the meat mixture.
- Tomato paste – this adds a concentrated tomato flavor.
- Marsala wine – I love the flavor that marsala wine adds to meat dishes whether in the sauce for chicken marsala meatballs or in marsala pork.
- Beef broth and Worcestershire sauce– for a flavor boost.
- Fresh Thyme and a Bayleaf – you can use dried thyme if fresh is not available, substitute about 3 teaspoons dried thyme for fresh.
- Flour and Cornstarch – to thicken things up.
- Mashed potatoes – this recipe calls for 6 cups but you just need enough to cover the mixture, a minimum of 3 cups is needed. I like mashed potatoes, so go big or go home!
You can use ground lamb or ground chicken in this recipe. If using chicken, use chicken broth instead of beef broth.
For a simpler topping other than mashed potatoes, you can make a recipe of cheese grits and add to the top instead. If doing this, you will need to bake it at 400º for 20-25 minutes to cook the eggs in the grit mixture. You can get more directions in the recipe for chili with grits.
How do you make a traditional shepherd’s pie
Add some baking powder to the ground beef to tenderize.
Cook onions and mushrooms and add hamburger and cook.
Add tomato paste and marsala wine. Next add carrots and broth and seasoning. Thicken with flour and cornstarch.
Make mashed potatoes or use left-over mashed potatoes and top meat mixture.
Bake under the broiler until golden brown.
How do you make mashed potatoes
You can find step by step directions to my favorite mashed potatoes along with a video on my post for Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes, they’re so creamy and delicious.
Add this to your list to serve for a St. Patrick’s day dinner if you’re not in the mood for brisket.
FAQs and tips
You need a ½ pound of potatoes to make a cup of mashed potatoes, so for 6 cups of mashed potatoes, you would need about 3 pounds of potatoes.
Yukon gold potatoes will make the creamiest mashed potatoes.
Yes you can freeze mashed potatoes. The fat from the milk and butter keeps them from forming ice crystals.
Yes, you can use ground lamb which is what you would get if you ordered this in a pub in Great Britain.
Shepherd’s pie originally was a lamb dish developed in Great Britain and Ireland as a way to use up left-over meat.
What I suggest is that any time you make mashed potatoes, you make a double batch and freeze the left-overs. You’ll always have some on hand to make this wonderful dish or make some potato rolls.
More comfort dinners you’ll love
Traditional Shepherd’s Pie
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion chopped
- 4 ounces mushrooms sliced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons Marsala wine
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 ½ cups beef broth
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 carrots cut into bite size pieces
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 6 cups Mashed Potatoes
- Add ground beef to a bowl and add 2 tablespoons water, baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Combine and let sit until onions are cooked.
- Add olive oil to a 10 inch oven proof skillet, Add onions and mushrooms along with ½ teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Cook until they are soft. Add ground beef and cook until browned.
- Add tomato paste and garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add Marsala and cook until it has evaporated.
- Add chopped carrots, beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook until the carrots are tender, about 10 minutes.
- Combine cornstarch and a tablespoon of water and pour into the mixture, cook about 1 minute. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs.
- Turn the oven to broil and place the oven rack at least 6 inches from the broiler.
- Top with mashed potatoes and smooth with a spoon. Place under the broiler for about 5 minutes until the mixture is bubbly and the potatoes have turned a golden brown.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- You can use ground lamb or chicken instead of beef. If using chicken, use chicken broth instead of beef.
- You can leave out the wine and use extra broth.
- You can add extra vegetables like corn and peas.
- You can use frozen mashed potatoes, let thaw completely before adding.
- You can use less mashed potatoes, you will need about 3 cups to cover the meat.
- If you don’t have an oven proof skillet, put the meat mixture in a 9 x 13 baking dish and cover with mashed potatoes.
- Here is a recipe for Mashed Potatoes along with a video.