Traditional Irish Shepherd’s Pie – Perfect for St. Patrick’s Day

Tired of corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s day? I’m right there with you! 

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good corned beef and cabbage dinner, but when I want something traditionally Irish, Shepherd’s pie is my favorite Irish comfort food and one I grew up eating often.

A traditional Shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb that is simmered in a rich sauce. When ground beef is used, this dish is called Cottage Pie, but in the states, we use the names interchangeably. 

Whatever you chose to call it, it is then topped with creamy mashed potatoes and baked until hot, bubbly and golden brown. This authentic Irish comfort food is my absolute favorite go-to dish for St. Patrick’s Day and beyond!  

This is a dish I’ve eaten my whole life and it’s one we enjoy in our monthly weeknight dinner rotation. The meal as written is completely kid-friendly, but you can totally jazz it up by adding a 1/4 cup of red wine to the sauce when you add the stock.

A pan of shepherds pie with a serving removed revealing the meat and vegetable filling.

Shepherd’s Pie Ingredients and Tools: 

  • Ground Beef or lamb – As I mentioned earlier, a true Shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb and “cottage pie” with ground beef. However, in the states, we use the terms interchangeably.  If ground lamb isn’t your thing or is difficult to find, use ground beef (beef mince), ground turkey, ground chicken, or even soy “beef” crumbles in its place.
  • Vegetables – Carrots, peas, onions, and garlic – are all very traditional to this dish, but if you prefer other veggies or want to add more like mushrooms, corn or green beans, that’s fine too. Europeans are known for using what they have in the pantry!
  • Beef Stock, Chicken Stock, Vegetable Stock, or Water – whatever you have on hand to create the gravy will work fine. If you start with water, you may need to amp up the other seasonings. For gluten-free, make sure to use a gluten-free stock
  • Tomato Paste – this gives the sauce a nice flavor and helps thicken the sauce.
  • Beef, Chicken, roasted garlic, or vegetable bouillon – depending on the stock you’ve chosen and whether or not you are going gluten-free. The beef bouillon paste I use is not gluten-free but the chicken bouillon of the same brand is gluten-free.
  • Worcestershire sauce – I know many recipes swear by it, but I’m just not a fan. It makes beefy things taste beefier with definite umami flavor. It’s also gluten-free. If you enjoy the flavor, add a teaspoon or two to your sauce. 
  • Fresh Herbs – my standby is fresh lemon thyme. English thyme also works well, lemon is just what I grow in my garden. You may also like rosemary and fresh parsley. When in doubt, parsley always adds a nice bright flavor to any dish.
  • Potatoes – I use russets. They are great boiled and make a perfectly creamy mashed potato.

Tools & Equipment:

Saute the onions, garlic, and carrots.Saute the onions, garlic, and carrots.
Top with Mashed potatoes and bake.Top with Mashed potatoes and bake.
Brown the ground beef and prepare the gravy,Brown the ground beef and prepare the gravy,
Serve when hot and bubbly.Serve when hot and bubbly.

How to prepare Irish Shepherd’s Pie recipe:

Visit the recipe card below for full instruction, but quite simply your will, 

  1. Prepare the mashed potatoes.
  2. Saute the vegetables.
  3. Brown the meat.
  4. Create the sauce.
  5. Top with mashed potatoes.
  6. Bake until golden brown and delicious.
  7. Garnish and serve.
A serving of Shepherd's pie in a blue and white clay bowl. The potatoes on top are golden brown and it has been garnished with fresh thyme. A spoonful of meat and vegetable filling rests n the bottom side of the bowl.

 

Variations on Easy Shepherd’s Pie AKA Cottage Pie Recipe:

  • Make it gluten-free – Be sure to check your ingredients are all gluten-free. Not all bouillon or stocks are gluten-free.
  • Make it vegetarian – Omit the meat and use chopped mushrooms or soy crumbles. Use vegetable stock or water in place of the beef or chicken stock
  • Make it vegan – Do the steps above for making it vegetarian plus use vegan milk and butter in the mashed potatoes. Omit the egg wash.
  • Swap out the potatoes – For a higher-in- fiber meal, swap out the Russet potatoes for Mashed Turnips and Carrots. It’s a sweet and savory combination that tastes amazing together. 
  • Make it Low(er)-Carb – Swap out the Russet mashed potatoes for mashed cauliflower instead. 

What to serve with Shepherd’s Pie:

  • Typically we serve this with an additional side of peas and carrots or a tossed green salad. 
  • Nothing goes better with carbs than carbs and more carbs, so in that case, go with a nice hunk of buttered bread or Irish Soda Bread
  • A nice cold pint of Guinness for your St. Patrick’s Day celebration!

Shepherd’s Pie Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

  1. Can I freeze Shepherd’s Pie? If you wanted to make ahead and freeze shepherd’s pie. Make the pies in aluminum pans all the way to the point that you would bake them in the oven. Make sure the cottage pie is completely cold, then cover it well with plastic wrap and freeze. Always freeze the pie on the day that you make it. Defrost in the fridge overnight, then bake until hot and bubbly.
  2. How Do I Store Leftover Shepherd’s Pie? Store leftovers in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Otherwise, it can be frozen for up to 3o days.
a 3/4 angle shot of a bowl of shepherd's pie. A spoon rests on the bottom side of the bowl. The rich meat and vegetable filling is spilling our from under the mashed potato topping.

Looking for more Traditional Irish Recipes

Irish Sausage and Potato Soup for Dutch Oven or Slow Cooker

Irish Beef & Guinness Stew

Irish Sausage Rolls

Irish Sausages with Mashed Potatoes & Onion Gravy)

Mussels in Irish Ale

 

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A close-up of a spoonful of meat filing from the beef shepherd's pie. the bowl is out of focus underneath and a blue and white towel rests on the table behind the bowl
shepherds pie 13

Shepherd’s Pie

Ronda Eagle | Kitchen Dreaming
This traditional Irish comfort food is made with ground beef cooked in a rich gravy with herbs and vegetables. It's topped with creamy mashed potatoes and then baked until hot and bubbly. This classic Irish meal is perfect for St. Patrick's Day.
With some ingredient swaps, this recipe can also be made, gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course Dinner, Entree, main meal
Cuisine English
Servings 6 servings
Calories 415 kcal

Equipment

  • 12-inch cast-iron skillet [See note 11]
  • 9-inch x 9-inch baking dish (if no cast-iron pan is available
  • heavy bottom pot (for boiling potatoes)

Ingredients
  

For the Topping

  • 2 lbs russet potatoes about 6 medium potatoes
  • 3/4 cup milk more or less for the desired creaminess of mashed potatoes
  • 4 tablespoons butter more or less for the desired creaminess of mashed potatoes
  • salt and pepper , to taste
  • 1 large egg , beaten

For the Filling

  • 1 medium onion , finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3 medium carrots diced
  • 1.5 lbs lean ground beef , preferred 93% lean [See Note 1]
  • 1.5 cups beef stock [See note 2]
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste [See Note 3]
  • 1.5 teaspoons beef bouillon paste [See Notes 4 & 5]
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas [See note 6]
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper , more or less to taste
  • salt , to taste [See Note 5]

Instructions
 

  • Prepare the Mashed Potatoes: In a large saucepan, cover the potatoes in salted cold water, bring to the boil and simmer until tender. Drain well, then allow to steam-dry for a few mins. Mash well with the milk, butter, and cheese, then season with some salt and pepper.
  • Prepare the Filling: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (for step 3). Heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, and carrots and saute about 5 mins. Add the lean ground beef and cook breaking up large pieces. Add the tomato paste, beef broth, beef bouillon, and fresh herbs. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 15 mins. The gravy should be thick and coating the meat. Season to taste. Stir in the frozen peas and remove from the heat. [See Note 11]
  • Add the Topping: Spoon on the mashed potatoes over the top of the beef filling making sure to cover the entire surface. lightly brush the surface of the potatoes with a beaten egg, then score lines with a fork making a pattern.
  • Bake: Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and the filling is hot and bubbly.

Notes

  1. Ground Beef or lamb – An authentic Shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb and a “cottage pie” is made with ground beef. However, in the states, we use the terms interchangeably.  If ground lamb isn’t your thing or is difficult to find, use ground beef (beef mince), ground turkey, ground chicken, or even soy “beef” crumbles in its place.
  2. Beef Stock, Chicken Stock, Vegetable Stock, or Water – whatever you have on hand to create the gravy will work fine. If you start with water, you may need to amp up the other seasonings. For gluten-free, make sure to use a gluten-free stock
  3. Tomato Paste – this gives the sauce a nice flavor and helps thicken the sauce.
  4. Beef, Chicken, roasted garlic, or vegetable bouillon – depending on the stock you’ve chosen and whether or not you are going gluten-free. The beef bouillon paste I use is not gluten-free but the chicken bouillon of the same brand is gluten-free.
  5. Worcestershire sauce – I know many recipes swear by it, but I’m just not a fan. It makes beefy things taste beefier with definite umami flavor. It’s also gluten-free. If you enjoy the flavor, add a teaspoon or two to your sauce. If you use Worcestershire sauce, omit the beef bouillon paste and increase the salt seasoning
  6. Vegetables – Carrots, peas, onions, and garlic – are all very traditional to this dish, but if you prefer other veggies or want to add more like mushrooms, corn or green beans, that’s fine too. Europeans are known for using what they have in the pantry!
  7. Fresh Herbs – my standby is fresh lemon thyme. English thyme also works well, lemon is just what I grow in my garden. You may also like rosemary and fresh parsley. When in doubt, parsley always adds a nice bright flavor to any dish.
  8. Potatoes – I use Russet potatoes but Yukon gold also work well in this recipe. These types of potatoes are great boiled and make a perfectly creamy mashed potatoes.
  9. To Freeze: Make sure the cottage pie is completely cold, then cover it well with plastic wrap and freeze. Always freeze the pie on the day that you make it. Defrost in the fridge overnight, then bake (covered with aluminum foil) about 45 minutes at 350 degrees F until hot and bubbly. Remove foil, increase oven temperature to 425 degrees F and bake another 20 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown.
  10. How Do I Store Leftover Shepherd’s Pie? Store leftovers in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Otherwise, it can be frozen for up to 3o days.
  11. If using a glass baking dish instead of a cast-iron skillet use a 9×13 baking pan for this recipe.
  12. The meal as written is completely kid-friendly, but you can jazz it up by adding a 1/4 cup of red wine to the sauce.

Nutrition

Serving: 1.5cupsCalories: 415kcalCarbohydrates: 37gProtein: 32gFat: 15gSaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 129mgSodium: 384mgPotassium: 1407mgFiber: 4gSugar: 6gVitamin A: 5597IUVitamin C: 16mgVitamin D: 1µgVitamin E: 1mgVitamin K: 10µgCalcium: 96mgFolate: 48µgIron: 5mgZinc: 7mg
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