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.
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.
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.
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. If you use Worcestershire sauce, omit the beef bouillon paste and increase the salt seasoning
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
If using a glass baking dish instead of a cast-iron skillet use a 9x13 baking pan for this recipe.
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.