Experiment: Shepherd’s Pie

Lamb is not all that popular amongst most Canadians but when I was a kid growing up in England roast lamb was a very popular Sunday dinner. In many households, the main joint would invariably be followed, sometime later in the week, by that old leftovers stand-by, Shepherd’s pie.

Shepherd’s Pie has always been a mainstay of institutional cooking – school cafeterias and the like – and most people associate it with a composite of ground beef, various vegetables and potato. Strictly speaking though, versions with beef are actually Cottage pies whereas a true Shepherd’s pie, as the name suggests, should contain lamb… generally ground cooked lamb that is leftover from a roast.

The basic pie consists simply of ground meat (usually with added onion) baked under a topping of mashed potato. There are endless permutations on the theme, however, involving a whole host of diverse additions. Peas are quite common; as are carrots, and celery, and quite a few recipes add cheese to the potatoes. My mother used to make a version with applesauce in the meat mix and I love it this way, especially with corn niblets added. For this current, experiment, however, I want to go back to the basics and make a very traditional, simple pie… 

Roast leg of Lamb, as I wrote in an earlier post, was our Easter dinner this year. There is much more meat on a leg than my wife could possibly eat in one or even two sittings and I bought the leg with the idea of making a traditional Shepherd’s pie with the leftovers. It is possible, of course, to chop the remaining meat by hand but a meat-grinder, like my trusty one above, makes the job much easier and produces better results.

The Filling

  • 5 cups of ground leftover lamb meat
  • 1 ½ cups of onion chopped medium fine
  • ½ cup of flour
  • 2 tbsp. Sage
  • 1 – 2 tsp. Thyme
  • 1 tbsp. Salt
  • 1 tbsp. ground black pepper

I actually had 7 cups of lamb after grinding the remains of our leg roast but only 5 cups are required for this dish and I will be using the other for another experiment to be posted in due course…

Put the meat and onion in a large bowl and then begin adding the flour a little at a time, mixing until all the meat and onion pieces are individually coated. You may not need all the flour and, in fact, I had a tablespoon or so leftover. Next, mix in the seasonings and then stir in three or four tablespoons of water until the mixture is ever so slightly damp. Set it aside.

The Topping

  • 3 *big* potatoes
  • ¼ to ½ cup cream
  • Salt
  • 3 tbsp. butter

The amount of potatoes shown above will give a pretty thick topping (which I like). If you prefer it thinner, you can probably get away with only two potatoes of the size of the ones shown above. Boil the potatoes in salted water then mash with enough of the cream to make a nice smooth mix, saving a tablespoon or two of the cream for the final assembly. Next, add the butter and a few extra pinches of salt. You can then let them cool a little but it is a lot easier to assemble the pie whilst they still retain some heat.

The Final Steps

 

Pour the filling into a baking dish and press it down evenly.

Spread the topping over the meat and then smooth it out. Let it cool down and then brush the surface with the remaining cream so it will brown nicely. Take a fork and use the tines to make even furrows across the top. This will look attractive and also help the top get just a little crispy as well. At this point, you can set the dish aside until you are ready to cook.

When you are ready, heat the oven to 375-degrees, cover the dish with foil and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and let it cook for another 20 to 30 minutes, checking frequently. If the top starts to get too brown you can re-cover it with the foil. Finally, remove from the oven and let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes before serving.

The Verdict

Well, I ate way too much… Shepherd’s Pie is one of those comfort foods that I cannot resist and I always end up putting away more than I should. To be honest though, as well as this turned out, I think I have been spoiled by years of various additions and embellishments. I liked this, as did my wife, but on my next pie I am going to go back to adding the applesauce and corn again…

4 thoughts on “Experiment: Shepherd’s Pie”

  1. Oh how delicious looking. This is one that I would love to make. I have had it in restaurants and love it. But not sure if I can convince my family to eat it – they hate mashed potatoes. How can anyone hate mashed potatoes?

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