British Pie Week | Shepherd’s Pie

March 7th to 13th is British Pie week, leading up to Pi (π) Day on March 14th. Britain is well known for its dazzling array or delicious pies, most of which are crusted in pastry. However, a subset are encased in smooth-on-the-inside, crisp-on-the-outside mashed potato, including cottage pie, fish pie, and the delectable shepherd’s pie.

The history of these dishes begins with cottage pie in the 1800s. When British peasants were able to get meat, they would roast it, and the leftovers would be layered with mashed potatoes so they could be stretched into another meal. This was amidst the backdrop of an increase in popularity of the potato as a staple crop around the UK and Ireland. The peasants lived in cottages, hence the term ‘cottage pie’. Initially referring to a potato encrusted pie containing any meat (beef, pork, chicken, or whatever meat was available), nowadays cottage pie normally means beef.

Shepherd’s pie, as the name implies, is a variant of cottage pie that uses exclusively lamb or mutton (because… well… shepherds look after sheep). So if your pie has beef, it’s cottage, and if it has lamb it belongs to the shepherds.

Whichever meat is used, sandwiched between layers of buttery potato and baked in the oven is a delicious way to consume any meat sauce. Here’s our recipe for Shepherd’s pie.

First, make your mash. Boil or steam your potatoes until done, then mash them with a potato ricer or traditional masher.

Passing the potatoes through a potato ricer to get a nice, smooth mash.
Mash your potatoes. A potato ricer gives a guaranteed smooth consistency, but a traditional masher is fine!

Mix your mash with butter, cheese, salt and pepper to taste, then set aside for later.

Adding the extra ingredients to the mash.
The potatoes are flavoured with butter, cheese, salt and pepper.

Brown the lamb in a frying pan with some oil, salt and pepper, and set aside.

Ground lamb is browning in a pan over a high heat.
Colour means flavour! Brown your lamb.

Add the onions and carrots to the pan, and cook for 5 minutes until the onions become transparent. Add crushed garlic and herbs, cook another 2 minutes, then add some flour and mix in.

After the onions and carrots have cooked out a little, we added some flour ready for mixing in.
Adding flour helps the gravy thicken.

Next add the lamb back to the pan, add some chicken stock and some Worcestershire sauce, and simmer for 2 minutes.

A bottle of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce held above the pan containing the vegetables, meat and stock. The orange label is a common sight in the British pantry.
Lea & Perrins is the classic brand of Worcestershire sauce that Brits know and love.

Now it’s time to assemble your pie. Spread one third of your potato mix on the bottom of a 13½ x 9½ inch baking dish, sprinkle with some cheese.

The bottom layer of the pie - potatoes with s light sprinkling of cheddar cheese.
The bottom layer of potato is a traditional part of a Shepherd’s pie, but is often skipped nowadays. We at the British Cooking Channel like it, and think it should come back into fashion!

Top with the meat sauce, then the rest of the potato. Make some ridges in the potato with a fork, so they can go nice and brown in the oven. Finally, add the rest of the cheese.

The assembled pie, with deep ridges in the upper layer of mashed potato achieved by dragging a for across the top, and finished with a sprinkling of the rest of the cheese.
Ready to go in the oven.

Put in a hot 400˚F/200˚C oven for 20 minutes, then it should be ready to serve.

The cooked shepherd's pie, with the ridges nicely browned.
Delicious, brown, bubbling, Shepherd’s pie.

Now your Shepherd’s Pie is ready to serve – enjoy with a boiled or steamed vegetable on the side.

A portion of shepherd's pie on a plate, with steamed broccolini on the side. Delicious!
Shepherd’s Pie, served with steamed broccolini.


SERVES: 10       PREP: 10 minutes       COOK: 40 minutes       TOTAL: 50 minutes

2.2lb potatoes
Butter to taste (here we have ~1.5 cups)
Cheddar cheese to taste (here we have ~1.5 cups)
1.1 lb ground lamb
2 medium onions, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 tbsp crushed garlic
1 tbsp chopped rosemary
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock (or lamb stock if you have it!)
A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce (if unavailable, substitute with oyster sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, Maggi seasoning, or skip altogether)

1) Peel the potatoes, dice into 2 inch cubes, and place in cold salted water. Bring the water to a boil, and cook until a knife goes in without resistance (around 10-15 minutes).
2) Drain the potatoes, then mash with the butter, half the cheese, salt and pepper.
3) Fry the lamb over a high heat with a little oil until browned all over, then take out and set aside.
4) Fry the chopped onions and carrot until the onion turns translucent, around 5 minutes.
5) Add the crushed garlic and rosemary, and continue to cook until the raw garlic smell goes away, around 2 minutes. Add the flour and mix in well.
6) Add the lamb back in to the vegetables, and add the chicken stock and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes, then get ready to assemble your pie.
7) Spread a third of the mashed potato on the bottom of a 13½ x 9½ inch baking dish, then top with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese and the meat sauce.
8) Add the remainder of the potatoes on top, smooth out to cover the pie, then make some ridges with a fork. Top with the rest of the cheese and bake in a preheated 400˚F/200˚C oven for 20 minutes.
9) If, after the 20 minutes, your pie could use a little more browning, put it under the broiler for a minute or two.
10) Serve your shepherd’s pie with vegetables on the side. Enjoy!

Shepherd’s pie is mostly just served with a vegetable on the side. A common and slightly fancy accompaniment is steamed or boiled broccolini, but plain broccoli, steamed carrots, and boiled peas are often served alongside shepherd’s pie. Choose what you like, and bonus points if it is in season!

Shepherd’s pie is a versatile dish. Swap the meat to beef, and you have a cottage pie, or swap it to fish and you have a fish pie. The meat sauce can be flavoured as you wish (for example with Indian spices like cumin, turmeric, coriander and chilli powder), and sometimes includes tomatoes and red wine. The potatoes can be switched for sweet potatoes. And the pie can be turned into a vegetable pie (“Gardiner’s Pie”, anyone?) by swapping the meat sauce for a sauce made of vegetables, or vegetables and lentils or beans. Long story short: if you put a delicious sauce in between layers of silky mashed potatoes, you know it’s going to taste good.

Shepherd’s pie is easy to make in advance, making it the ultimate convenient comfort food. After making the meat sauces and mashed potato, you can assemble it and store it in the fridge for up to 3 days before baking. As it will be starting out cold instead of warm, it just needs to be cooked for longer – approximately 40 minutes at 400˚F/200˚C, or until the middle of the pie is hot and the top is browned. If you wish to freeze the shepherd’s pie, it is best to cook it first then freeze as individual portions. These can then be baked in the oven, or reheated from frozen in the microwave for 8 minutes or until piping hot in the centre.

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