Shepherd’s Pie

I think British purists might insist that Shepherd’s Pie is made from “lamb mince” rather than ground beef, but here in the States everyone I know thinks of ground beef as the main ingredient to Shepherd’s Pie. In the UK this would be called Cottage Pie I believe. Lamb is not overly popular here I guess. I never ate it growing up. Maybe it’s different in different parts of the country. I can only speak for my West Coast upbringing. I do see lamb in the grocery store, but only know one family that cooks it regularly.

For me, Shepherd’s Pie means ground beef cooked with some onion, garlic, and spices, maybe with some added peas and carrots, topped with mashed potatoes. When I was perusing recipes tonight I saw various additions to the ground beef, including:

tomato sauce versus ketchup
different herbs (cumin was the one that stood out, as opposed to the more typical parsley, etc.)
onions and/or garlic cooked with the ground beef
Worcestershire sauce was a common addition, but not ubiquitous
liquid: varied from beef broth to white wine to red wine

Basically, brown the beef (and onions and garlic), add the herbs and liquid and simmer a few minutes. One recipe had oats added to stretch the beef. Another used a mixture of mashed turnips and potatoes.

Then there was the “thickener.” Some recipes had added cornstarch; some had sour cream stirred into the cooked ground beef.

I love seeing the patterns of recipes like this. It makes it so much easier for me to wing it and fix dinner based on what I have around, rather than strictly following some recipe. Mine came out delicious and was, as best as I can remember, based on:

Shepherd's Pie aka Cottage Pie

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup oats if you want to stretch the meal
  • 1 cup or more mixed frozen vegetables
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup red wine or beef broth
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • a few cups mashed potatoes
  • 1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
  • paprika

Brown the ground beef with the onions and garlic. Drain any accumulated fat. Rinse with hot water for extra fat-leaching or blot with a paper towel. Stir in the vegetables and seasonings (up to the sour cream) and cook a few more minutes to blend. Turn the heat off and stir in the sour cream.

Put the meat and vegetable mixture into a 9x9 pan. Spread the mashed potatoes over the top, then sprinkle the grated cheese on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle some paprika across the cheese.

Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes until heated through. Likewise, if your skillet is oven-proof you could just put the potatoes on top of the meat, top with the potatoes and cheese, and then put the whole skillet in the oven rather than dirtying another dish.


Half of this served 3 of us.



  1. Anonymous says:

    In the UK, Shepherd’s pie is made with lamb. If it is made with beef, it is called cottage pie. Other than the difference in meat, they are the same dish.

    Typically, they are made with a variety of country vegetables of your preference, or depending on the season.

    Alternatively, exists more moderly (1980s onwards), is a cheap and cheerful dinner for children – corned beef shepherd’s pie, a slight minsnomer as it’s made with beef mince and baked beans, with mashed potato on top.

  2. I don’t understand the aversion to lamb. I am a native of the Bay area born to Southern parents. Lamb is something that my parents like to have on a regular basis. I guess if you don’t have it as a child, you never really get a taste for it.

  3. I am first generation Canadian off of Scottish parents. I have totell you that lamb is not the integral ingredient here, however having tomato sauce or ketchup in a shepards pie is totally foreign to us. We have come to the conclusion that it is an american addition since no one of my parents friends or relatives ever made it with such.
    We all make it with beef gravy (bisto brand)and a heavy dash of worstershire.
    My auntie made it with veg in it but the only one my mum ever put it in was baked beans. This was not an all the time thing.. just when she had to stretch the recipe.

    None of us puts cheese on it either, but i think that is just the healthier more frugal option.