Traditional Shepherds Pie

A serving of traditional shepherd's pie on a white plate.

Traditional shepherds pie is a hearty baked casserole of ground or minced lamb, and veggies in a simple gravy layered with mashed potatoes. This classic recipe makes a cozy meal the entire family will clamor for.

lamb shepherd's pie served with a green salad.

This is one of our favorite ground lamb recipes because it’s rich and savory, ideal for cold nights. Another is lamb meatballs, served with a simple cucumber tzatziki sauce.

Recipes for shepherd’s pie date back to the 1700s and 1800s. It is a simple, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs dish that makes the most of basic ingredients like potatoes and mutton.

Mutton isn’t commonly available in most markets in the U.S., so I opted for ground lamb in this recipe.

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Many people assume that the traditional shepherd’s pie recipe is made with ground beef. However, it refers to the shepherds who tended their flocks of sheep (not cows).

A similar dish made with ground beef is called cottage pie – named for the cottages or crofts that poorer English lived in at the time.

Why you’ll love this recipe:

  • It uses everyday ingredients with nothing fancy.
  • It’s customizable to your tastes.
  • Can be made ahead.
  • You can freeze this old-fashioned shepherd’s pie.

Ingredients:

  • Mirepoix – (a mix of carrots, onions and celery)
  • Olive Oil – you don’t need anything fancy; your everyday cooking oil is fine.
  • Kosher Salt – I use Diamond Crystal, which is less salty by volume than Morton’s. If you have Morton’s, use about ⅓ less to avoid oversalting the casserole.
  • Black Pepper – freshly ground will give you the best flavor.
  • Thyme – I use 1½ teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves, but you can use one teaspoon of dried.
  • Rosemary – I use 1½ teaspoons of fresh, but you can swap for one teaspoon of dried.
  • Ground Lamb – Look for it near the ground beef and pork – it may be packaged in cubes rather than the traditional styrofoam trays.
  • All Purpose Flour – for thickening the gravy for the shepherd’s pie recipe.
  • Worcestershire Sauce – I use Lea & Perrins; just a few dashes deepen the savory flavor of the gravy.
  • Pinch Nutmeg – optional, but good.
  • Parsley – to give a pop of freshness; also makes a nice garnish.
  • Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes – you can use my recipe for mashed potatoes or frozen potatoes for convenience.
  • Butter – you just need a few pats for the top of the casserole.

Step-by-step directions:

Sweating the vegetables in olive oil.
  1. In a large skillet, sweat the carrots, onions and celery in olive oil and season with half of the kosher salt until they are softened, about 10-12 minutes. Do not brown the vegetables.
Adding herbs and seasonings to the mirepoix.

2. Stir in the rosemary, thyme and some black pepper and cook for a minute or so until the herbs are fragrant.

Add the lamb.

3. Add the lamb to the skillet and break it up using a wooden spoon or a fork. Cook until the lamb is browned. Strain off the excess fat.

Adding flour to the ground lamb.

4. Sprinkle the browned meat with flour and stir to coat.

Seasoning the meat.

5. Season the ground lamb with the remainder of the kosher salt, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce and grated nutmeg (if using).

Adding beef broth.

6. Slowly stir in the beef broth and cook over medium-high heat until the broth boils and starts to thicken.

Adding frozen peas and parsley.

7. Stir in the frozen peas and freshly chopped parsley.

spreading mashed potatoes over the ground lamb.

8. Transfer the ground lamb mixture to a casserole dish, then spread the mashed potatoes in an even layer over the lamb mixture.

dot the shepherd's pie with butter.

9. Dot the potatoes with butter. Place the casserole dish on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any drips) and bake for 30-35 minutes.

A traditional shepherds pie after baking.

10. To add extra browning to the surface, turn the oven to the broiler setting and broil for 2-3 minutes until golden.

Pro-Tips:

  • I recommend using a low-sodium version of a store-bought beef broth or stock. Regular beef stock is high in salt and can easily overpower the gravy for the shepherd’s pie. If you only have regular beef broth, don’t salt the vegetables or ground lamb until you’ve added the broth. Taste for seasoning, and only add salt if it needs it.
  • I recommend baking the casserole on a rimmed baking sheet to catch spills or splatters. The lamb mixture will bubble while cooking and can easily leak over the rim of a casserole dish.
  • For company, I like to fill individual ramekin dishes with a 1½ to 2-cup capacity. (I find this fun and more sophisticated than serving traditional shepherd’s pie family style, especially to guests.
Sprinkling parsley on the traditional shepherd's pie.

Variations:

  • You can use other minced meats in place of ground lamb. Try it with ground beef for a Cottage Pie.
  • Try it with ground turkey or chicken for a slightly leaner version, and swap the beef broth for low-sodium chicken broth (note, I don’t recommend using all white meat poultry as it can be dry).
  • For a vegetarian shepherds pie, substitute 32 ounces of chopped button or cremini mushrooms and saute down to release their liquid. Use vegetable stock instead of beef.
  • For gluten-free shepherd’s pie, don’t use the flour. Instead, combine two teaspoons of cornstarch with one tablespoon of water and mix to form a slurry. Add to the ground lamb mixture and bring it to a boil, while stirring until the gravy is sauce-like.
  • Add other vegetables, like chopped rutabaga, turnips, parsnips or frozen green beans or corn.
Scooping up the shepherd's pie with gravy and vegetables.

Make ahead, storage & freezing

Make ahead:

  • Assemble the shepherd’s pie up to a day ahead and keep it covered in the fridge.
  • Remove the casserole about 45 minutes before baking, so the ingredients come to room temperature. (If you transfer the dish directly from the fridge to the oven, you may need to add baking time to the dish).

Storage:

  • Store leftovers in the same casserole dish and cover well with plastic wrap for 5-7 days.
  • Reheat at 350° covered with tin foil to prevent drying out.

Freezing:

  • You can freeze the assembled dish by wrapping it well in plastic wrap, followed by freezer paper, for up to 2 months.
  • Thaw before baking.
A plate with a serving of shepherd's pie.

FAQs

Is shepherd’s pie Irish?

Shepherd’s pie originated in the British Isles by thrifty homemakers looking to stretch their larders by turning leftovers into another meal. Some argue that traditional shepherd’s pie is a Scottish dish, but Ireland encompasses a large part of the British Isles, so it’s entirely possible that this recipe is Irish.

Is shepherds pie gluten-free?

It can be. I’ve given instructions for a gluten-free version in the Variations section of this post.

What goes with traditional Shepherd’s Pie?

More Comfort food recipes:

Serving shepherd's pie with a side salad.
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5 from 9 votes

Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd’s Pie is a cozy, old-fashioned casserole made from ground lamb, mashed potatoes and everyday vegetables. This layered meat and potatoes pie, is easy to make, especially with leftover mashed potatoes on hand.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Main Course
Cuisine English
Keyword casserole, lamb, leftover mashed potatoes
Dietary Restrictions Egg Free
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Servings 4

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:

  • 1 10-12″ skillet with a lid
  • 1 8 x 8″ casserole dish

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots peeled and chopped into ½” pieces
  • 2 stalks celery peeled and chopped into ½” pieces
  • 1 cup yellow onion peeled and chopped into ½” pieces
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt divided
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper divided
  • teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ¾ cup low-sodium beef broth or chicken broth
  • pinch ground nutmeg optional
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • ¾ cup frozen peas
  • 3 cups mashed potatoes
  • 2 teaspoons butter cut into small pieces

DIRECTIONS:

  • Preheat the oven to 400° F
  • Heat a large skillet over medium-low to medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Tilt the pan to coat the bottom. Add the 2 medium carrots, 2 stalks celery, 1 cup yellow onion, ½1 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir to combine and cover the skillet. Sweat the vegetables for 10-12 minutes until they’re softened, but not browned.
  • Add ½1 teaspoon black pepper, 1½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, 1½ teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, heat and stir for one minute until fragrant.
  • Increase the temperature to medium-high and add 1 pound ground lamb. Break the lamb apart with a wooden spoon or the back of a fork. Cook until the meat is browned and fragrant.
  • Drain all but 1 tablespoon of excess fat from the browned lamb.
  • Sprinkle with 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour and cook, stirring constantly for one minute until the meat is coated and slightly pasty.
  • Stir in 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, ¾ cup low-sodium beef broth, a pinch ground nutmeg, the remaining ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and black pepper. Cook and stir until the sauce thickens slightly into a gravy-like consistency.
  • Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, and ¾ cup frozen peas. Transfer the lamb mixture to a 1½ quart casserole dish and spread into an even layer.
  • Dollop 3 cups mashed potatoes over the lamb mixture and spread it evenly over the casserole with a spoon or spatula. Sprinkle the top with dots of butter and bake for 30-35 minutes until the shepherd’s pie is heated through. Serve.

NUTRITION:

Calories: 598.26kcal | Carbohydrates: 50.77g | Protein: 26.08g | Fat: 32.59g | Saturated Fat: 13.47g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2.73g | Monounsaturated Fat: 14.01g | Trans Fat: 0.08g | Cholesterol: 88.16mg | Sodium: 854.58mg | Potassium: 1148.49mg | Fiber: 6.75g | Sugar: 6.64g | Vitamin A: 5670.47IU | Vitamin C: 56.77mg | Calcium: 75.51mg | Iron: 3.46mg

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21 Comments

  1. Glenda Trimmer says:

    Lisa,
    Just discovered your blog! We are old friends of your Mom and Dad’s, and knew you well as a baby when your Dad and Bill were stationed in San Diego, and then later living in Northern Virginia. I will enjoy following you. It is obvious you have your Mom’s gift for both cooking and writing…she is great at both.

    About the Shepherd’s Pie…your Mom made it all the time when we lived in San Diego and Bill raved about it. When I came across it on your blog, it made me smile.

    Hope your folk’s place in the Keys survived the storm, I have been thinking of them, and have misplaced your Mom’s cell #.

    Give your Mom and Dad our best!

    1. So nice to hear from you Glenda! That Shepherd’s Pie is a definite comfort dish in our house — and I have fond memories of it from my childhood. I’ll pass on Mom’s contact info for you.

    1. Thank you, Nicole! I’m glad you approve! Yes, it’s amazing what you can do with a piping bag! I’m a complete novice at that…

  2. Pat Stoddard says:

    5 stars
    Dang, auto correct didn’t correct my spelling.

  3. Pat Stoddard says:

    5 stars
    This is hands down the best sheperd’s pie I have ever eaten. Bud’s daughter and 5 year old granddaughter came for dinner. No trouble getting Gracie to eat her dinner and Jennifer and Bud were feeling overstuffed after the 3rd helping. I used dried herbs and fresh garlic and some frozen peas and corn because they had been in the freezer long enough. The recipe didn’t mention the garlic or peas but your pictures show peas. The potatoes were delicious with Chobani yogurt. I am a slow poke at everything I do. I’d like to know how long it took you to create this dish. I started at 3:15 and set the casserole on the table at 6:15.

    1. Hi Pat! So glad you enjoyed the Shepherd’s Pie! Thanks for catching the peas – I don’t know how I missed that, but I’ve fixed it. As far as active time in the kitchen, this took me about 1:15 — peeling, chopping, mashing, assembly etc. but when shooting this for the blog — it was a solid 4 hours.

  4. 5 stars
    This is such a great old timey comfort food. Love your small diced carrots and your mashed potatoes are so pretty!

  5. Luci's Morsels says:

    5 stars
    Now here is a meal I haven’t had in a long time. I love how beautiful this looks but so delicious too. I am going to add this to my list of recipes to try. Yummy!

  6. My mom hated her food touching, so she made all the elements separate. Now that I’m an adult, I mix them all up like this 🙂

  7. 5 stars
    I hadn’t made shepherds pied for such a long time and then I made it last week and everyone loved it. Of course mines wasn’t as bonnie as yours with the piped mash. Note to self, must try harder!

  8. 5 stars
    Yes indeed!! Shephard’s pie is truly a classic comfort dish. I always go for the mashed potatoes first and when I make it I usually pile on extra spuds. I’m just a gluten for carbs!

  9. Those potatoes do look pretty amazing! Such a wonderful comfort food. It was so sweet of him to check and see if you needed to photograph first 🙂 Sounds like you had a great time.

    1. He’s a good guy – he deserves his own casserole, don’t you think?

  10. 5 stars
    I love how pretty you got the potatoes to lay. I am horrible with those frosting bags…I always end up with a disaster on my hands when I try to use it.

    1. I’m not so great with them either, but it’s amazing how people respond to pastry tipped potatoes!