“Best Shepherd’s Pie Ever” may be a big claim to make, but this one - technically a cottage pie - is definitely a contender.
Originally posted March 23, 2012. Updated 3/18/2023
As an Irish Canadian, I’ve eaten my fair share of comforting shepherd’s pie - and cottage pie.
As a recipe developer, I’ve tinkered with my classic recipe many, many times. I’ve done a “Thanksgiving Leftovers” version.
I’ve made a cottage pie with moose meat, partridgeberries, and wine.
Boeuf Bourguignon hybrid pie, cottage pie with caribou meat... yeah, you could call me a connoisseur!
So, when I say that this version of the popular comfort food is the best ever - know that there’s a lot of experience behind the claim!
The Best Shepherd’s Pie Ever!
In keeping with the Irish theme, I didn’t make this hearty dish “American Style” - you’ll notice there is no creamed corn, and no cheese.
Instead of the more common choices of corn and frozen peas, I decided to go more “Irish Canadian” with this simple recipe, using carrots, parsnips, and turnips - a very popular set of veggies on the East Coast of Canada, which is heavily Irish.
For many/most people out that way, those root vegetables are served at least weekly, as part of “Sunday Dinner” - very traditional.
As an additional nod to the Irish-Canadianness of it, you’ll notice the use of Summer Savory.
The savoury that grows in the hills of Newfoundland is the best savory I’ve ever had. It’s commonly used in soups, on poultry, in stuffing/dressing, on pork... yum.
If you’re a foodie and have a chance to get your hands on some Mt. Scio brand savoury... send me some, too!
While shepherd’s pie really isn’t anything elegant to look at, no matter what the ingredients, this one has an elegant taste to it.
The use of the root vegetables in combination with these seasonings provides an awesome merge of flavors... truly, I think I’ve come up with the ideal cottage pie here!
Keto Shepherd’s Pie
PS: I've since come up with a KETO Shepherd's Pie, loosely based on this recipe. SO good!
I’ll be the first to admit that the ingredient list for my classic shepherd’s pie recipe may look a little intimidating, but it’s just the *length*.
They’re all simple ingredients that you’re likely to have on hand, and - if not - you’ll easily find in grocery stores.
A few notes for you:
“Shepherd's pie” has become kind of the default name for this kind of ground meat pie - in North America, anyway.
Those in the United Kingdom would be adamant that - when ground beef is used - that this comforting dish is actually a cottage pie.
Technically, an authentic shepherd’s pie requires the use of ground lamb for the meat filling. Sheep, shepherd... you know.
Personally, I make this with lean ground beef, as ground lamb can be prohibitively expensive, isn’t something I tend to have on hand, and - a lot of the time - the grocery store doesn’t even have it.
Way back when, this post was developed to be a shepherd’s pie, but was changed to a cottage pie at the last minute.
After a morning of shopping for ingredients, I chose convenience over nomenclature.
That said, you can make this recipe with beef or lamb. Sometimes I’ll double the meat, and use a pound each of beef and pork.
I’ve also made it with ground chicken and ground turkey in place of the ground beef - it’s all good.
As a kid, I made my easy shepherd’s pie recipe with leftover mashed potatoes, but for this recipe... I’m more intentional 🙂
I like to use red potatoes for the mashed potato recipe, with or without the skins.
When it’s just for me and my husband, I leave the skins on. Not only do they taste great and have more nutrition, but I’m lazy like that!
When I’m making it for mixed company, I’ll generally peel the potatoes, as I find many people prefer creamy mashed potatoes, without the inclusion of the skins.
Yukon Gold potatoes are a great substitution if needed / desired, but I don’t make it with Russet potatoes. I find that Russet potatoes get too waterlogged to make great mashed potatoes.
If you need to avoid nightshades, you can make this with sweet potatoes - I just recommend roasting or microwaving them, rather than boiling them.
Growing up, shepherd’s pie involved different canned or frozen vegetables - green beans, frozen peas, creamed corn.
In developing this original recipe, I like to use fresh veggies - specifically root vegetables: Onion, carrot, parsnip, turnip.
If you have a food processor with a grating attachment, getting these veggies ready will be a snap. If you have to grate them by hand - trust me, it’s worth the effort in the end!
If you’re not into one of these ingredients, just increase the amount of one of the others a bit to compensate for the lost volume. For example, if you leave the turnip out, add another carrot or parsnip. Easy!
I also use fresh garlic cloves and fresh parsley as aromatics.
You can use either chicken broth or beef broth to make the flavorful gravy - I’ll generally let the choice of meat dictate the choice of broth.
When I’m using beef, pork, moose, etc, I’ll use beef broth. If I’m using chicken, turkey, lamb, etc, I’ll use chicken broth.
Vegetable broth works, too.
While some people use whole milk, I prefer to use both butter and sour cream in the mashed potato topping, to bring some fat and flavor to the potatoes.
Feel free to use a plant-based alternative, if you need to make your shepherd’s pie dairy free.
Herbs & Seasonings
Sometimes I’ll toss a Bay Leaf in, just be sure to remove it before spreading the meat mixture in the pan, if you use one.
If you don’t have summer savory, feel free to use a little dried thyme instead.
Also, when it’s summer, sometimes I’ll swap out the dried herbs, in favour of fresh rosemary and fresh thyme from the garden.
I’ll usually just do this to taste, not bothering to measure.
Finally, you’ll need a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and corn starch.
Optionally, feel free to toss some shredded Parmesan cheese on top, just before broiling. I usually don’t bother, because it’s already got a LOT going on!
How to Make the Best Shepherd’s Pie
The full recipe is in the recipe card at the end of this post, here is a pictorial walk through.
Peel potatoes if you want to (I don’t!), chop into a 2-inch dice. Boil in a large pot of salted water until tender.
Add onions, cook until tender and translucent.
Add ground beef, brown all over, stirring and breaking up meat chunks into small pieces, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Turn burner down to medium heat.
Once meat is cooked through and veggies are tender, whisk together broth and corn starch until smooth.
Pour over the beef mixture, stir well to combine.
Remove from heat.
Mash/whip for 30 seconds or so, until potatoes have broken down a bit. .
Add butter, and broth, continue to beat until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Note: I’ll usually place the baking dish on a baking sheet, just in case anything boils over. Much easier to clean a pan (especially if you line it with aluminum foil!), than it is to clean your oven!
Transfer meat mixture to pan, spreading to form an even layer.
Once cooled to room temperature, leftovers can be covered (if the casserole dish has a well-fitting lid), or transferred to an airtight container and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.
To reheat, place in a microwave-safe container or dish, and heat in the microwave until it’s as hot as you want it.
More St Patrick's Day Recipes
Looking for more fun, tasty recipes to serve on St Paddy's Day? Here are a few fun Irish - and Irish-inspired - recipes to try:
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The Best Shepherd’s Pie Recipe Ever!
- 2 lbs Red potatoes
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 Small Onion peeled and grated
- 1 lb Lean Ground Beef Substitute ground lamb for true “Shepherd’s Pie”
- 1 Large Carrot peeled and grated
- 1 Parsnip peeled and grated
- 1 Small Turnip peeled and grated
- 2 Garlic Cloves minced or pressed
- ¾ cup Beef Broth
- 1 tablespoon Corn Starch
- ½ teaspoon Dried Rosemary
- ½ teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
- ½ teaspoon Summer Savory
- ¼ teaspoon Salt
- ¼ cup Fresh Parsley chopped
- 3 tablespoon Butter
- ¾ cup Sour Cream
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Peel potatoes if you have to (I don’t!), chop into 2″ chunks. Boil in a large pot of water until tender.
- While potatoes are boiling, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add onions, cook until tender and translucent.
- Add ground beef, brown all over, stirring and breaking up meat chunks frequently.
- Add the grated carrot, parsnip, and turnip, as well as the garlic, stirring well to combine.
- Once meat is cooked through and veggies are tender, whisk together broth and corn starch until smooth.
- Pour over meat and veg mixture, season with rosemary, pepper, savory, salt, and parsley. Stir until well combined and broth mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat.
- Once potatoes are tender, drain and transfer to a large bowl – I like to use my stand mixer. Mash/whip for 30 seconds or so, until potatoes have broken down a bit. .
- Add butter, and broth, continue to beat until smooth. Season with salt and pepper
- Preheat broiler to high, spray a 9 x 13" baking pan with nonstick spray
- Transfer meat mixture to pan, spreading to form an even layer.
- Spread potato mixture evenly over the meat mixture, broil until potatoes are as browned as you would like them.
- Serve immediately, or cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap, and chill