This letter of the alphabet has been simmering on the back burner for a while now. Months ago, someone told me that although Trader Joe’s (my favorite grocery store) typically stocks tasty frozen dinners, their shepherd’s pie was thoroughly disappointing. He insisted that he could make a better one, and seeing as he enjoys cooking about as much as a trip to the dentist, I thought if he could, why couldn’t I?
But first, I wanted to do my research. During our conversation, we debated whether the beef should be ground, as he claimed, or shredded, like in TJ’s version, and I wanted mine to be as authentic as possible. Turns out both were wrong.
A traditional Irish shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb. A different variation, called cottage pie, uses ground beef, and its name stems from the potato topping being sliced and arranged over the meat like shingles on a cottage roof.
Well, that made my life interesting. As if pork tenderloin and turkey weren’t enough, here was yet another meat for me to attempt to make… The only way to face my fear is to cook it, right? Since the closest grocery store didn’t carry ground lamb, I climbed in my car and drove across town until I found my meat.
Back at home, I pulled the rest of the ingredients out of the fridge and began chopping away. I looked like I was doing my own little Irish jig as I danced around the kitchen, mashing potatoes with one hand, sautéing veggies with the other, and nearly spilling flour all over the counter in the process. A sprinkling of spices here, a taste test there, and soon enough, my shepherd’s pie was ready to bake in the oven.
After waiting for 25 years (okay, it just felt that long), the potatoes finally turned a satisfactory golden brown, so I pulled out the pie and impatiently waited for it to cool to the point where I wouldn’t burn every single taste bud on my tongue. Although I can’t prove it because I destroyed all of the evidence when I licked the bowl clean, I still think it’s safe to say my shepherd’s pie would beat TJ’s any day.
Most recipes call for beef broth, but vegetable was what I had on hand. I sprinkled the seasonings as I went, so adjust the amounts to your liking. (But it’s better to err on the side of too much spice rather than not enough!)
⅕ lb ground lamb
1-2 small white or yellow potatoes
1 small pat of butter
3-4 tsp milk (or more, for creamier mashed potatoes)
¼ onion, diced
4 baby carrots, diced
3 tbsp frozen peas
⅜ tsp dried thyme
⅛ + ¼ tsp salt, divided
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp flour
¼ c. vegetable broth
- Peel the potatoes and cut into a ½” dice. Stick potato cubes in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, reduce to a simmer, and let potatoes cook for about 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain into a colander and pour potatoes into a bowl. Heat butter and milk in the microwave for 10-15 seconds, add to potatoes, and mash until smooth. Sprinkle with ⅛ tsp salt.
- While potatoes cook, add lamb to a medium skillet. Cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, or until no longer pink and beginning to brown. Line a plate with paper towels. Drain excess grease and scoop meat onto the prepared plate.
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- Wipe remaining grease from the pan, and add 1-2 tsp olive oil. Add onions and cook over medium-low heat for 5-6 minutes, until translucent and beginning to brown. Add carrots and peas and cook for another 4-5 minutes. Return lamb to the pan, and sprinkle with ¼ tsp salt, pepper, and thyme. Mix well.
- Add flour and sauté for another 2 minutes. Pour in broth, bring to a simmer, and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until sauce begins to thicken.
- Pour lamb mixture into a 10 oz ramekin. Top with mashed potatoes, making sure that the potatoes are touching the sides to prevent any sauce from bubbling up. Cook at 400° for 25 minutes until potatoes are golden. Let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.