Shepherd’s pie, a dish often associated with Ireland, was designed as a way to make the most of leftovers. It transforms already prepared meat and potatoes into a new meal that will feed the whole family. It’s an ideal dinner idea if you happen to have mashed potatoes you would like to use up, but it’s simple enough to make every layer from scratch.
Before I share my recipe, I want to be clear that I know this is not shepherd’s pie. True shepherd’s pie is made with lamb. If you use beef, you’re making cottage pie. I use ground turkey and try as I might, I couldn’t come up with a likable name for this recipe. Regardless, the versatility of this method is one of my favorite things about it. You can make a vegetarian version or Mediterranean version and you’ll still get to enjoy a hearty meal that makes enough to feed a crowd.
With a recipe as traditional as shepherd’s pie, I like to start by consulting my Fanny Farmer Cookbook. I am not kidding when I tell you that she says to take three cups of cooked lamb and run it through your meat grinder with herbs. Although I know that’s probably an effective method, I buy my raw meat ground and go from there. Lamb pairs nicely with rosemary, but in my opinion poultry is best with sage.
Preheat your oven to 375 F. Put a big pot of salted water on the stove and peel and quarter four yellow potatoes—any kind will do, but Yukon Gold is great because they don’t get to starchy. Once the water is boiling, add the potatoes and cook until tender. Drain well. I took 1-2 TBSP of some leftover Three Herb Butter and sautéed chopped onion (from one large yellow onion), 2 large cloves of minced garlic, and 1 ½ lbs of ground turkey (mix of dark and white meat) in a large skillet over medium heat. I added about 1 tsp of dried sage and salt and pepper to taste. Regular butter will work well in the recipe, and you can alter the amount of herbs based on your personal preference. Once the meat is browned and the onions are translucent, transfer the meat to a 9 X 13” glass casserole dish.
In the same skillet, melt 4 TBSP butter and stir in 2 TBSP flour. Cook over medium heat for at least 5 minutes to mellow out the raw flour taste. Slowly add 1/3 cup of chicken broth while stirring. Stir and cook until the gravy thickens, then add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the gravy evenly over the layer of meat. Some day I will use this incredible Chanterelle Mushroom Gravy in this recipe, but this time simple won out over gourmet.
The vegetable layer is optional, believe it or not. I peeled and sliced 4 medium carrots and steamed them with one small bag of frozen peas until they were still firm, but slightly cooked. Add that layer over the layer of meat.
Finally, place the potatoes back into the pot and add ¼ cup of butter. Place over low heat until the butter melts. Remove from heat and use a hand masher until the potatoes are soft and the butter is incorporated. At this point, you can add milk or broth until you have a consistency you like. I had crème fraiche to use up, so I added about ¼ cup to the potato mixture. I like thick mashed potatoes in this recipe because they are going back in the oven and I want them to hold up. Add salt and pepper to taste, then spread an even layer on top of the vegetables. Make a cross-hatched pattern with your fork if you like, then top with pepper and bake for 35-40 minutes, until bubbling and slightly browned.
That’s it! This dish serves 8-10 and keeps well for up to a week. If you have a name suggestion, I would love to hear it in the comments.