Shepherd’s Pie was a favorite with my brother and me when we were growing up. My mom would often make it after Thanksgiving, when we had a lot of leftover turkey meat, or with fresh ground beef on Winter evenings as a hot, sustaining one-pot meal to warm us up. She sent me the recipe earlier this year, but unfortunately, I lost it when my computer crashed this summer (before I had a chance to try it out). I did try to guess at it once this summer, but the results were less than satisfactory.
Not wanting to call and bother my mom an hour before dinner last night, I called in the help of alternate sources (aka the internet). The following recipe is based mostly on my mother’s tips (which mainly pertain to the seasoning of the meat and the preparation of perfect, creamy, golden-topped potatoes) with the help of this recipe and this one for a few tips in terms of proportions and method. My mother’s Shepherd’s Pie usually keeps the meat separate from the vegetables, and so even though I decided to mix most of my vegetables (carrots and mushrooms) in with the meat for further flavor, I added a layer of canned corn on top for tradition’s sake (in reality, it all crumbles and mixes in together when you serve the dish, so it doesn’t matter, but I think it looks slightly prettier in the glass pan with more than just two layers). The dried herbs and the sprinkle of fresh cilantro on top were additions that don’t appear in my mom’s dish (I didn’t exactly follow the seasonings suggested in either of the internet recipes because I wanted to use whatever I had on hand). Also, I substituted flour for cornstarch because I forgot to add a thickener until I’d already stuck the meat in the pan (if I were going to do it like she does, I would’ve tossed the meat in a little cornstarch before cooking). My mom’s two key secrets – soy sauce in the meat, and an egg wash on top of the potatoes to make them golden brown – I kept.
The result was DELICIOUS, if a little richer than the version I’m used to from home. If I were to make it again, I’d try pre-boiling the carrots a little because they didn’t soften adequately in the oven, and I would also use my mom’s cornstarch technique so that I wouldn’t have to cook the meat in so much butter. I will have to ask my mom for her exact recipe again sometime soon, and make it, to compare.
1/2 pound of red-skinned potatoes (the exact # depends on the size)
1 pound of lean ground beef*
2-3 carrots (depending on their size), peeled and chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1/2 cup of sliced, cooked mushrooms (any kind; I used canned button mushrooms)
1 8 oz. can of yellow corn, drained
1 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk
4 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper (to taste)
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Wash the potatoes and chop them into 1-inch pieces (no need to peel them; the red skins taste great in the mash and are good for you, too!). Put them into a pot and add enough cold water to cover them. Boil them on the stove until very soft; in the meantime, prepare the meat.
2. Put olive oil and a tablespoon of butter into a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the onions and carrots and saute until the onions are translucent.
3. Crumble the ground beef into the pan and sprinkle or sift the flour over the mixture. Stir well to make sure that everything is well coated and the flour doesn’t form any lumps. Before the meat gets too brown, add in a few generous dashes of your dried spices, several vigorous glugs of soy sauce, a pinch of sugar, and your salt and pepper. Stir everything in and let the meat continue to brown. Just before it is done, add in your mushrooms and stir again.
4. Remove the meat mixture from the heat and transfer it to the bottom of a 9×9 inch casserole dish, packing and smoothing it down as you go as if you were making a meatloaf. Top the meat with the drained corn, making sure to spread the kernels out so that they cover the entire surface. Let this mixture sit while you mash your potatoes.
5. Drain the cooked potatoes into a colander in the sink, and then transfer the spuds back to the empty pot (sans water). Begin mashing them a little with a fork to get them soft. Cube the rest of your butter to make it easier to incorporate, and dump that into the pot with some salt and pepper (taste as you go). Continue to mash more until it becomes somewhat smooth. At this point, add the milk a little at a time, mashing and tasting as you go (and correcting for flavor as necessary – e.g. if it tastes like it needs more salt, add it!). Stop adding milk when the potatoes have reached a fluffy, creamy consistency but are still somewhat firm (you don’t want them to become potato soup!) Spread the mashed potatoes on top of the meat and corn that are already in the casserole dish.
6. Beat an egg with a dash of milk (if there’s some left) and brush it over the surface of the potatoes. The egg wash will help the pie to develop a pretty golden brown color. My mom likes to sprinkle some paprika over the top for color, but I didn’t have any, so I did without.
7. Bake the dish in your 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes; then, turn on the broiler for another 5-10 minutes to let the top get nice and brown before taking it out. (Hint: keep the oven door open and WATCH THE DISH THE WHOLE TIME. Stuff will burn really quickly under the broiler if you’re not careful!)
8. Sprinkle the top with some chopped cilantro, cut into rough squares (or rectangles), and plate up! You might want to use a large spoon for this rather than a spatula, because the meat at the bottom will crumble as you scoop into it, and you want to be able to catch all of the nice brown gravy at the bottom, too.
* Note: you can make this dish with pretty much any leftover meat. However, it’s just as good with fresh meat cooked in this way. Traditionally, Shepherd’s Pie uses ground lamb, but my family’s always made it with beef. (You can also switch out the veggies as is convenient).
This dish tastes just as good the next day! Just store the leftovers in the casserole pan with some foil over the top, and when you’re ready to reheat them, stick the pan in a 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until it’s piping hot. As for what it looks like in the pan…
Mmmm…see? So yummy. I didn’t have the time to take a photo of it straight out of the oven. This baby is hard to keep intact for very long!