Shepherd’s Pie (my favorite comfort food dish)

Back in June, when we first started this site, I posted a number of old, favorite recipes including shepherd’s pie. When the air gets cool, Lisl and I find no comfort food more satisfying than this dish. My version was originally inspired by the Dean & Deluca cookbook, and I make it slightly differently almost every time. Tonight was no exception, so I’ll post tonight’s approach here and note the differences to the old recipe at the end.

Shepherd’s Pie

Mashed Potatoes (the top layer)
6 to 8 medium red or gold potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup milk (but be prepared to use more)
2 tbsp butter, cut into smaller pieces
handful of parsely, finely chopped

Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water until cooked all the way through. You can cut them into smaller pieces to speed cooking. Drain the potatoes, return to the pot, add the butter and mash. Add 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, the parsley and milk. Taste for salt. Add milk – your exact amount of milk will depend on size and number of potatoes. You want the mashed potatoes to be quite moist without crossing over into being liquid. (Frankly, I would say make the mashed potatoes the way you really love to make them; just don’t make it too dry as this all is going to bake before being served).

The Base
1 to 1.5 lb of ground beef
5 slices of bacon
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 large onion, chopped
5 or 6 carrots, finely chopped
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 tsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp dried oregano
pinch of red pepper flakes (spicy)

Cook the bacon in a large cast iron pan to the point where they are almost crispy, then remove and chop. Cook the ground beef in the bacon fat until browned, adding in 1/2 tsp of salt, 1 tbsp of worcestershire sauce, and the dried oregano. Once browned, remove to a bowl.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Add a splash of olive oil to the cast iron pan and saute the onions on medium-low heat until they start to turn translucent, then add the carrots. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then turn up the heat slightly and add the wine and tomato paste. Continue to cook, stirring regularly, for another 5 to 10 minutes, then add in the ground beef, chopped bacon, another tbsp of worcestershire sauce, another pinch of salt, and the pinch of red pepper flakes. Let this cook together for 5 or 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and taste for salt and oregano. You’ll note that I’m writing flexible cooking times, but I prefer more time when possible in order to let the carrots soften. If it starts to dry out, add a little more wine (or water or beef stock).

shepherds pie cut

Forming the Pie
Turn off the heat and flatten the mixture out. With a large ladel, place your mash potatoes on top carefully in dollops, trying not to allow the potatoes and meat base to mix. Take a fork, hold it mostly horizontal with the curve of the tines pointing down (like the bottom of a boat) and use this to spread the mashed potatoes around until it evenly covers the dish. I find that this allows you to spread the potatoes more delicately and thus prevents everything from mushing together. For aesthetics, I also like to use the tines of the fork to decorate the top with various patterns.

Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then turn on the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top, keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t burn. Let cool for 5 or 10 minutes, then serve.

A couple years ago, Lisl discovered that this goes really well with a side-sauce of ketchup and sriracha sauce mixed together evenly. If you don’t have Thai chili sauce, try Tabasco (if you like things spicy). This goes really well with a red shiraz or zinfandel, or a good beer.

In the original recipe, the exact quantities of several things were slightly different. The other version also added 2 tsp of flour to the beef while cooking, used rosemary rather than oregano, and vermouth rather than white wine (I love cooking with vermouth), and included some beef stock. I started cooking this dish back in 2001 while we lived in London, and where “bacon” is more like what American’s call Canadian bacon; I’ll often use that instead of typical American bacon.

shepherds pie overhead

Shepherd’s Pie with a more middle eastern spice combination
Original Shepherd’s Pie recipe