The ultimate comfort dish, shepherd’s pie is easy to make ahead, loved by kids and adults and satisfyingly filling. As many version of shepherd’s pie exist as there are layers of an onion, and variations are found in almost every cuisine around the world. In Vermont and traditionally, shepherd’s pie is made from lamb (when beef is used, it’s called cottage pie), so our version is made from ground lamb, if you prefer to use beef, the result is just as delicious.
This recipe makes a chunky, tender stew under a layer of mashed potatoes, made extra creamy with hot milk, cream and butter. It’s easier to make stages. Start with boiling and mashing the potatoes, making sure they are smooth and creamy enough to form decorative peaks.
1 ½ pounds russet potatoes (about 4), peeled and quartered
1 tablespoon sea salt
½ cup whole milk
¼ cup half-and-half
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped (1 cup)
2 carrots, diced ( 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced (1 teaspoon)
1 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves, or 1 scant teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves, or ½ scant teaspoon dried
1 cup fresh or frozen peas or corn kernels
½ teaspoon paprika
Make the Potatoes: Place the potatoes in a medium sauce pan and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, then add the sea salt and decrease the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until tender and easily crushed with a fork or soft enough to pierce with a knife, 25 to 30 minutes.
Drain the potatoes in a colander. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel to remove any residue left from the potatoes and post in the milk and half-and-half. Add the butter and heat over low heat until the butter has melted, about 1 minute. If you have a ricer, rice the potatoes into the warm liquid in the pan; if not, return the potatoes to the saucepan and mash until smooth. Season with kosher salt and pepper and in the egg yolk until well combined and very smooth.
Make the Meat Filling: Heat the cooking oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrots and sauté just until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, lamb, salt, and pepper and cook until the lamb is browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and toss to coat, then continue to cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste, chicken stock, Worcestershire, rosemary, and thyme and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly.
Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
Spread the lamb mixture evenly in an 8 x 8-inch glass baking dish. Add a layer of peas (still frozen, if using frozen), and with a large serving spoon or rubber spatula, spread the mashed potatoes over the top, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up, until the top is fully covered. With the back of the spoon or spatula, twist the potatoes to form little peaks, as if you were decorating a cake. Sprinkle with paprika and bake for 20 minutes, or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Serves 4 to 6