fat free opinions on a food centric life

Shepherd’s Pie with Beef, Pork and Lamb

Cottage Pie

It’s raining here today, so I’m as subdued as the grey skies.  After two mornings of very early morning walks as I attempt to get back into the “I, too, can be fit!” swing of things, I’m content to sit in the quiet sipping my coffee.  Thoughts come and go but hover around memories of our trip to the UK a few years go — the winding roads in Wales, ancient castle ruins tucked between soft green hills, engaging after dinner conversation with local farmers at an old country house, and Pub food.

Last night, my husband’s parents came by for an impromptu celebration in honor of my mother-in-law’s birthday, and it seemed perfect to make a shepherd’s pie.  I love to cook for them, and for years, they’ve indulged my culinary whims.  When we get together, inevitably, talk turns to travel, and specifically travel to the UK.  My father-in-law has always wanted to go, and so he graciously indulges us yet another sharing of our time there as we think of ways to get him there before too much longer.  He’s 80 now.

Of course the talk turns to food and a pub we enjoyed in Bath.  I don’t remember the name of it because we made several attempts before we found one that would allow us to enter, my husband talking to someone inside while my son and I waited on the street.  Although pubs are more accepting of children than they used to be, not all of them are, and it was mortifying to my son that his presence caused us to have to search.  I felt badly for him knowing I would have been embarrassed as well. Finally we found one, and were led to the back, away from the bar to a small room.  So much for my romantic notions of cozy tables, old plastered walls and a roaring fire, no matter if it was the middle of summer with temperatures so uncharacteristically hot that everyone was talking about it.

Thank goodness for the waiter who indulged my husband with good-natured humor in answering a question about the rules of Cricket. He chided us about ordering “extra cold” beer and served us a meal of Shepherd’s Pie that was truly memorable.

Shepherd’s Pie is a traditional English dish made of minced meat — usually lamb — and vegetables, then covered with mashed potatoes before baking.  If the dish contains beef, then it’s referred to as a Cottage Pie.  Regardless, it’s comfort food at its best, and one that will leave you smiling well into the evening after the plates have been cleared from the table.  You may have to waddle to bed, however, because it’s quite filling.


Shepherd’s Pie with Beef, Pork and Lamb

Filling Ingredients

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. lean ground pork
3/4 lb. ground sirloin
3/4 lb. ground lamb
1 c. onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 c. celery, chopped
2 zucchini, diced
1 large leek, light green and while parts only, sliced and rinsed
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, quartered
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. water
1 T concentrated tomato paste
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. dried thyme
4 c. beef broth
salt and pepper to taste

Topping Ingredients

1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. heavy cream
3 T unsalted butter
1 sprig fresh rosemary
4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
salt & pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a medium sauce pan, add the milk, cream, butter, and rosemary over low heat, stirring occasionally until it begins to simmer. Remove from heat and allow to sit at least 20-30 minutes.
  3. In a large pan, cover the potatoes with water, add a couple large pinches of salt to the water, and put a lid on the pan.  Heat over high until the potatoes begin to boil, then turn the heat down to a low simmer until potatoes are fork tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain and set aside.
  4. In a large skillet, heat the oil and add the ground meat, allowing it to begin to brown before stirring.  After the meat is browned, pour it into a bowl and set is aside.
  5. If necessary, add another T of olive oil tot the pan.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, zucchini, garlic, and water.  Stirring occasionally, cook over medium heat until vegetables begin to soften, about 10 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and leeks, stirring to incorporate, and continue to cook until the mixture is browned.
  6. Return the ground meat to the pan and mix well.  Add the tomato paste, and stir well.  Sprinkle flour over the mixture and let cook for at least a minute, stirring to make sure all the flour is mixed in.  Pour in the beef broth and stir, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Allow to simmer until the mixture begins to thicken, about 10 minutes.  Taste and correct seasonings.
  7. While the meat mixture simmers, mash the potatoes.  Remove rosemary sprig from the milk mixture and pour the milk into the mashed potatoes.  Mix well, and correct seasonings.
  8. Lightly rub olive oil on the inside of a large casserole and pour in the meat mixture.  Spoon dollops of mashed potatoes over the surface, and with a fork, lightly spread the potatoes to cover.  Place in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until bubbling and top is golden brown.

Some day, I'll figure out how to take night shots when people are over. Maybe.


  • If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, then you know I’m a reasonably diverse cook.  I’m horribly critical of what I produce, though.  It’s rare that I don’t like something I’ve made, but the times I’ve been truly wowed are few and far between.  This was one of those times.  I loved this dish.  It was piping hot, and so flavorful, I know not much time will pass before I want to try it again.  That almost never happens around here.  The only thing that would have made the meal more fun is being able to say “Cheers!” with glasses of Guinness or Boddington’s.
  • The inspiration for this recipe comes from Chef Tom Aikens whose recipe for Shepherd’s Pie was featured in the January 2009 issue of Food & Wine.
  • Continuing with my quest to use what I have on hand as much as possible, the biggest difference in the recipe was my mixture of meat.  I’d had some ground lamb in the freezer already browned and seasoned, so incorporated that with the other meat to create this very meaty dish.
  • My veggie drawer is in much better shape than it’s been in the past, so I was able to put the celery and carrots to good use in this even though both were a bit on the less than crisp side.  I had some snap peas and though about adding those, but decided there was plenty of veg in the mix.
  • I liked the mushrooms in this.  If you wanted to go meatless, bump up the mushrooms or use a mixture.  Plus, the original recipe calls for 2 turnips, so that would be quite substantial.
  • This fed six hungry people large servings, but could easily feed 8.