Shepherd’s pie, a savory meat pie with a mashed potato crust and top, is a gift from England and Ireland. It was first documented in 1791 as a staple dish for the poor when the potato was first being introduced to the region. Back then it was known as “cottage pie,” in reference to the humble dwellings of the typical cottage pie eater. The term “shepherd’s pie” did not emerge until the 1870s, and since then has been the most common term used for the dish.
Whether you call it cottage pie or shepherd’s pie, this dish is still wonderful as an economical, tasty, and healthy dinner for the family. All manner or leftover meats and vegetables can easily be made into the filling, and the potato crust and top is still an economical choice.
Vegetarians can forgo the meat and still have a flavorful dish for the table.
I take a different turn on the classic shepherd’s pie by using sliced potatoes instead of mashed for the crust and the top. Why? Because I was feeling both hungry and lazy one day, and I had no desire to take the time to make mashed potatoes, yet I had a craving for shepherd’s pie. I’ve used sliced potatoes as the crust for quiche in the past, and I decided it would make a fabulous crust and top for a shepherd’s pie. So I gave it a shot!
Shepherd’s pie is traditionally a way to use up leftovers, so the ingredients below are what I had sitting in my refrigerator at the time I made the dish. Yes I did, indeed, have lamb in my refrigerator! I love the stuff and eat it about once a week. I had some uncooked cabbage and a small bit of carrot in the refrigerator so they were great choices to join the lamb, and the corn I had frozen from the previous fall after I had bought ears of corn on sale, cut off the kernels, and froze them. The remaining ingredients, potatoes, onion, garlic, white wine, and the herbs and spices, are staples in my kitchen. With these ingredients you can turn just about any meal into a flavorful feast. When you make your shepherd’s pie, don’t be afraid to experiment and root through your refrigerator to see what you have on hand.
- 1 lb ground lamb (you can substitute turkey or ground beef or leave out the meat for a vegetarian option)
- 1/2 carrot, grated
- 1/4 red cabbage, sliced or grated
- 1/2 cup fresh corn (frozen and thawed are fine)
- 2 baking potatoes, sliced thin
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp fresh rosemary
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F. Take one of the sliced potatoes and place it in the bottom of a lightly oiled pie pan or casserole dish. Dust the layer of potatoes with salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and chili powder. Spread the corn on top of the corn and set aside.
Cook the meat, cabbage, carrot, onion, and garlic in a bit of fat until the lamb is cooked through and the cabbage is limp (I used bacon grease left over from canning Tabasco bacon, but you can use olive oil or butter. If you want, you can add the Tabasco sauce to the sautee as well). Add the white wine and turn the heat up a tad to reduce the juices in the pan until they are almost gone.
Place the filling on top of the potato crust and corn. Gently flatten with a spatula to make sure the filling is nestled well, and lay the other sliced potato to make the top crust. Dust the top with more spices, salt, and pepper if desired. Bake in a 350F oven for 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through.
What do I think I my experiment? Well, it tasted delicious! The red cabbage, carrots, and corn were a great combination with the lamb, and the herbs and spices I chose added great flavor that complimented the entire dish. I also loved the sliced potato crust as it gave more tooth to the dish. One of my major complaints with traditional shepherd’s pie is that it’s sort of…soft all over. Maybe great when I’m 90 and have no teeth, but for now I want food that requires some chewing.
However…the sliced potato top was met with mixed results. The potatoes cooked wonderfully, and had a great crunchy flavor that I loved. The problem was that they didn’t adhere to the filling; you could literally lift each potato piece up and set it back down where it was before. It made cutting the pie somewhat disappointing as the potato slices sort of slid off.
In the future I’ll grate the potato for the top crust. Grating will allow the starches to converge and knit the potato shreds together on the top of the filling. They will still brown and crisp and provide the tooth I’m wanting, but will act more as part of the dish itself. I’ll let you know how it goes!