Shepherd's Pie

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Make-Ahead Sheperd's Pie

Adapted and expanded from Alton Brown's 2008 recipe at The Food Network.

Good for dinner parties: make the topping and filling in advance, and on the day you just have to assemble and bake.

Takes about 45 mins to prepare the parts, and 45 mins baking+cooling time. Serves 8.

For the mashed-potato topping

  • 2 lbs russet potatos
  • 2 oz half-and-half
  • 2 oz butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t pepper (or white pepper)

Peel and roughly chop the potatos. Cover with water and bring to a boil, then simmer 10-15 mins until you can crush a piece with tongs. Don't overdo it - whatever that means. Drain the potatos, return to the pot,and start with the mashing.

Mix half-and-half and butter together and warm/melt in a microwave. Pour most of this mix over the potatos and keep mashing. Add more if they're really dry, but you don't want them too wet - clumps should stick to an upside-down spoon.

Season with salt and pepper. Use white pepper if you don't want black flecks in the topping.

Add egg yolk and stir to combine.

For the meat-and-veg filling

  • 2 T (canola) oil
  • 1 C chopped onion
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 lbs ground lamb (or beef, or pork, or a mixture...)
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • 2 T flour
  • 2 t tomato paste
  • 1 C chicken broth
  • 1 t Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 t fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1 t fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 C frozen peas

Saute the onion and carrot lightly - until they start to color. Add garlic and cook a little more. Add meat and brown it.

Add flour, stir to coat, and cook another minute. Add tomato paste, broth, Worcestershire, and herbs. Stir this all together. Bring to a boil, then simmer on lower heat for 10-12 minutes, when it has thickened some.

Let this mixture cool, mix the frozen peas into the filling, and store the topping and filling separately in the refrigerator until needed. (If you're cooking and serving in one go, don't let it cool.)

When it's time to serve, preheat the oven to 425. Spoon the filling into an ovenproof 11x7 dish or equivalent. If the filling is so dry that it doesn't flow, push down to fill it out to the edges and eliminate air bubbles.

Spoon on the topping, pressing against the edges of the dish to seal. The topping should cover the filling thickly, with no gaps. (Otherwise the filling bubbles up and over the topping. It still will do this a little around the edges.) Sculpt the top of the topping so it has a hatch pattern or peaks or something - it won't brown properly if it's too smooth.

Cook at 425 for about 30 minutes - less if you skipped the refrigerator - until the peaks and contours of the topping start to brown. Rest on a cooling rack for 15 minutes or more before serving.

Cook's Notes

Prepare a mise-en-place first, then start the potatos, then make the filling while the potatos are cooking

Make more than enough topping - you don't want to have too little, and what's wrong with extra mashed potatos?

When I browned 85% ground beef in the pot, it didn't really brown; it steamed. I think this was because of its moisture content, and because the pot was too small for the amount I was cooking. After the meat had cooked, I had to wait a while for the water to cook off before I was satisfied. The resulting filling was just a little too smooth and "pasty." If you want the bits to be more distinct, try using whole meat (diced small) or brown your meat in a separate skillet, with oil, in batches.

The filling will end up drier than it looks in the pot. I still had liquid in the pot when I made this, but when it came out of the fridge the next day the filling was moist without having any liquid at all.

I might want a richer, more meaty taste in the filling, and a browner color. Next time I might add more Worcestershire, use beef or pork broth instead of chicken, or even add some "brown sauce" from a jar. Something to kick the "meaty" up a notch. (Bam!)

This was my first time using fresh rosemary. The filling tasted strongly of it at first. A night in the fridge cured that: in the end it was herbal but not overpowering.


This page was last edited January 19, 2015.