Traditional Shepherd’s Pie

Well, this isn’t actually a traditional shepherds pie – this beefy main dish is a traditional cottage pie. A shepherds pie contains lamb and a cottage pie contains beef. However, here in the UK we mostly just say ‘Shepherds Pie’ regardless of what meat is used. Even if you order Shepherds Pie in a restaurant, nine times out of ten it’s going to contain beef.

Shepherds Pie isn’t the most photogenic of dishes but it more than makes up for it in flavour. The rich, meaty gravy bubbles up over the mashed potatoes and makes this irresistible comfort food – comfort food that is best cooked in a nice stoneware casserole that you sit on a baking sheet so that when it bubbles over you don’t end up with a mess on the bottom of your oven. Not that anything like that has ever happened to me <ahem>.

Traditional Shepherds Pie on

Shepherds Pie started out more than a hundred years ago as a way for cooks to stretch the leftovers from a roast dinner. The last remaining pieces were chopped up finely, mixed with leftover vegetables and topped with mashed potatoes. However as time wore on most cooks began to make Shepherds Pie with ground beef, or mince as we call it here in England, or ground lamb, not as a way to use up leftovers, but as a meal from scratch. In fact, that is the only way I’ve made this recipe until very recently. However, while I was doing some research for my cookbook, I had a bit of a lightbulb moment.

If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know I am really keen to encourage everyone to love their leftovers. As part of that I regularly try to come up with ways to use up everything in my fridge – including the very last bits of Sunday roast. You know, those bits and pieces that either aren’t really big enough to be sliced properly or that aren’t enough to make anything really substantial. These bits of meat can easily go to waste. Traditional Shepherd’s Pie is an easy, oh so delicious way to use up those bits and pieces of meat and even the leftover vegetables if you have them. It’s worth making extra mashed potatoes so you are prepared in advance too, although I often make them up fresh.

Cool all your leftover meat and vegetables as quickly as you can after your next big roast beef or lamb dinner. Cover them and store them in the fridge so that the day after next, when you’ve used all the best leftovers, you can make a delicious Shepherds Pie for your family. If you don’t have any leftover vegetables (and honestly, we rarely do in our house), it’s really easy to use a few fresh vegetables instead. You can even use frozen peas or frozen mixed vegetables if it’s a bit of an empty larder day.

The instructions below are more a guide than a recipe. Basically you need roughly two cups of chopped meat and two cups of vegetables but you can make up for a bit less meat with a bit more veg and vice versa. You want a gravy that is relatively thick so the shepherds pie is easy to serve, but that still moistens the meat and vegetables nicely. Add the liquid gradually and let it thicken as you go. It’s easy to add more liquid but impossible to take it away!

Easy, frugal and a great way to avoid food waste, Traditional Shepherds Pie is sure to become a family favourite. It certainly is here at our house!

Traditional Shepherd's Pie
Serves: Serves 4
  • 1 tablespoon mild olive or other vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cups finely chopped leftover roast beef or lamb
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose (plain) flour
  • ¾ cup to 1 cup beef or lamb stock (from a cube is fine, you may not need it all)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree, ketchup or tomato paste
  • 2 cups vegetables, chopped (either leftover vegetables or peel and finely chop carrots and/or mushrooms - you can even use frozen peas as part of the mix)
  • a good pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes, leftover or freshly made (If using leftover potatoes, warm them gently to make it easier to spread over the shepherds pie. You may need to add a bit of milk to leftover mashed potatoes and give them a stir to loosen them up.)
  • dried flat leaf parsley or paprika to garnish
  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large frying pan.
  2. Sauté the onion until it begins to soften a little.
  3. If using raw vegetables, add them now and cook until they begin to soften a little.
  4. Stir in the cooked, chopped beef or lamb.
  5. Warm gently for a minute or two and then sprinkle with the flour. Stir.
  6. Gradually add the stock, a bit at a time, stirring as it thickens. Go gently, you can always add more liquid. When you have a fairly thick gravy, stir in the Worcestershire sauce, tomato puree or ketchup.
  7. If you are using leftover vegetables or frozen vegetables, add them now.
  8. Check the thickness of the gravy, gradually adding a bit more stock if necessary.
  9. Stir in the salt and pepper.
  10. Transfer the mixture to a 9 x 13 inch casserole - or into four smaller individual casseroles.
  11. Spoon the mashed potato over the top of the meat and vegetable mixture and then use a fork to spread it over the meat mixture, right up to the edges.
  12. Place the casserole(s) on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until the mashed potato begins to turn golden brown.
  13. Sprinkle with a little parsley or paprika to garnish before serving.

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy Vegetarian Shepherds Pie.

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Article by April Harris

April has written 1280 great articles for us.
April is a writer, recipe developer, frequent traveller and blogger sharing travel, food, and style. Based in the south of England, April is a British Canadian who is passionate about family, hearth and home, healthy living (with treats!) and the transformative power of travel.
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  1. I love Shepherd’s Pie and yours looks really so tempting, April. I love the idea of using up leftovers to create this tasty casserole.

  2. April, I would love a big plate of your shepherds pie right now! My family always called it shepherds pie even though it was made from beef. I’ve always made it from mince because I never have leftover roast. There’s no danger around here of even a tiny scrap of roast going to waste! 😀

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