This traditional shepherd’s pie recipe is made with a savory ground beef and veggie filling and topped with fluffy, buttery, cheesy mashed potatoes for the ultimate Irish comfort food dinner.
I’m a big fan of all-in-one dishes, especially if it’s comfort food fare we’re talking about. Shepherd’s pie is one of those perfect dishes. It’s savory and hearty and with protein, veggies, and starch in each bite, it’s a full meal on its own. Traditional shepherd’s pie is simple comfort food—a classic meat and potatoes-type dish, dating back to the early 19th century Ireland. While it’s Irish in origin and great for St. Patrick’s Day (like my corned beef and cabbage or my Irish pork stew) it’s really perfect any time and too good of a recipe to only make once a year.
Shepherd’s Pie is typically made with ground lamb, whereas cottage pie (which is essentially the same dish) is made with ground beef. Since I’m not a fan of lamb I use ground beef in my Shepherd’s Pie. I start with a super savory beef and veggie base with carrots, celery, leek, garlic, and peas with fresh thyme and rosemary for aromatics. Beef stock, Worcestershire, soy sauce, and tomato paste bring a nice punch of umami flavor to the saucy filling made in one skillet. The beefy mixture gets topped with my fluffy and creamy mashed potatoes with Irish cheddar added in for an extra bump of flavor and cheesy goodness. Cheese is optional but who doesn’t agree that it makes everything that much better? Let’s dig in.
What’s In a Traditional Shepherd’s Pie
Traditional shepherd’s pie typically features a mixture of veggies and ground lamb. In my version, I prefer ground beef cooked in a savory gravy topped with cheesy mashed potatoes and baked up like a casserole.
This classic shepherd’s pie recipe is loaded with veggies and savory umami flavor. Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make it:
For the Mashed Potato Topping
- Yukon gold potatoes (I prefer Yukon gold because they’re creamier than russet potatoes)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Irish cheddar cheese (or another white cheddar)
- Half and Half
For the Savory Beef and Veggie Filling
- Olive oil
- Leek (or you could use onion)
- Ground beef (I use 85/15 here)
- Tomato paste
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Beef broth or beef concentrate mixed with water
- Soy sauce (for added umami flavor)
- Worcestershire sauce (also for umami)
- Frozen peas
How to Make Shepherd’s Pie
- Make the mashed potatoes.
- Chop the vegetables and herbs and begin sautéeing.
- Cook the ground beef.
- Combine the veggies and beef.
- Top with a thick layer of cheesy potatoes.
- Bake in the oven, then serve.
Make the Mashed Potato Topping
Boil the potatoes. This should take about 20 minutes or until they are very easily pierced with a fork and the skin pulls away from the potato where cut. Then drain them.
Skin the potatoes. While the potatoes are still hot, use a paper towel to wipe the skin away and then add back to the warm pot.
Mash, cream, and season. I use a hand blender to mash then begin to cream the potatoes and add the butter and half and half. Season with salt and pepper. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the cheese and chives so it doesn’t get gloppy. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside while you make the shepherd’s pie filling.
Prepare the Filling
Chop the vegetables into small dice. Keep the vegetables in similar diced sizes so they cook evenly at the same rate.
I use a 10-inch cast iron skillet to cook and bake the shepherd’s pie. A 10-inch skillet gives height to the pie and one less dish to wash. An oven-safe skillet or Dutch oven that’s shallow and wide works well too. Or, cook the filling in a skillet or dutch oven then assemble with the potatoes in a 9×13-inch (or similar size) casserole dish before baking.
Sauté the Vegetables
Cook the veggies before the beef then set aside. Cook the carrots, celery, and leek over medium heat, and sauté, occasionally stirring for about 10 minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Stir in the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Transfer the veggie mixture to a large bowl or plate and set aside.
Cook the Ground Beef
Cook the ground beef. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to break up the meat into smaller bits, cooking until longer pink, about 5 minutes or so. Season with kosher salt and pepper.
Once the beef is browned, add the tomato paste to cook out its raw flavor along with the herbs. Tomato paste adds umami and intensity to the sauce but should be a subtle nod. Browning it for a few minutes with the beef deepens its flavor.
Make the Shepherd’s Pie Sauce
Stir in the flour then add liquid for thickening power. Add the flour and stir it in well to coat the veggies and beef. Add the beef stock, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and peas. Stir well to smooth out the sauce and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat. Taste the filling and add more salt or pepper if desired.
How to Assemble Shepherd’s Pie
Beef is the base to cheesy mashed potatoes. Layer the meat evenly in the skillet. Add dollops of mashed potatoes on top. Use an offset spatula or wooden spoon to spread the potatoes into an even layer.
Form the potatoes into fluffy clouds or make a smooth tater topping. I like to spoon my potatoes into fluffy piles but the more traditional way is a smooth topping raked with forked lines. To make, take a fork’s tines and lightly drag it over the mashed potatoes.
Bake That Pie
Place the shepherd’s pie in the oven to bake for 15 minutes, then finish under the broiler, on the middle rack (don’t move the rack up), for about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10-15 minutes before topping with chives and serving.
What is the Difference Between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie
Shepherd’s pie is traditionally made with ground lamb, while cottage pie is made with ground beef. Because I’m not a fan of lamb I use ground beef in my shepherd’s pie recipe. If you love lamb, you can just as easily use that instead.
Shepherd’s Pie Additions and Substitutions
- Use yellow onion instead of leeks
- Try adding parsnips or sweet potatoes to the filling.
- Use half parsnips and half potatoes for the topping, or try it with mashed sweet potatoes
- Add corn to the filling
- Use yellow cheddar cheese instead of white cheddar
- Substitute ground turkey or lamb for the ground beef
What to Serve with Shepherd’s Pie
- The BEST Garlic Bread
- The BEST Classic Dinner Rolls
- Arugula Salad with Shaved Parmesan
- Kale Salad with Parmesan and Pine Nuts
- Green Beans with Browned Butter Almondine
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
For the mashed potato topping:
- 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt , divided
- 3 tablespoons butter , cut into chunks
- 1 cup Irish cheddar cheese , or other white cheddar, shredded
- ¼ cup half and half
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup chives , finely chopped
For the filling:
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 ½ cusp small diced carrots , (about 3-4 carrots)
- 1 cup small diced celery , (about 2-3 stalks)
- 1 leek , (just the white and light green part), small diced (this should be about 1 cup)
- 5 cloves garlic , pressed or minced
- 1 ½ pounds ground beef , (I use 80/20)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary , finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme , stems removed
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup beef stock
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup frozen peas
- chopped chives , for serving
- Scrub the potatoes clean and add to a deep pot. Completely cover the potatoes with water, about ½ inch above the potatoes. Bring the potatoes to a boil and add ½ teaspoon of kosher salt. Boil the potatoes for about 20 minutes or until they are very easily pierced with a fork and the skin pulls away from the potato where cut.
- Drain the potatoes, and while still hot, use a paper towel to wipe the skin away from the potatoes. Add them back to the warm pot.
- Gently smash the hot potatoes with the beaters of a handheld mixer or a potato masher. Add the butter to the potatoes and beat or mash to break the potatoes down then add the half and half. Beat or mash the potatoes until smooth, adding more half and half if needed. Season with salt and pepper, adding more to taste. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the cheese and chives. Remove from heat, top with a lid, and set aside while you make the shepherd’s pie filling.
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
- In a 10-inch cast iron skillet (or another large oven-safe skillet or Dutch oven, that’s shallow and wide), add the oil and heat over medium. Once hot, add the carrots, celery, and leek, and sauté, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Stir in the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Transfer the veggie mixture to a large bowl or plate and set aside.
- To the same skillet, add the ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Break up the meat and cook until cooked through and no longer pink, about 5 minutes or so. Add the tomato paste and herbs and stir into the beef, cooking for 2-3 minutes. Add the vegetables back to the skillet. Stir the flour into the veggies and beef, coating them well, and cook for 1 minute. Add the beef stock, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and peas, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat. Taste the filling and add more salt or pepper if needed.
- Even out the meat mixture in the skillet, then dollop the mashed potatoes on top. Use an offset spatula or wooden spoon to spread the potatoes into an even layer. Sprinkle with chives. Place the skillet in the oven, uncovered, to bake for 15 minutes. Raise the heat to broil and cook for 5 more minutes or until the mashed potatoes are lightly browned and the filling is bubbly. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10-15 minutes before topping with more chives and serving.
More Comforting Casseroles to Try
- Turkey Tetrazzini Recipe
- The Best Tuna Noodle Casserole
- Zucchini Casserole with Parmesan
- Sausage and Cheese Baked Rigatoni
- One-Pot Chicken and Rice Casserole
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