Shepherds Pie or Cottage Pie?

Shepherds Pie was first made  in England in the 1870’s and it differs somewhat from other pie recipes in that it has a base of ground meat with a layer of mashed potatoes on top. There is no pastry involved here. Shepherds pie is authentically made with ground or minced lamb.
The meat is cooked with a sauteed onion and some optional vegetables and while it cooks, the meat makes its own gravy which, with the mashed potatoes, make for a delicious treat. Soon after the English came up with this brilliant recipe, other countries adopted it and of course changed it.
The cottage pie was the first to follow and the only difference it has to the shepherds pie is that it is made with beef and not lamb. I think in countries like America they refer to it as shepherds pie regardless of what meat is used. Another variant of this pie of course is the fisherman’s Pie where minced fish is used.  Here in South Africa we even have a version called “Ouvrou onder die kombers” which means “old woman under the blanket.” It is a layer of minced meat baked with a batter on top. Most shepherds pie recipes keep it simple by adding just salt and pepper, but my own preference is dry coriander and cloves to give that extra meaty taste. Browsing the internet for shepherds pie recipes, I saw the addition of  cheese, beans even tins of tomato, but if you use a good organic lamb, little else is needed to make this a deliciously comforting meal. Other subtle differences in recipes are cooking methods such as broiling versus baking or browning the meat or not.  I grew up, having this dish at least once a week and in our house it was always served with sweet potato and green peas. Having the brown(meat), white(mashed potatoes), yellow(sweet potato) and green(peas) on the plate, made for a perfectly balanced meal in those days! Luckily today we know better so I serve this with a simple salad consisting of  crispy lettuce, cucumber and  tomatoes. Let’s cook!

Shepherds Pie


1 kg boneless shoulder of lamb
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp fine cloves
2 tsp whole dry coriander – dry-fried and pounded in the pestle and mortar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
1 stick celery finely chopped
2 cloves garlic – finely chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
50 gr tomato paste
1 tbsp Worchestire sauce
250ml vegetable or lamb stock

For the mashed potatoes

1 kg potatoes – peeled and cut in chunks
200ml milk
2 egg yolks
a big knob of butter – about 2 tbsp

Ask your butcher to mince the lamb for you or trim off the excess  fat and process it in your food processor until it is minced roughly. Add the flour and seasonings and toss until evenly coated.

Heat a heavy based pot and add the olive oil. Add the minced meat and  stir until the meat has browned somewhat. Add all the other ingredients and cook the lamb for about 10 minutes or until the stock has reduced and the lamb has formed a thickish gravy. Transfer the meat to an oven proof dish. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Meanwhile, peel the potatoes, boil them in salted water until cooked  and then drain well. Heat the milk in a separate little pot. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher and pour the heated the milk  over the potatoes. Add a knob of butter and the egg yolks and mix well until smooth and creamy. Spoon the potato mixture in a piping bag and make rosettes on the meat or just spoon it directly on the meat, making patterns with your fork.
Bake in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes until the potato topping has browned. Serve with your choice of vegetables or salad.

Other Pie recipes that you might like…

Beef with Potato Scone topping

Beef and vegetable Pies

Chicken Pie