Does your family do anything to mark St Patrick’s Day? Maybe send the kids off to school wearing something green? If you’re ready to start a new tradition, I highly recommend cooking up this traditional Irish meal, Shepherd’s Pie, for dinner on March 17th. Cheese, over mashed potatoes, over ground beef or lamb — this meal is as comforting and kid-friendly as they come!
Shepherd’s Pie is one of those comfort foods that is never going out of style. This homely casserole is a mainstay during the winter months.
The meat sauce is made from minced or ground beef or lamb, or a combination. Traditionally Shepherd’s Pie is made from lamb. If beef is used, then it’s called Cottage Pie. You can use whatever is available to you.
Besides using really flavorful meat, let’s talk about building a good base of flavor with veggies. Start by using loads of onions along with some diced carrots. They both add a natural sweetness. And then from there, add minimal spices and herbs so the meat can shine. There’s always plenty of garlic and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. And that’s pretty much it.
Some recipes use ketchup, which I feel gives it too much of a sloppy joe or BBQ taste. But a small can of tomato paste adds concentrated flavor as well as helping to thicken up the sauce.
Mashed potatoes are another integral part of this dish. This recipe recommends equal parts mash and meat sauce. Opt for golden potatoes whenever possible because they have an irresistible buttery texture and flavor, but russets are great too. Waxy red potatoes tend to be gluey when mashed, so stick to the more all-purpose varieties.
Boil the potatoes in their jackets and peel afterwards because it’s so much easier. The potatoes that are unpeeled also absorb less water as they cook, which leads to creamier mashed potatoes. If you’re want to skip a step, don’t peel them at all after boiling.
Cabbage is a natural side dish for this, or any Irish dish. It helps kind of cut through the richness of the pie too. Oh, except that it’s cabbage cooked in butter. And that’s pretty much it. Cabbage and butter. A little salt. So delicious.
It’s also good paired with a thick slice of Rachel Allen’s Traditional Irish Soda Bread. Easiest soda bread recipe ever.
The Best Irish Shepherd’s Pie
For mashed potatoes:
3 pounds golden or russet potatoes, unpeeled
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup whole or low-fat milk
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for cooking water
1.5 to 2 pounds ground lamb or beef, or a combination
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup low-sodium beef broth (or 1 cup water plus beef bouillon)
6-ounce can tomato paste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried rosemary or 1 tablespoon fresh
1/2 teaspoons dried thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4-6 ounces aged Irish cheddar, such as Kerrygold, shredded
Braised Green Cabbage (see notes for recipe), or another green vegetable
Irish Soda Bread
For mashed potatoes:
Place the potatoes on a large pot and cover with water by a few inches. Bring to a rolling boil, then cover and lower heat to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are very tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain the water and rinse potatoes with cool water until cool enough to peel. Use a sharp paring knife to nick the potato peel, then use the knife’s edge to pull away the peel. The peels should come off very easily. Discard peels. Alternatively, if desired, leave the peels on and mash.
Mash the potatoes with a masher. Stir in the butter, then add just enough milk for a good consistency. The potatoes should be neither too runny nor too dry. The full 1/2 cup may not be needed. Set aside until ready to assemble.
While potatoes are boiling, preheat oven to 400°F.
Heat a Dutch oven or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground lamb, onion, carrots, and garlic. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, break up the meat into smaller pieces as it cooks. Lower heat as necessary. Cook until lamb is not longer pink through. Push the meat to one side of the pan and carefully tilt the pan and spoon off any extra fat, if desired.
Add the beef broth, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, herbs, salt and pepper. Lower to a simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Remove from heat.
If not using a Dutch oven, transfer the meat mixture to a deep casserole dish or 9- by 13-inch pan. Smooth out the top of the meat.
Spoon mashed potatoes over the meat sauce and spread to the sides of the pan. Top with the shredded cheese and bake at 400°F until bubbling all over and the cheese has browned, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving. Serve with Braised Green Cabbage (see below), if desired.
Yield 8 servings
– The meat and mashed potatoes can be made ahead of time and assembled without the cheese. Just add extra baking time.
– To make the Braised Green Cabbage, remove the outer leaves of 1 large green cabbage. Cut into quarters and remove the core. Slice very thinly across the grain into ribbons. Place half of the cabbage into the bottom of a deep casserole dish. Dot with 2 tablespoons butter and season with a little sea salt. Top with remaining cabbage. Dot with another 2 tablespoons butter and season with a little more salt. Cover with lid or foil. Bake at 400°F for about 30 minutes. Periodically check on cabbage and gently turn it over in the casserole dish so it cooks evenly. Before serving, stir in another 1-2 tablespoons butter, if desired.
– For even more flavor, substitute 1 pound of potatoes with rutabaga and/or turnips. Cook and mash along with potatoes.
– If you’re a fan of extra veggies in the meat sauce, add 1 cup peas or green beans before topping with the mashed potatoes.
– Good news: If you’re not a fan of this meat-lover’s Shepherd Pie, here’s a great vegan version too!
P.S. — You could also make the classic St. Patrick’s Day meal of corned beef and cabbage.
Credits: Recipe and photos by Lindsey Rose Johnson for Design Mom