The ultimate comfort foodT
his classic British casserole is one of my all time favorite dishes to make on a blistery, snowy day. It’s hearty, stew style base topped with buttery mashed potatoes is the perfect meal to enjoy by the fire. However, I like it so much that I don’t always wait around for a snowy day to make it!
Most people are familiar with what Shepherd’s Pie is, but I’d wager that a good amount of people are actually thinking of Cottage Pie when they refer to it. The difference is what meat is used, lamb or beef. Traditional Shepherd’s Pie is made with lamb, while the more popular Cottage Pie, is made with beef. Being a traditionalist in the kitchen, I make mine with lamb.
This recipe is inspired from Chef Anne Burrell that was featured on her show “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.” After making many versions over the years, this is one that concluded my hunt for the best Shepherd’s Pie recipe.
Rather than the commonly used ground meat that most people associate Shepherd’s pie with, I prefer to use diced lamb that I butcher into 1/4 inch pieces from a boneless leg of lamb. I’ve tried it all and this approach makes for a much more refined, classic dish that really shows off the stew base of this dish. It creates a rich, saucy element to it that you just can’t achieve with ground meats. I also find when using ground meat, the end result is often too oily. By butchering your own lamb, you have much more control over the fat content going into the stew base, and by cooking it low and slow, the meat just melts in your mouth. It’s perfection.
This recipe is delicious, can be made in advance, and sure beats any version you’ll find out at a restaurant or from the grocery store. Sometimes I make one large family style casserole, and other times, I make individual versions. Same great flavors, two different plating options. Serve with crusty, buttered bread for the ultimate British comfort food.
- Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
- 2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder or leg cut into 1/2-inch dice
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 large leeks white part only, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 3 ribs celery cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 3 carrots peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 2 cloves garlic smashed and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine
- 3 to 4 cups good quality beef stock
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 bundle fresh thyme
- 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes cut into 1-inch dice
- 3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 to 3 tablespoons cold butter
- 3/4 cup frozen peas
Coat a heavy duty pan such as a cast iron dutch oven with olive oil and bring to a medium-high heat. Season the lamb with salt and toss with the flour. Shake off excess flour. Add the lamb to the pan and brown well on all sides. Remove the lamb from the pan and reserve. If there is excess oil left in the pot, remove oil and discard, leaving all the brown bits that remain. Add a splash of new olive oil.
Add the leeks, celery, and carrots to the pan. Season the mixture with salt and cook, stirring frequently until the vegetables are soft and very aromatic, about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the lamb back to the pan and stir to combine.
Add the tomato paste and cook until the tomato paste starts to brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the wine and cook until it reduces by 1/2. Add enough stock to just cover the surface of the lamb. Add the Worcestershire Sauce. Add the bay leaves and thyme bundle. Bring the stock to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Taste and season with salt, if needed. Partially cover and simmer for 1 hour, or until the lamb is tender. When the stock level reduces replace with more to keep the meat submerged.
Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover by 1-inch with tap water. Season the water with salt and bring the water to a boil. Boil the potatoes until they are fork tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the water from the potatoes and pass them through a potato ricer or food mill. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream to a boil. Stir the butter into the cream and stir in the hot cream into the pureed potatoes. Taste and season with salt. The potatoes should be creamy and very flavorful.
Remove the lid and simmer for about 15 minutes more to allow the stock level to reduce. Add the peas for the last 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed. When done, the lamb mixture should be thick and stew-like. Remove the bay leaves and thyme bundle and discard.
Preheat the broiler.
Transfer the lamb to a single flameproof baking dish or into individual bakers. Spread the mashed potatoes over the lamb mixture in an even layer. (A piping bag works well for this!) Place the baking dish under the preheated broiler. Broil until the potatoes are golden brown and crispy (about 5-8 minutes.) DO NOT BURN!