Elyse is a writer and editor. She enjoys traveling, reading, writing and obsessing over her dog, Copper.
A Little History
While often used interchangeably, there are actually two slightly different versions of this dish. Shepherd's pie is made with ground lamb or mutton as the main protein component. When the dish is made with ground beef, it becomes known as cottage pie. Both dishes are made of meat and vegetables, and topped with mashed potatoes, much like a cake made of dinner materials. This culinary delight more than likely originated in Scotland in the late 1700s as a dish for the rural poor whose dwellings were known as cottages. It also became a way to utilize the leftovers of Sunday roasts, because who doesn't love repurposing leftovers? Today, the masterpiece is known for one thing only: being absolutely delicious.
A Case for Versatility
As a middle school teacher, getting home and having to wrap my mind around gathering ingredients and cooking dinner can sometimes be too much of a task. Shepherd's Pie offers some advantages here, as the filling and topping of the pie can be made ahead of time, and many different ingredients can be used.
I made this dish for the first time on a not-so-busy summer day, but when I go back to school, I'll simply pop the filling into the crockpot in the morning, and then add the topping that afternoon. Easy, versatile, and filling!
- 1 pound ground meat (lamb, beef, etc.)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 large carrots, chopped
- 2 large celery stalks, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 packet onion soup mix
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- 6 large red potatoes, chopped
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 cloves garlic
- Splash of milk
- Brown the ground meat with the chopped onions.
- Add onion and meat into the slow cooker along with the chopped celery, carrots, water, onion soup mix, tomato paste, and Worcestershire sauce.
- Cook on low for five hours.
- Boil the potatoes until softened.
- Mash potatoes with garlic, milk, and butter. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Spoon mashed potatoes over the top of the filling in the crockpot.
- Cook on low for one more hour.
- Brown the top of the potatoes in the oven on broil (optional).
Start by browning the meat and onion together. As you can tell from the photo above, I like my onions large and in charge. You're welcome to chop or mince your onions however you'd like. You also have versatility here with your protein choice. Traditional shepherd's pie uses lamb or mutton, whereas cottage pie uses ground beef. In an attempt to be a little healthier, I decided to go with ground turkey. I'm sure there are traditionalists that would look down their noses at this, but I don't cook for them.
While your protein and onions are browning together, take a moment to chop up your veggies and throw them into the slow cooker. Again, you have choices as far as vegetables are concerned. The ones I happened to have on hand were carrots, celery, and mushrooms. Had I had peas on hand, those would have gone in as well. Peas are the caviar of vegetables, remember that.
Combine the rest of the ingredients that aren't required for the mashed potatoes. This includes your recently browned protein and onion, onion soup mix, tomato paste, water, Worcestershire sauce, and salt/pepper.
Should you be making ahead, this is the point where you package this sucker up for some fridge time until the morning of.
Cook the filling on low for five hours. This will fill your kitchen and the rest of your house with a scent that is certain to make you ravenous within the first thirty minutes.
On a side note, shout out to my parents for the Crock-Pot. A lucky mistake resulted in them receiving not one, but two, and they gave me the extra so that I could make magical meals with very little effort. Also, this slow cooker (of the noble Hamilton Beach brand) has clips to secure the lid, convenient handles, and a meat thermometer. I am the envy of many a faculty potluck when I turn up with this thing!
Either beforehand (should you be making ahead) or when your slow cooker only has 30 minutes left to go, break out the taters. Your choice of potatoes is up to you; I used 6 relatively large red ones. Chop them up and boil them in a pot for about twenty minutes, or until soft. Drain the pot and grab either a masher or hand mixer.
MASH 'EM! Add butter, minced garlic, and milk for flavor and creaminess. Salt and pepper to taste. Make them taste dreamy; mashed potatoes are what heaven is made of (according to some sources).
Transport the mashed potatoes to their new home atop the foundation which is your filling. Cover it completely; this is the icing on your meat/veggie cake.
Set the crock pot to cook on low for another hour.
Step Nine (Optional)
If you're me, you'll spend this hour eating the mashed potatoes that were left over while your mixer bottles look on in horror.
Enjoy your creation!
Optional: In order to get that nice, browned crust at the top, I broiled my pie on high for a few minutes.
Questions & Answers
Question: Do you brown the top of the shepherds pie in the oven? It won't crack the crockpot?
Answer: In my experience, when broiling on low, the crockpot does just fine! I do keep a VERY close eye on it, however.
© 2017 Elyse Maupin-Thomas