Elle Fredine (RedElf) is a photographer and published author who loves to share her family's favorite recipes.
Traditional Shepherd's Pie Recipe
My granny made absolutely killer shepherd’s pie. She would grind up the remains of the Sunday roast lamb or pork shoulder, add whatever ground meat she had on hand (usually veal but sometimes beef), and throw in anything else that took her fancy and seemed likely to fit in. Granny was very French in her cooking, so you knew there would always be onions, garlic, and usually mushrooms. Then, she smothered it all in a creamy, mashed potato crust, baked to a delicious golden brown, and voila!
I have included her original shepherd's pie recipe here along with a tourtière variation that she traditionally served on Christmas Eve, usually after the midnight carol service. I have many warm, childhood memories of frosty windows, steaming with the heat from the busy kitchen, and savory smells making young tummies growl in anticipation of treats just waiting to be devoured.
Low-Carb and Dairy-Free Option
With a few easy changes, you can easily transform this traditional meal into an equally tasty but low-carb and dairy-free, family-friendly meal. It's definitely kid-approved—my son didn't even notice the substitutions.
Granny's Shepherd's Pie
This pie has a fairly extensive ingredient list, but don't be put off. For simplicity, I've divided the list by layer: meat layer, vegetable layer, and topping. For the topping, there are two options: traditional or low-carb/non-dairy.
For the meat layer:
- 1 lb lean ground beef (or 1/2 lb leftover roast, ground fine, and 1/2 lb fresh ground meat; lamb and veal, pork and lamb, or pork and beef are very nice combinations)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1/2 lb fresh mushrooms, washed and sliced (I like to use portobello mushrooms)
- 2 stalks celery, cleaned and chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tsp savory, dried or fresh
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup chicken broth or meat stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the vegetable layer:
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups baby carrots, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and steamed to crunchy-tender
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups corn kernels, frozen or canned, drained
For a traditional topping:
- 4 to 6 cups cooked potatoes, mashed and whipped until fluffy with heavy cream and butter
- 1/2 cup grated white cheddar (I used aged cheddar)
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
For a low-carb, non-dairy topping:
- 4 to 6 cups cooked, well-drained cauliflower, pureed and whipped until fluffy with a generous drizzle of extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil or any quality oil of your choosing: almond, safflower, or sesame, which will impart a lovely nutty flavor. Stay away from almond oil or peanut oil unless they are family favorites, as their flavor can overpower the more delicate flavor of the cauliflower.
- 1/2 cup lactose-free cheese, or a quality non-dairy substitute
- 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
- A few sprigs fresh dill, finely chopped
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- In a heavy skillet, sauté the garlic and onions in good quality oil (cold-pressed virgin olive, safflower, canola) until almost transparent. Remove from skillet and set aside.
- Raise the heat and quickly sauté the mushrooms until they are just done. Set aside with onions.
- Lower the heat and add the ground beef (or fresh ground meat of your choice). Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until no pink remains.
- Pour off any excess oil or fat and return to heat. Add cooked ground meat and stir until heated through. Add mushrooms and onions and stir to combine. Add seasonings and salt and pepper to taste. Adjust seasonings as required.
- Pour in chicken broth or meat stock and stir until combined. Transfer the meat mixture to an oven-proof baking dish or casserole.
- Top with the vegetable layer, enough to completely cover the meat mixture.
- Now add the topping: Choose between either the traditional topping (with potatoes) or the low-carb, dairy-free topping (with cauliflower). Gently spoon on the topping, smoothing slightly. Sprinkle with grated cheese (either regular cheese or non-dairy cheese) and parsley.
- Place in a preheated 400°F oven to brown the topping.
- When the cheese is melted and bubbly, and the crust is golden brown, remove from the oven and serve immediately. Pair with tossed green salad and a fresh crusty loaf.
- Cauliflower: If you're making the low-carb variation, make sure the cauliflower is very well-drained. I recommend leaving it a sieve over a bowl or pot after you drain it. Granny used to set it over a bowl with the pot lid on top. You'll be surprised how much more liquid will drain off.
- Vegetable substitutions: You can replace the carrots with chopped green beans. These are your best low-carb option. You can also add peas, though they are a higher-carb option.
- Middle Eastern variation: For a tasty variation, replace white potatoes with yams. Then add turmeric, cardamom, and your favorite curry blend to the meat. Delicious!
Christmas Eve Tourtière
On Christmas Eve, my granny transformed her classic shepherd's pie into a tourtière (a meat pie with French-Canadian origins). To complete this transformation, she simply added the mashed potato to the filling, adjusted the seasoning slightly, and topped it with a delectable flaky pastry.
The tourtière recipe I present below is an appetizer instead of the usual main course. You can use a fine, short, thinly rolled-out crust, puff pastry, or layers of phyllo pastry made even more delectable by buttering each layer.
Prep time: 45 min
Cook time: 20 min
Ready in: 1 hour 5 min
Yield: Makes 12 mini-tourtières
- 1 very large potato, peeled and quartered
- 1 lb lean ground pork (or 1/2 lb cooked meat, ground, plus 1/2 lb fresh ground meat)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 stalk celery, cleaned and cut into 3 pieces, leaves on
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. savory, fresh or dried, ground
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp cloves, ground
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 packages frozen puff pastry, thawed
- 1 egg, beaten with a fork
- In a saucepan, bring lightly salted water to boil. Add potato quarters and cook until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon when done, mash, and set aside. Discard all but 1/2 cup potato water.
- To the saucepan with 1/2 cup potato water, add ground meat, onion, celery, garlic, savory, thyme, allspice, and cloves. Break ground meat with a spoon. Simmer and cook uncovered until meat is no longer pink and liquid is reduced by half.
- Remove celery pieces and discard. Stir in the mashed potato and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Adjust seasonings to taste, and then let the mixture cool in the refrigerator.
- Divide puff pastry into quarters. Roll out each quarter into a 12 x 9 inch rectangle and cut into twelve equal pieces.
- Brush each piece with beaten egg and place a heaping teaspoon of meat mixture in the center of each.
- Fold pastry over filling to enclose filling and make a triangle. Dip the tines of a fork in flour and lightly crimp the edges of the pastry triangle together to seal them.
- Continue with the remainder of the dough and reserve any leftover beaten egg in the refrigerator.
- The pies may now be covered and refrigerated overnight, or sealed in freezer bags and frozen for up to two months. Thaw in the refrigerator before baking.
- Arrange the pies on a baking sheet and brush with reserved beaten egg. Bake in the center of the oven at 400ºF until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve hot with cranberry/walnut conserve, or your favorite red or green tomato chutney.
These delicious morsels are sure to become a family favorite.
Pastry-Topped Meat Pies: So Many Options!
Since writing this article, I've discovered even more absolutely delectable meat pie recipes online, including an amazing meatball pie that features savory meatballs, smothered in rich gravy, nestled under a flaky pastry topping.
Another recipe calls for spicy, ground pork filling, topped with a layer of apples. And depending on which apples you use, tart or sweet, you can add more or less spicy heat to the filling. A teaspoon of cardamom certainly brings out the flavors of the meat and fruit quite nicely.
This is perhaps a modern take on the old practice of putting the meat at one end of the hand-held meal, and fruit or jam at the other end. Dinner and dessert in one handful—quite an efficient concept.
Traditionally, depending on which part of the Old Country you hailed from, your meat pie—or pasty if you were from Lancashire, like my granny—could contain almost any kind of ground meat. But to be called shepherd's pie, the meat had to be lamb.
Another way to make the meat pies uses a very short crust, a bit thicker on the top. You can fill the crust with cooked venison and ground beef, mixed with onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and thyme, along with a bay leaf that is discarded after cooking the meat. This version has no vegetables at all.
But however you make it, as a quick way to use up leftovers or a new dish all on its own, shepherd's pie remains a family favorite and one of the mainstays of homemade comfort foods. Enjoy!
More About Meat Pies
- 8 Things You Never Knew About Shepherd's Pie | Taste of Home
Shepherd's pie is a comfort food staple. Here's what makes this classic stand out from other savory pies.
- Tourtière: Québecois for Christmas | Smithsonian Magazine
For French-Canadians, the must-have holiday food is a spiced meat pie called a tourtière.
- How to Make Shepherd's Pie or Cottage Pie | Delishably
Easy recipe for shepherd's pie or cottage pie with a little humor and advice about alternatives. This delicious recipe is suitable for beginners and has been in my family for over 50 years.
© 2009 RedElf