Our recipe for shepherd’s pie is a lighter, fresh-flavored version made with ground lamb, carrots, and leeks, and a topping of light-as-air whipped potatoes baked to golden brown perfection.

Overhead view of a casserole of shepherd's pie with one serving removed and a plate with that portion off the side.

Originating as a way to ensure leftover roasted lamb or mutton would never go to waste, shepherd’s pie has long been a pub favorite in both Ireland and England.

The traditional version of this dish is a hearty combination of minced or ground lamb and sautéed aromatic vegetables (carrots, onion, and celery) topped with a layer of mashed potatoes and baked to form a golden crust.

Cottage pie is a similar dish that replaces the lamb with ground beef and sometimes includes other vegetables like corn or mushrooms. There’s also a fisherman’s pie that replaces the meat layer with a creamy, chowder-like mixture of smoked and fresh fish.

What Makes Our Recipe So Good

Our version of shepherd’s pie doesn’t stray too far from tradition, but we do make a few refinements that change this classic pub favorite from a rich, heavy meal to a tasty, light dish that won’t leave you feeling like you’ve overeaten.

Key Ingredients

In addition to basics like olive oil, garlic, butter, and egg, this recipe features specific ingredients that are very important to its flavor and texture. The full ingredient list including quantities can be found in the printable version of the recipe below.

  • Ground lamb: We’ve chosen to use fresh, grass-fed ground lamb, humanely raised in Australia. Although quite different from beef, Australian lamb lacks the gamey flavor that some folks aren’t that fond of.
  • Leeks: Leeks have a mild onion flavor that pairs really nicely with lamb and we use them as a replacement for the peas found in most shepherd’s pie recipes. It seems like a small thing, but eliminating that extra starch lightens up the dish while adding a layer of subtle sweetness to the flavor profile.
  • Fresh thyme: Fresh thyme leaves have a fragrant quality that complements the flavor of the lamb and vegetables perfectly. Although we don’t recommend it, you can get away with using dried thyme. Just be sure you reduce the quantity as noted in the recipe.
  • Worcestershire sauce: We call for just enough Worcestershire sauce in this recipe to add a little umami flavor to the meat mixture without it being an overwhelming taste.
  • Russet potatoes: In our experience, russet potatoes are the superior choice for making a light, fluffy potato topping for this dish. Be sure to follow our instructions and tips for best results.
  • Egg yolk: A single egg yolk whipped into the potatoes helps to increase their volume, giving them an airy texture that lightens up the entire dish.
Collage of two images: Whipped potatoes in a stainless mixing bowl, and an oval casserole with the ground lamb mixture in the bottom.
White oval casserole with fully assembled shepherd's pie being brushed with melted butter before baking.

How to Make Shepherd’s Pie

This is an overview of how this dish is made. You’ll find detailed measurements, ingredients, and instructions in the printable version of the recipe below.

  1. Preheat the oven and coat a casserole dish with non-stick spray.
  2. Brown the ground lamb, breaking up large chunks as it cooks.
  3. Drain any excess fat and transfer it to a plate while you cook the vegetables.
  4. Sauté the diced carrots over medium heat until lightly caramelized, then add the sliced leeks and minced garlic.
  5. Continue cooking until the leeks are tender.
  6. Combine the tomato paste with the water and Worcestershire sauce, then add to the vegetables and mix well.
  7. Return the lamb to the pan, combine thoroughly and transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.
  8. While the lamb is browning, place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Add salt, bring to a boil and cook until tender when pierced with a fork.
  9. Drain the potatoes and put them back on the stove to evaporate any remaining water. Transfer to a mixing bowl and mash gently.
  10. Heat the butter and half-and-half in the microwave, add to the potatoes and combine.
  11. Season to taste, then add the egg yolk.
  12. Using an electric mixer, whip the potatoes until light and fluffy, no more than 30 seconds.
  13. Spread the potatoes over the lamb mixture.
  14. Brush with melted butter and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the potatoes develop a golden-brown crust.
  15. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Fully baked, uncut shepherd's pie in a white oval casserole with fresh thyme sprinkled on top for garnish.

Tips for Success

  • Break the meat up well: When browning the meat, use a spatula or wooden spoon to break large chunks up into small pieces. This is an important technique to use when cooking any kind of ground meat, as it boosts flavor by making it easier to coat with sauces and combine with other ingredients.
  • Caramelize the carrots: Make sure to get a little caramelization on your diced carrots before adding the leeks and garlic. Any time you caramelize a vegetable, even if it’s only slightly, you bring out its natural sweetness and add flavor.
  • Clean the leeks well: Because leeks can hide a lot of dirt, particularly near the top where the layers aren’t as closely packed, you’ll want to be sure you’ve cleaned them well. To clean them, we generally cut them in half lengthwise, then separate the layers one at a time and rinse off any dirt we find under cool running water.
  • Don’t overwhip the potatoes: Follow the recipe instructions closely to be sure your potatoes turn out light and fluffy. Whipped potatoes can turn sticky if you beat them too much. Since you’ve mashed them by hand already, just 30 seconds with the mixer will do the trick.
  • Get a nice golden crust on the potato topping: If necessary, turn the oven to broil for a minute or two, but watch carefully and don’t walk away. Things can burn quickly under the broiler.

What to Serve with Shepherd’s Pie

Since shepherd’s pie is essentially a one-dish dinner, we generally just add a salad with a simple vinaigrette to the meal. Steamed whole green beans with a little butter and lemon, or fresh spinach sautéed with a little butter are also good choices for a side dish.

As for a wine pairing, try a bold red variety like Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel. For beer lovers, Guinness stout is the top choice, but a nice porter will do as well.

A serving of shepherd's pie on a plate with the partially cut casserole in the background.

More Lamb Recipes to Try

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A serving of Shepherd's Pie on a plate with the casserole in the background.

Shepherd’s Pie

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Our recipe for shepherd's pie is a lighter, fresh-flavored version made with ground lamb, carrots, and leeks, and a topping of light-as-air whipped potatoes baked to golden brown perfection.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium leek, quartered lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons melted butter

For the potato topping:

  • 1-1/2 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup half-and-half, plus more as needed
  • Salt and white pepper, to taste
  • 1 egg yolk

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F and lightly coat a casserole with non-stick spray.

Prepare the meat layer:

  • Add the ground lamb to a frying pan and season with salt and pepper. Brown the meat over medium heat, using a spatula to break up large chunks as it cooks. Once the meat is cooked through, drain any excess fat and transfer it to a plate while you cook the vegetables.
  • Return the pan to the stove over medium heat and add the olive oil and diced carrots. Sauté until the carrots are lightly caramelized, 5 to 6 minutes, then add the sliced leeks and minced garlic. Continue cooking until the leeks are soft and tender, 3 to 4 minutes more.
  • Combine the tomato paste, water, and Worcestershire sauce in a small bowl, then add it to the vegetables and combine. Return the lamb to the pan, combine thoroughly, then transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.

Prepare the potato topping:

  • While the lamb is browning, add the potatoes to a saucepan and cover with cold water. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, 12 to 15 minutes.
  • Drain the potatoes well and place the pan back on the stove just long enough for any remaining water to evaporate. Transfer them to a mixing bowl and mash gently.
  • Add the butter and half-and-half to a microwave-safe measuring cup and microwave on 70% until the butter has melted (times will vary). Add the mixture to the potatoes, combine gently, and season to taste with salt and a little white pepper (if desired). Add the egg yolk.
  • Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, whip the potatoes until light and fluffy, adding a little more half-and-half if needed.
    Important note: Don't whip the potatoes for more than 30 seconds because their starch will begin to break down resulting in a gluey texture.

Assemble the dish:

  • Spoon the whipped potatoes over the lamb mixture as evenly as possible, using a silicone spatula to smooth them to the edge. Brush liberally with melted butter.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the potatoes develop a rich golden crust. You can turn on the broiler for the last minute or two for even browning but watch carefully to be sure the top doesn't burn. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Tips for Making This Recipe

  • Break the meat up well: When browning the meat, use a spatula or wooden spoon to break large chunks up into small pieces. This is an important technique to use when cooking any kind of ground meat, as it boosts flavor by making it easier to coat with sauces and combine with other ingredients.
  • Caramelize the carrots: Make sure to get a little caramelization on your diced carrots before adding the leeks and garlic. Any time you caramelize a vegetable, even if it’s only slightly, you bring out its natural sweetness and add flavor.
  • Clean the leeks well: Because leeks can hide a lot of dirt, particularly near the top where the layers aren’t as closely packed, you’ll want to be sure you’ve cleaned them well. To clean them, we generally cut them in half lengthwise, then separate the layers one at a time and rinse off any dirt we find under cool running water.
  • Don’t overwhip the potatoes: Follow the recipe instructions closely to be sure your potatoes turn out light and fluffy. Whipped potatoes can turn sticky if you beat them too much. Since you’ve mashed them by hand already, just 30 seconds with the mixer will do the trick.
  • Get a nice golden crust on the potato topping: If necessary, turn the oven to broil for a minute or two, but watch carefully and don’t walk away. Things can burn quickly under the broiler.
Calories: 585kcal, Carbohydrates: 20g, Protein: 23g, Fat: 47g, Saturated Fat: 22g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g, Monounsaturated Fat: 18g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 173mg, Sodium: 474mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 4g
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