At its most simple, shepherd’s pie is a wholesome, heart-warming comfort food staple. But with that, it’s also highly adaptable. When substituting some of the ingredients and dedicating a little more time to the production, shepherd’s pie can become a decadent, swoon-worthy dish perfect for impressing at dinner parties without applying too much effort (and undertaking most of the preparation in advance).
Traditionally comprising a base of minced meat topped with potato, shepherd’s pie is often used synonymously with cottage pie and hachis Parmentier in France, from which the term ‘hash’ is borrowed. The key difference between shepherd’s pie and cottage pie, however, is that shepherd’s pie uses lamb, while cottage pie uses beef. Both are then topped with mashed potato and finished in the oven.
While minced lamb is especially common, this shepherd’s pie recipe adheres more closely to the early cookery book suggestions of using leftover roasted meat. Here, leftover slow-cooking joints such as shoulder are perfect, as are lamb shanks used especially for the dish. The lamb shanks are generously seasoned then quickly seared in a hot pan until lightly browned all over. Once seared, the lamb shanks are removed from the pan, and the leftover fat is used for sautéing a mixture of chopped celery, carrot and onion. A dash of red wine is then added, followed by chopped tomatoes and good quality chicken stock before the shanks are returned to the pan and simmered for around 90 minutes until tender, but not completely giving.
Once cooled down, the fat is strained from the top of the reserved cooking liquor, which is reduced to make a gravy spiked with brown sauce. The lamb shanks are then arranged into a roasting or baking dish then topped with a drizzle of the thickened sauce, caramelised onions, sweated leeks, and peas. The mixture is then topped with silky mashed potatoes, with the bones peeking out (think Desperate Dan’s cow pie), finished with a fistful of grated cheddar cheese.
- 4 lamb shanks
- 4 onions peeled and finely sliced
- 2 carrots peeled and finely sliced
- 2 sticks celery roughly diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
- 250 ml red wine
- 400 g tinned tomatoes chopped
- 700 ml chicken stock
- 2.5 kg potatoes peeled
- ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
- 150 g butter
- 2 egg yolks
- 3 leeks outer layers peeled and finely sliced
- 2 tbsp brown sauce
- Handful fresh peas or use frozen peas
- Cheddar cheese grated (to taste)
- Neutral cooking oil such as rapeseed or vegetable oil
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- White pepper optional
- Begin by scoring the fat on the lamb shanks and seasoning with salt.
- Heat a splash of neutral cooking oil in a large, heavy-based pan and add the lamb shanks (two at a time). Sear until lightly browned on all sides, then remove from the pan and reserve until later. Repeat with the following lamb shanks.
- In the same pan, add 50g butter, 1 sliced onion, the carrots and celery. Cook over a medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned. Add the bay leaves, rosemary sprigs, garlic and Worcestershire sauce. Season with a pinch of salt, then continue to cook for another minute or two until fragrant, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn.
- Pour the wine into the pan and increase the heat. Cook for five minutes or until the wine has reduced by approximately 2/3. Add the tomatoes to the pan, followed by the chicken stock, lamb shanks, and a generous crack of pepper. Make sure the lamb shanks are completely covered (it doesn’t matter if the bones aren’t entirely covered) and add more stock or water if need be. Bring to the boil then cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more water if the lamb meat becomes uncovered.
- While the lamb cooks, make the mashed potato, caramelise the onions, and sweat the leeks.
- Make the mashed potato by boiling the potatoes in generously salted water until soft enough to break with a fork. Drain well, then mash with 100g butter. Add a pinch of white pepper and grated nutmeg, then leave to cool completely. Once cooled, beat in two egg yolks for an extra decadent topping.
- Meanwhile, add the 3 remaining onions to a clean pan with a splash of cooking oil and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until caramelised. This can take up to 30 minutes, but keep an eye on them towards the end of the cooking time to make sure they don’t stick or burn.
- In another pan, sweat the sliced leeks for 15-20 minutes over low heat, with a splash of oil or a generous knob of butter and a pinch of salt.
- Once cooked, allow the lamb shanks to cool in the braising liquor, then remove and place on a plate. Strained the cooled liquid and discard the vegetables. Skim any fat or scum from the liquid and return to a clean pan. Cook over medium-high heat until reduced to the consistency of a relatively thin gravy. Add the brown sauce, stir to combine, and taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if need be.
- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.
- In a baking tray or casserole dish large enough for the four lamb shanks (or into four individual pie dishes), place the lamb shanks with the bone facing upwards. Drizzle over some of the sauce, followed by the leeks, then the onions, then a handful of raw fresh peas (or quickly blanched frozen peas). Top with a layer of mashed potato, keeping the lamb bones exposed and peeking out over the top, then place in the oven for 15 minutes.
- Remove the shepherd’s pie from the oven and scatter with a handful of grated cheddar cheese. Increase the oven temperature to 220C/Gas 7 and return to shepherd’s pie to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes, or until golden. Serve at the table.