RECIPES: Shepherd’s Pie Versus Cottage Pie: Truth in Advertising

Shepher's pie with a lamb shank.

Shepher’s pie with a lamb shank.

You don’t have to be Irish to love shepherd’s pie or cottage pie. Both are popular comfort foods year round. But let’s be clear about which is which, because there is a difference!

The straightforward difference between shepherd’s pie and cottage pie is that the former is made with lamb, while the latter is made with beef and/or other ground meats. However, since the original meat pie with potato topping was first named in the late 1790s, around the introduction of potatoes to Ireland, when workers lived in “cottages,” the lines have blurred. Shepherd’s pie made its appearance in the late 1800s. So, that’s the story. Many restaurants, including Irish pubs that ought to know better, are listing shepherds pie on their menus when there’s not a sniff of lamb in the dish. They’re serving up beef as mutton.

The straightforward difference between shepherd’s pie and cottage pie is that the former is made with lamb, while the latter is made with beef and/or other ground meats.

Generally speaking, a meat pie with mixed vegetables and a mashed potato topping is still a meat pie, but the variations confuse the issue. Some argue that shepherd’s pie must contain lamb and/or mutton, most commonly available in Ireland. Others insist that as long as the “pie” contains some lamb or mutton or other meats—beef, turkey, chicken, sausage—it’s a rose by any name. Purists insist a shepherd’s pie is a cottage pie when it does not contain lamb. You may find shepherd’s pie even on  an authentic Irish Pub menu with the description “made with ground beef.” So, who’s right? For me, personally, this is heresy! I am on the side of the lamb and mutton defenders; though, honestly, I’ve been known to order “shepherd’s pie” accepting that it’s actually cottage pie if my mood calls for it, and I do so knowingly. Just a week ago, I took a friend to supper at Buckley’s Irish Pub in Center Moriches. The menu blatantly stated “Shepherd’s Pie”, followed by a summary of ingredients beginning with “beef.” The bar was serving up Irish brews and I debated ordering corned beef and cabbage, but I’d had my heart set on shepherd’s pie, so I shrugged off the kitchen’s disregard for tradition (as I see it, maybe you don’t.) Certainly Buckley’s is “anything goes” when it comes down to definitions.

These recipes call for the addition of peas (always!), carrots, tomato or tomato paste, and other minced vegetables, mixed with the minced meat(s), topped by creamy mashed potatoes, baked in a casserole. The filling and the mashed  potatoes are prepared separately, so that the baking simply reheats up the dish and browns off the topping prior to serving. The pie is usually created as comfort food in a large roasting pan or casserole, family style. I in restaurants, the dish is usually presented in individually portioned casseroles.. You can prepare the following recipes any way you wish, but please do me—and every definition I’ve researched—the favor of  naming them  correctly. For shepherd’s pie, lamb or mutton is a a must. Cottage pie has any combination of meat(s), excluding lamb or mutton. Spread the Word!

Friends from Palma de Mallorca recently visited two Taylor Walked pubs in London. They raved about the shepherd’s pie, which was different from the norm. When I requested the recipe, a standard for the chain, the recipe and development center sent me this response. This one is for cooks who know how to draw from ingredients to create a dish without measurements or specific directions. If any one of you tries it, I’d love to hear from you. Following this is an adaptable recipe for cottage pie and  shepherd’s pie. Lord Killkenny is a fabulous cook, and I hope he’ll share more recipes in the future.

The Taylor Walker recipe is one of the chain’s most popular menu items:

The recipe is a fairly standard shepherd’s pie filling of minced lamb, onion, swede (turnip), carrot, tomato and lamb stock. A few extra ingredients are added for extra flavour: Worcestershire sauce, garlic, red currant jelly, tamarind extract and molasses. This is cooked and then portioned into the small pie dishes and then we place in the slow cooker a lamb shoulder that has been cooked for 6 hours to ensure it is tender. Finally we top with minted mash and finish through the oven.

(With thanks to Taylor Walker Guest Relations)

Fred Riley’s Recipe For Shepherd’s Pie or Cottage Pie

If you’re making cottage pie, use beef or other meats or poultry. If you want shepherd’s pie, use lamb, lamb or chicken stock, and a few drops of Gravy Master for color. Other ingredients you may want to include are peas, chopped tomatoes or one tablespoon tomato paste.

3 lbs. potatoes, preferably Yukon gold or red potatoes
1-1/2 lbs. 93 percent ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped or 1/4-inch dice
1 T.light olive oil
2/3 cup beef boullion
Worcestershire sauce
Gravy Master
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel, chop and boil potatoes until soft. Mash, using 1/4 cup half and half or heavy cream and 2 tablespoons real butter.

In a large pan, sweat the onion in 1 tablespoon light olive oil until golden. Add the carrots; continue to sweat for 2 minutes. Add the beef (or lamb) and mix over medium-high heat until the meat is thoroughly browned. Stir in 1-1/2 tablespoon flour and distribute well. Add 2/3 cup beef bouillon and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes while oven is preheating.

Transfer the beef mixture into a casserole dish. Top the mixture with the mashed potatoes, using a fork to create peaks and troughs. Optionally, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake in in preheated oven on the middle rack up to 40 minutes, or until the top of the potatoes begin to brown. (Remove sooner if topping browns faster.)