This Is What's Really In A Shepherd's Pie

Have you ever eaten shepherd's pie? Although it's not as well known in the U.S. as pot pie, this UK classic has been providing thrifty Brits with a tasty way to use up leftovers for nearly 200 years. While the British Food in America blog details extensive squabbling over whether shepherd's pie is Scottish or English in origin, the Irish Nobleman pub claims it as "one of Ireland's most beloved dishes."

Although the sources can't quite seem to agree which UK nation first came up with the idea of shepherd's pie, there is one thing everyone agrees on — in order to be authentic, a shepherd's pie must be made with lamb or mutton. If it's made with beef, it's called a cottage pie, and if it is made with chicken or any other meat or non-meat (Impossible Burger pie, anyone?), in that case, it's a whole 'nother dish altogether.

Typical shepherd's pie ingredients

The lamb, which is minced or ground, is simmered in a gravy which is usually flavored with onions and may also contain additional vegetables such as peas, carrots, or celery. The "crust" of the pie is made not with pastry, but with mashed potatoes, which can be used as both a top and bottom layer or just on top. 

British Food in America, while endorsing the idea of keeping shepherd's pie as simple as possible as opposed to "go[ing] all Cosmopolitan on it with red onion, olive oil and Thai chilies," nevertheless suggests two additions to the standard mashed potato topping: mixing mashed turnips with the potatoes, and adding shredded cheddar to make a cheesy crust.

What to serve with shepherd's pie?

If you've loaded up your pie with peas and carrots and parsnips, it may well serve as a one-pot meal. Should you want additional veggies on the side, The Guardian suggests these same peas and carrots and parsnips, or perhaps leeks, shallots, cabbage, or kale. Or even baked beans, if you really want a taste of comfort food, British-style.

As to the proper drink? Why, tea, of course, although an Irish beer such as the dark, hearty Guinness would also work. Or you could do as Member of Parliament-turned-ex-con and novelist Jeffrey Archer apparently did, and pair the finest French champagne with your shepherd's pie. 

Dress it up and accompany it however you like, though, shepherd's pie will never forget its working class roots, and will stick to your ribs so you can get on with the backbreaking work that built an Empire (or just back to binge-watching The Crown).