Shepherd’s Pie – Time to face the real issues.

Shepherd's Pie People are so easily thrown off the real issue. Food people are the easiest of all. Suckers. Ask them about Shepherd’s Pie and it’s simple to move them away from the real deal and distract them with talk of “Beef or Lamb?”. A quick search of the internet will expose the great and the good arguing why it must be lamb. Others take the view that beef is essential. Some miserable scribes show their complete lack of moral fiber by suggesting that a mix of the two is the answer. Pathetic.  

While they are and, I’ll bet you are now, thinking that this is of some import, the real matter at hand goes unnoticed. It is an entirely different debate that I bet you’ve never even considered. The real issue is: “Potato Mountains or Ploughed Fields?” If you are not on the right side of that one, you’ll never make a real shepherd’s pie.

On the side issue of Beef V Lamb, get real. Shepherds look after sheep. Shepherd’s Pie needs lamb. The same pie with beef is a Cottage Pie. Though what cows have to do with cottages is beyond me.

Now, back to the job in hand: Ploughed Field Shepherd’s Pie. You will need the following ingredients:

  • 1.5 kilos (3 lb) of minced lamb
  • 2 onions
  • 4 or 5 carrots
  • Plenty of peas
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Half a litre (1 pint) of lamb stock (if you can get it) chicken or beef if you can’t
  • A generous glass of red wine
  • Cornstarch diluted in water to thicken the gravy
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • Plenty of potatoes (a lot more than the peas)

I did take a photograph of the ingredients but I forgot half the stuff so I won’t bother showing it here. Instead, here’s a shot of the beautiful garden peas. Boy, they were tasty. So tasty in fact that many did not make it past the ‘taste test’ at podding time.

Garden peas

I used far more than are here. In truth, I had to supplement the fresh with a lot of frozen. Frozen peas don’t add much to a food photo though.

Here’s what to do:

Chop and sweat the onions and garlic for about 40 minutes over a low heat. Add the carrots, also chopped, after 20 minutes.

Carrots and onions

This step is well worth getting right. Don’t rush it as the garlic, onions and carrots intensify in flavour and add a lovely sweetness that can’t be achieved otherwise.

When the onions and carrots are sweated, remove them and brown the lamb in batches, pouring off an excess fat that is released.

Shepherd's Pie

Don’t sweat it if the lamb does not go a very brown colour when you are browning it. It’s lamb, not beef so it won’t go that colour.

Put the potatoes on to boil. Add the lamb and onions / carrots / garlic mixture to a roasting dish. Put it on a low heat and add the rest of the ingredients bar the cornflour mixture. Simmer and stir until a nice consistency is reached. Add the cornflour mixture if needed to thicken things up as you go.

Shepherd's Pie

Note that the lamb is not particularly brown. Get over it. It does not need to be dark brown to be tasty.

Add some butter and milk to the potatoes when they are cooked and drained. Mash them. When they are well mashed, mash them again. Repeat. (They need to be very well mashed.)

Mashed potatoes

They have to be well mashed to make good ploughed fields. The uninitiated amongst you may be happy with less well mashed potatoes slopped on in Potato Mountain style. Unacceptable.

Make ploughed fields on top of the pie before putting it into a 200 degree C oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Take it out, photograph it in a loving fashion and serve your guests.Shepherd's Pie I served mine with some cabbage sweated and fried in garlic. Very tasty.

Shepherd's Pie

The sweated and fried cabbage was wonderful with this simple dish.

We also had a bottle of wine brought back from the Languedoc. Very, very tasty. I suppose you want a picture of the wine too?

Shepherd's pie

There was a generous glass of this wine from Fitou in the dish. We visited the village on our summer break. Having the wine with the meal brought part of the holiday back.

So, don’t be distracted by the side issues of this dish. Don’t be distracted by the wine. Remember the real issue: Ploughed Fields.

Shepherd's Pie

I’m not anti potato mountains. I use them to great effect in Fish Pie. They just have no place in Shepherd’s Pie. Take my word for it.

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Latest comments
  • Lamb, always Lamb! Great post Conor.

    • Thanks Brian. Your avatar is a giveaway.

  • looks delicious… i can’t wait to try this:)

  • Lovely dish, but I don’t have a food tractor for the field. 😉

    • Love it. You can borrow mine any time. Either that or use a fork. It’s how our forefathers did it!

  • I’m a poughed field type…. I make it with lamb and it’s shepherd’s pie, I make it with beef and it’s cottage pie… BTW, a little applesauce in the mix for cottage pie is terrific (my mother’s trick). I haven’t tried it in a lamb variety yet.

    • Interesting indeed. There will be a leap of faith on that one.

  • Love Shephers’d Pie…. when can I come over for dinner??
    Thank you for another enjoyable and fun posting. Giangi

    • Thanks Giangi, I will keep a place at the table for whenever suits you. However, you had better arrive on ‘post night’ as we live on bread and water between posts.

    • Thanks Giangi, I will keep a place at the table for whenever suits you. However, you had better arrive on ‘post night’ as we live on bread and water between posts.

  • What if I were to use ground turkey? What would I call it then? (Other than crap!) By any name, your plowed fields look divine.

    • I am trying to think of something funny to say but your “other than crap!” stops me in my tracks. Brilliant.

  • THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU, CONOR. OK, I’ll stop yelling now. Unless you go to Basque country (up around Bakersfield California) I don’t think you’d find anyone in this state who knows that shepherds deal with sheep and not with cattle. People think I’m crazy when I even bring up the lamb / beef issue. I usually make my shepherds pie from leftover roast (and add a thin layer of sharp cheese).

    I love your ploughed fields. I usually make potato waves but will use your technique next go.

    I woke thinking about braised lamb shank this morning as we’re having our first bit of cool weather though just for a couple of days

    • Potato waves! Perhaps they would be better on the fish pie? Perhaps I am wrong about my potato mountains? I will be featuring my fish pie again in my Meat Reheat series (yet to start publishing). I am very tempted to go waves for the fishes.

  • Oh god I love shepards pie! My mum used to always make it during the week for after school… heaven! So comforting!I must make it soon! You’re looks yum and the cabbage is a lovely looking addition… now I have the munchies!

    • Giving you the munchies is the whole idea. Get cooking Emma.

  • Love it. I’ll have to try the “ploughed fields” bit with the potatoes. I do keep my mountains to a minimum though. 🙂

  • Excellent! Just to confuse the issue (and I do accept that beef = cottage pie), I like to use a mixture of lamb and beef 😉

    • A lack of moral fibre there MD!

      • I disagree – i think lamb is too sweet on its own.

        • A side issue MD. Ploughed or mountains? 🙂

        • Who could resist a ploughed field 🙂

  • Whoa! Conor, thanks for clearing things up. Apparently the Shepherd’s Pie I’ve been making all these years is actually Cottage Pie. I feel so … wrong. However, it should make you happy to know that I’ve always embraced the Ploughed Fields. The more mashed, the better. Gives it a fluffier, crispier crust.

    • It takes a big man to admit when he is wrong. I am a small man, hence, I rarely have to!

      • Haha. Then I guess I’m a medium man?

  • I must say, I’ve always gone with mountains. It seems like you get more potato that way. I may have to try a ploughed version next time. Just to see how it compares. But then again, I’ve been making Cottage Pie this whole time and calling it Shepherds Pie, so maybe the sin is not so grave. I’ll find some lamb and make it proper next time. That’s a promise!

    • Ha Ha. No sin yet. I have to bring Cottage Pie within the scope of my ire. When I do, you better be ploughing!

  • So very beautiful. I am channeling a cool autumns evening comforted by the warmth of an oven and this delicious pie as it bakes. The photos are exceptional and is it wrong of me to add I especially love the shot with those green peas.

    • Thanks Alice, I have to admit, I am proud of the pea shot.

  • Great post again, Conor! I like the peas and I like the long sweat for the garlic, onions, and carrots. I also like anything with lamb and using good wine for cooking.
    If you can’t find lamb stock, make your own 🙂
    There is one thing I don’t get though: where are the furrows in the plowed field?

    • Ploughed with a fork. Zoom in on the image. They give a fantastic ‘mouth feel’. I hate that expression by the way. Marketing twaddle!

    • Oops! I’m reading this on my phone and just noticed that I needed to magnify to see the furrows… Greetings from l’Autoroute du Nord towards Paris!

      • You have an easy life!

  • You get your food passport. You have passed the two critical test questions. Ploughed fields and lamb.

  • I totally lack moral fiber Conor as I make this with turkey! Was that a groan I heard? I cannot get my husband near lamb unless it is at a petting zoo!

  • My family has always ploughed the fields, but my Mom sprinkles paprika all over the top. I wish I could come up with a clever metaphor here…

    The pea photo is spectacular!


    • Thanks Laura, Sorry for the delay in responding. Something not right with my WP? The paprika is a great idea.

  • Wry. Love it. Delighted to discover your blog Conor. Also, that there is an agency in Dublin working with Harley Davidson. I am a food blogger + former agency producer from the USA who has been living in Ireland for the past 7 years. Look forward to following your posts. Imen

    • Hi Imen, Thanks for that. Right now, I would just love to hop on a Harley and drive off into the sunset. That is if I had a Harley and we could see the sunset through the rain.

  • Yes the ploughed look is definitely classic old school – It actually reminds me of Grandma’s cooking. As for potato mountains; our take on that is exploding bean volcanoes a la Richard Dreyfuss going psycho with mashed potato in Third Encounters. Except he didn’t use beans.

    • There is a third option. All will be revealed in a later post….

  • Oooh I’m lovin’ it! Could you send some over? It’s one of my all time favourites 🙂

    • Hi Sanjiv, I’ll send some, as soon as I know you are on the right side of the ploughed field / mountains debate!

  • ploughed fields it is from now on. Thanks Conor, lovely comfort food and soooo beloved at parties (with ‘champagne’ a la Geoffrey Archer!?), lol, Ciao Carina

    • Delighted to have you on my side of the debate Carina. I think Archer continues to delude himself and not only by serving Champagne and Shepherds Pie together. I do enjoy an occasional glass. My late father had a different view. He used to say that bucks fizz was an awful waste of good orange juice.

  • Can not find out how to follow you?

    • The fantastic WordPress system tells me that you are now following via WP and will get an email each time I post.
      Thanks for that. I appreciate it.

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