Food Talk
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Comfy, Shepherd’s Pie

dsc_01521An old favourite from the United Kingdom is cottage or shepherd’s pie. It’s a tasty ground meat dish topped with mashed potatoes that most of us remember from our school days. Shepherd’s pie should actually be made with ground lamb; “cottage pie” is what the dish is called when it is made with beef. But these days, most people just call it shepherd’s pie (although made with beef).

It began as a food that peasants prepared in England because it was inexpensive and potatoes were plentiful. Today shepherd’s pie is known world-wide. In fact, Indian cooks once considered shepherd’s pie to be a perfect dish for tiffin (a word used to mean a light snack in British India).

There are many variations depending on where the dish is made.

In Scotland, pastry is used instead of potatoes. In northern England, the potato topping is covered in breadcrumbs; which turns the dish into a “Cumberland pie”. In Quebec, it is known as Pâté Chinois (Chinese pie), so called because it was first prepared by Chinese railway workers in Quebec. Pâté Chinois usually calls for a layer of creamed corn under the potato topping.

Basic Shepherd’s Pie
The meat part of the dish is made by cooking ground meat (beef or lamb) together with onions, vegetables, broth, spices and often some tomato paste.

Mashed potatoes are prepared separately and spread on top, then the entire dish is baked in the oven until steaming hot.

  • Shepherd’s Pie (with beef)
  • Ingredients
  • 1½ to 2 pounds potatoes (about 3 large potatoes), peeled and quartered, and butter for mashing
  • Oil for frying
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1½ cups)
  • 1-2 cups vegetables – diced carrots, corn, peas
  • 1½ lbs ground round beef
  • ½ cup beef broth
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt, pepper, other seasonings of choice
  • 2-3 tablespoons of tomato paste (optional)


  • Boil the potatoes, mash with butter, salt and pepper. Set aside.
  • Heat oil, cook beef until pink disappears. Add onions and cook until tender, then add vegetables, beef broth and seasonings.
  • Spread meat into an oblong pan (doesn’t have to be pie shaped!) and top with mashed potatoes. Cook until sauce bubbles up from the bottom!
  • Serve with a green salad and crusty bread.


  • Vegetarians substitute the meat with a soy meat substitute or brown lentils.
  • Sweet potatoes can be used on top instead of potatoes (I’ve even used a layer or white rice).
  • Cheese sprinkled on top of the mashed potatoes is popular. You can also add some chopped jalapenos to the cheese for a spicier version.
  • Peas and carrots are traditionally used as the vegetables. Corn is a variation.

Short Cuts

  • Use frozen vegetables (peas, carrots, corn).
  • Add a cup of tomato or vegetable soup to the meat to make the sauce.
  • Ground turkey or chicken instead of beef or lamb.
  • Use instant mashed potatoes or hash browns for the top, and sprinkle with purchased grated cheese.