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This post is sponsored by the American Lamb Board. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

A rich gravy with lamb and vegetables tucked under creamy mashed potatoes make this the BEST Shepherd’s Pie recipe. Ever. Okay, in my opinion. But I’m pretty confident about this Irish comfort food classic.

A rich gravy with lamb and vegetables hidden under creamy mashed potatoes make this the BEST Shepherd's Pie recipe.  Ever.  Okay, in my opinion.  But I'm pretty confident about this Irish comfort food classic.

Do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? It’s such a fun holiday here in Dublin (CA, not Ireland). Our city puts on a big Irish heritage festival and parade every year with Irish dancers, music, and floats and of course everybody is dressed in green.

Since I’m part Irish, I like to make traditional Irish foods as a way of celebrating my Irish heritage. Foods like Dublin coddle, Irish soda bread, colcannon, and leek and potato soup are all traditional Irish recipes, just like this shepherd’s pie recipe that I’m sharing today.

Real shepherd’s pie is made with lamb, not ground beef, which is in a similar dish called cottage pie. 

While the name might not seem like it means a lot, if you have never tried real shepherd’s pie made with lamb instead of ground beef, you haven’t actually had shepherd’s pie. The lamb adds so much incredible flavor and it’s the thing I love most about this classic Irish comfort food dish! In our family, there is a strong preference for shepherd’s pie over cottage pie.

An image of shepherd's pie made in a cast iron skillet with creamy mashed potatoes on top. An image of a serving of authentic shepherd's pie made with lamb, vegetables, and mashed potatoes on a plate.

I partner with the American Lamb Board because we love lamb and eat it often at our house. There really is no other protein like it and the flavor is amazing. 

Lamb is used in so many cuisines around the world and it’s growing in popularity in the U.S.A. as more people are trying lamb and realizing how incredible it makes even everyday dishes taste. Especially with globally-inspired cooking, like Irish shepherd’s pie, lamb is an authentic, adventurous choice. 

And using American lamb means you are supporting local family farmers and ranchers. There are over 80,000 family-owned sheep farms and ranches in the United States and lamb is produced in every state! No growth hormones are used in American lamb production and the majority of U.S. sheep graze pastures for most of their lives.

Plus, it’s true to the spirit of the original shepherd’s pie recipe to use locally-sourced ingredients, which is something I feel good about. Support your local lamb growers by asking your butcher if they sell american lamb or visit americanlamb.com for recommendations.

An image of classic shepherd's pie, a traditional Irish recipe, made with ground lamb, vegetables, a rich gravy, and creamy mashed potatoes on top.

The Best Shepherd’s Pie Recipe

We don’t usually eat shepherd’s pie on St. Patrick’s Day, but that’s only because it’s so easy and so good that we want to eat it year round! It’s delicious for Sunday dinner or comforting weeknight fare, especially when the weather is cold.

Paul, especially, loves shepherd’s pie and has said it’s one of his favorite things I make. We may have fought over who got the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Our kids love it too. Shepherd’s pie is one of those magical foods that they gobble up without a word of protest on their part or any need for coaxing or encouragement from us to get them to clean their plates. Granted, our kids are good eaters, but this kind of enthusiasm for dinner is next level for them.

This really is the best shepherd’s pie recipe and it’s one I hope you will turn to again and again to feed your family.

A big helping of Irish Shepherd's Pie is the perfect thing to enjoy on St. Patrick's Day or any cold weather day of the year. An image of classic shepherd's pie, a traditional Irish recipe, made with ground lamb, vegetables, a rich gravy, and creamy mashed potatoes on top.

If you make shepherd’s pie for St. Patrick’s Day this year, be sure to enjoy a traditional Irish dessert too! Like sticky toffee pudding or Irish apple cake with custard sauce!

Why is it called Shepherd’s Pie?

Shepherd’s pie got it’s name because of the lamb in the dish and the shepherds who cared for them. Lamb was a popular protein source in Ireland and even though this “pie” doesn’t have a traditional pastry crust, it’s a similar approach where a filling made with a rich, gravy, vegetables, and ground lamb is covered with a layer of creamy mashed potatoes as the top “crust”. 

The whole thing is then baked until hot and bubbling and the potato topping is golden brown.

How to Make Shepherd’s Pie

  1. Start by preparing the filling. In a cast-iron skillet or other large pan, saute chopped onion in a little oil for 5 minutes until soft, adding in some minced garlic in the last 30 seconds or so.
  2. Add the carrots and cook another 5 minutes to soften slightly.
  3. Push the carrots and onions to the side of the pan (or transfer to a plate) and add the ground lamb, stirring and breaking it up until browned. Then season with the salt and pepper and mix the vegetables and browned lamb together.
  4. Add Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, rosemary, thyme, nutmeg, and red pepper flakes, and stir to combine. Then sprinkle the flour over the top and stir that in as well, cooking for 1 minute. 
  5. Add the peas, corn, and beef broth and stir until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  6. Make the mashed potatoes by peeling the potatoes and cutting them into small chunks. Place the potatoes in a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil for 12-15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
  7. Drain the water from the potatoes and add some warmed cream, butter, and salt. Mash the potatoes (or use a potato ricer if you have one), then use to top the lamb and vegetable filling, spreading all the way to the edges. I like to make sure not to make this too smooth because the ridges and bumps of roughly spread mashed potatoes will get golden brown while the shepherd’s pie bakes in the oven and it’s so good that way!
  8. Transfer the shepherd’s pie to a 375 degree F oven and bake for 45 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and hot and the potatoes are starting to turn golden brown on top.
  9. Cool for 10-15 minutes before eating.

Tips for the Best Shepherd’s Pie

  • Let the filling cool before topping with the potatoes. This helps the mashed potato layer stay a little more distinct.
  • If you don’t have beef broth on hand, you can absolutely substitute chicken broth and it will work just as well.
  • Add either 3-4 tablespoons of horseradish to the mashed potatoes for an extra kick of flavor that, while not traditional, is still super delicious!
  • Sprinkle 1 cup of cheddar cheese (either white cheddar or an orange sharp cheddar) on top before baking for another non-traditional but tasty variation on shepherd’s pie.
  • If you don’t have an oven-safe cast-iron skillet, you can make the filling in a pan and then transfer it to a square baking dish. I just love using my cast-iron skillet because it means one less pan to wash, and I like the rustic presentation it gives to serve the shepherd’s pie this way on the table.
  • Some people prefer to transfer their mashed potatoes to a piping bag fitted with a piping tip and pipe the potatoes on for a decorative finish. I kind of prefer the rustic approach of spoon-made swirls instead.
  • Place a baking sheet underneath the shepherd’s pie in the oven to catch any spillover while baking.

An image of the best shepherd's pie recipe being made step--by-step, first sauteing onions and carrots, then adding ground lamb and browning it in the same skillet. An image of the steps for how to make Irish shepherd's pie with lamb for St. Patrick's Day. An image of the best shepherd's pie filling in a cast iron pan, ready to be topped with creamy mashed potatoes and baked until hot and bubbly. An image of mashed potatoes on top of a savory lamb filling for a classic shepherd's pie recipe. An image of a baked shepherd's pie in a cast in pan ready for serving with creamy swirls of golden brown mashed potatoes on top.

More Internationally-Inspired Recipes Using Lamb

Shepherd's Pie
Yield: 6 servings

Shepherd's Pie

A rich gravy with lamb and vegetables tucked under creamy mashed potatoes make this the BEST Shepherd's Pie recipe.  Ever.  Okay, in my opinion.  But I'm pretty confident about this Irish comfort food classic.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

Filling

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn

Topping

  • 3-4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, warmed
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (more or less, to taste)

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron pan over medium low heat.  Add the onions and saute until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. 
  2. Add the carrots to the onions and cook for another 5 minutes.  Transfer the vegetables to a plate or just push off to one side of the pan.
  3. In the same pan, add the ground lamb, breaking it up with a wooden spoon.  Season with the salt and pepper, then mix the lamb with the vegetables and cook, stirring and continuing to break up the chunks of meat frequently, until the lamb is browned, about 10 minutes.
  4. To the lamb and vegetable mixture, add the Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, rosemary, thyme, red pepper flakes, and nutmeg.  Stir to combine.  Sprinkle with the flour, then stir in to the meat mixture until evenly dispersed, cooking for 1-2 minutes.
  5. Add the beef broth and cook for 3-5 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed. Then stir in the frozen peas and corn.  Remove from heat and let cool while working on the mashed potatoes.  Either leave in the cast iron pan, if it is oven safe, or transfer to a square baking dish.
  6. Place the potatoes in a large pot with enough salted water to cover them by about an inch.  Bring to a boil and cook for 12-15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork.  Drain well.
  7. Add the warmed cream, butter, and salt to the potatoes and mash using a potato masher or ricer, then use to top the shepherd's pie filling in either the cast iron pan or a square baking dish, spreading to the edges and leaving craggy swirls on top instead of smoothing out.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes at 375 degrees F until hot all the way through and the mashed potatoes on top have nicely browned spots in a few places.  You may want to place a pan under it in case any filling drips out.  Let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Notes

If you don't have fresh rosemary or thyme, you can substitute with 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary or thyme.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 657 Saturated Fat: 21g Cholesterol: 130mg Sodium: 970mg Carbohydrates: 38g Fiber: 7g Sugar: 4g Protein: 27g
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