Eat Me, I’m Irish: Authentic Shepherd’s Pie


With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, I’m sharing my family’s recipe for Shepherd’s Pie. This is the real deal – trust me. I married into an Irish family, and they take things like Shepherd’s Pie (and Guinness!) very seriously.

Shepherd’s Pie is great comfort food for the cold fall and winter months. You’ve got protein and vegetables all in one dish, and it’s always a crowd-pleaser (even with the kiddos!). And the best part is that it reheats well, so you can easily prep it the day before (making it my go-to dish to bring someone after they’ve had a baby).

The most important thing you need to know about making a traditional Shepherd’s Pie is that it is made with ground lamb, not ground beef (Cottage Pie is made with ground beef). However, you can use ground beef in this recipe, or even a blend of ground lamb and ground beef, since ground lamb can be expensive and sometimes hard to find. 

Here are some other key ingredients that we use in this recipe:

Bisto, a product used for thickening sauces and making gravy, can be found in the English or Irish food section of your grocery store. However, if you can’t find it, you can simply substitute flour or cornstarch instead. You’ll also need some beef stock, a good Worcestershire sauce (we prefer Lea & Perrins), and tomato paste. We like using the tomato paste in a tube as it is less acidic than the canned variety and you can use what you need and refrigerate the rest. (Don’t you hate opening an entire can of tomato paste when you only need a small amount??)

Of course, this wouldn’t be an authentic Irish recipe if it included exact measurements because that’s just not the Irish way (it has taken this Midwesterner nearly 11 years of marriage to get comfortable with that concept!). The recipe below includes approximate measurements, so it is really important to taste frequently and adjust the seasonings to your own personal preference. 

So let’s get started (and recipe card follows!).

First, start by browning the ground lamb (or beef, if you must!) in a large pot or Dutch oven, adding salt and pepper while browning. When the meat is cooked through, drain the fat and set aside. 

In the same pan, add the onions and chopped garlic with a splash of beef stock (add more if needed to keep the onions from burning). Once the onions are softened, add the carrots and cook for 5 minutes. Return the browned meat to the pan with the onions and carrots. 

Add the Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste to the pan and mix well. 

Add the remaining beef stock and Bisto (or flour) to thicken; stir to combine (add more beef stock, if needed). Be sure to taste at this point to see if any more seasonings are needed.

Stir in the frozen peas and fresh thyme and let the mixture simmer while you prepare the mashed potatoes.

Then pour meat mixture into a deep 9 x 13 baking dish and layer the mashed potatoes on top (about 1 inch or a little more). Press them down with a fork to make little ridges that will crisp up in the oven:

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. If you like, you can then cover the potatoes with shredded cheese and broil until the cheese is browned. 

Enjoy! And remember … there is no “perfect” way to make this recipe, which makes it hard to screw up … unless you drink too much Guinness while you’re cooking!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day (La Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh!) from my family to yours!

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Jen currently resides in Pensacola, Florida with her Navy husband and two sons. Having spent the last three years in Belgium experiencing European life, she is adjusting the heat and humidity of living in the Florida Panhandle. When she’s not at the soccer field cheering on her boys or taking a Pure Barre class, you’ll find Jen curled up with a good book or planning her family’s next travel adventure. Born and raised in the Midwest, Florida has now become “home” – at least that’s what her driver’s license says!