3 October 2012

Really Lamby Shepherd's Pie

I really enjoy writing my blog here - I'll say that straight away.  However, sometimes I find that I'm looking for excuses to not get on with it - which is what has just happened.  "I'll just check my Facebook pages", or "wonder if I've any new email" or the favourite, "I'll just show my face on Twitter (and so waste another hour)".  I kick myself every time I do it, as I just lose writing time - but getting started seems to be so difficult to do!

I've got into the habit now, of typing out the ingredients and method to a new recipe on the evening that I've made it.  Simply because the old grey matter ain't what it was and I have trouble remembering what I did, otherwise.  I thought that might break the "stark white empty page" thing that goes on when I sit down to write (or type, that should be), but no.  It's still the same - prevarication R us.

So, having said that, here I am in full blogging mode and perfectly happy about it.  Bizarre.  Please submit answers to my condition, on a postcard.

Now then.  When I made my Rich Beef Cottage Pie the other week, it went down so well with the assembled throng - that's you, that is - that I resolved to make my Really Lamby Shepherd's Pie so as to complete the pairing and to drive home the differences between the two.  You see, not everyone who reads this blog originates from the U.K. and so there has been some confusion expressed over what is a Shepherd's Pie and what is a Cottage Pie.

So, for those who are still scratching their heads - it's easy.  Shepherd's Pie (think shepherds tending their sheep) is made with lamb mince - and Cottage Pie (think cottages and cows) is made with beef mince.  You can put just about anything in your pie after that, without changing it from either the Shepherd's or the Cottage variety.

Now, when I began thinking about how to make my Shepherd's Pie really, really lamby, it dawned on me that there aren't that many (and in our local Asda, that'll be none) lamb gravy products out there.  I had the benefit of the Knorr Stock Pots for the Cottage Pie, but didn't have any lamb versions as they don't yet exist!  Even on the Knorr website's collection of recipes, Marco Pierre White appears to use chicken stock for lamb - which is something of a missed opportunity, I'd have thought.

I did have the benefit of some Essential Cuisine Lamb Stock Powder though - and cannot stress in strong enough terms, how much of a boon this stock powder is, when you're cooking lamb.  Yes, you can get lamb stock cubes - but I've yet to be able to find low salt versions in lamb.  The Esssential Cuisine one isn't a low salt version - it's just naturally low in salt.  So there's no having to be cautious about the seasoning - and finding out when it's too late, that you've overdone the salt because of the stock cube, or even worse (which has happened to me) find that the stock cube alone has made the dish too salty.  As I've said before, being a powder, it is an easy matter to just add a teaspoonful more if you find your gravy needs a bit of a flavour boost.  I am very definitely going to be ordering some more of these stocks, when I need to - and it's rare for me to take on a new product like this.  In fact, I think the only other time it's happened was with the Mic's Chilli El Loco BBQ sauce - which we're now completely wedded to.

Minced lamb at the start of the process

So right from the word go, when making this Shepherd's Pie, you need to be thinking about how to achieve the most flavour from the ingredients you have.  It is no good getting right to the end of the process, tasting and thinking "oh dear, that's a bit pale pink, what can I do now?" because by then it's far too late.  Right from when you're cooking the onion, think about what would increase the flavour layers throughout the dish.  In fact, if you take the onion as a good example - you can fry the onion until it's transparent and it will be acceptable in the dish.  However, if you have patience (or time) enough to be able to fry it right through to being golden brown and beginning to caramelise, then you already have a rich, well-developed flavour right there.

Minced lamb, demonstrating the level of caramelisation

It is the same with the minced lamb.  When the recipe calls for the mince to be "browned", don't just take the mince to the point where it has changed colour and has lots of water and fat bubbling around it - and don't drain off that water and fat at that stage.  Yes, the meat has browned and yes, I can understand your wanting to reduce the fat content by removing the grease - but hang on for a bit longer.  If you wait until all the water has evaporated and the mince starts to really fry in its own fat, then begins to caramelise (you need to have the heat really quite high for this and to be there alternately turning and leaving it to fry - no dashing off to the loo, or you'll come back to a disaster involving charcoal), you'll wind up with so much more flavour originating from the star of the show - the lamb mince.  Equally, don't be tempted to take the mince too far into caramelisation, or it is unable to soften once the gravy is added.

Before.  Pallid, but delightfully ridged.

This is why my Shepherd's Pie (and indeed the Cottage Pie) takes around an hour to cook and assemble, then three quarters of an hour minimum in a moderate oven.  It is not a "quick" dish.
After.  Just hand me a fork and leave me to it.

Now if there's ever a flavour match that's made in heaven for lamb - it's mint.  Unless you're repulsed by the flavour of mint, please don't be tempted to leave out the teaspoonful of mint sauce (that's the vinegar-based version, not the sweet mint jelly).  The difference that this hint of mint adds to the Shepherd's Pie is just incredible.  Again, you see, it adds another layer to the flavours.  It's another layer that your taste buds pick up at a different moment to the others, which helps the overall flavour of the Shepherd's Pie to travel for longer across your palate.

Who'd have thought anyone could wax this lyrical about the humble Shepherd's Pie, eh?

Om, nom, nom - mashed potato
Oh, and one last word about a very fundamental part of the pie - the mashed potato.  I heartily recommend the lovely Maris Piper potatoes for this as they're wonderfully floury and with the addition of a little milk or cream, a hunk of butter and liberal salt & pepper, they make a beautiful mash.  Don't be tempted to stint on the butter for the mash, as you aren't using cheese (as you would for a Cottage Pie) and it's the butter that will cause the mash to brown in the oven.  Nobody wants a pallid Shepherd's Pie, now do they?

So there you are - my tips for an amazingly Really Lamby Shepherd's Pie. Yum.  I wonder if I could get away with making another one this coming Sunday? 


Ingredients :

500g lamb mince
1 onion, chopped
10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and diced finely
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced finely
4 chestnut mushrooms, chopped finely
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 large tsp mint sauce (the vinegary kind)
3 large tsp lamb stock powder or 2 lamb stock cubes (in which case, don't use any additional salt)
600ml hot water
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped finely
sea salt & black pepper
2 tsp cornflour.

For the mashed potato :

4-5 large floury potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
a large knob of butter
2-3 tbsp single cream (or milk will do)
sea salt & black pepper.

Method :

1.  Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the chunks of potato.  Replace the lid and simmer until the potato chunks fall easily from the point of a knife.  Drain them well and replace into the warm pan.

2.  Whilst the potatoes are still hot, add the butter, cream (or milk) and a good pinch of sea salt and ground black pepper.  Mash until the potatoes are smooth and creamy.  Set aside (trying not to eat too many of them!).

3.  In a deep frying pan, add the minced lamb and dry fry on a high heat until all the water has evaporated, the fat has rendered down and the meat is beginning to caramelise (around 10-15 minutes).  Remove the meat to a bowl and set aside.  Drain off all but 1-2 tbsp of the fat.

4.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion to the lamb fat in the pan.  Fry gently, until the onions have turned transparent, then have begun to gain colour, then have turned golden brown and are beginning to caramelise, all of which should take 10-15 minutes.

5.  Add the cherry tomatoes and continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes or until the tomatoes are softened and beginning to fall apart.

6.  Add the celery, carrot and mushroom and increase the heat slightly.  Cook until the vegetables have softened slightly and are beginning to take on a little colour.

7.  Reduce the heat back to medium and re-introduce the meat to the pan.  Stir to combine.

8.   Add the tomato ketchup, mint sauce, lamb stock powder and water.   Stir gently to combine and bring to a simmer.  Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the flavours are well combined.

9.  Add the parsley and some pepper and stir to combine.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if needs be.

10.  Place the cornflour into a small bowl and add the minimum amount of water to get it moving as a paste.

11.  Remove the pan from the heat and add half the cornflour mixture, stirring furiously to prevent it coagulating into a solid mass.  If you stir successfully, the mixture should begin to thicken.  Add as much of the remainder of the cornflour as is necessary to achieve your preferred texture.  I like my mixture to be quite thick.

12.  Taking a deep casserole dish, decant the meat mixture into the dish and smooth the top.

13.   Add small blobs of mashed potato across the top of the meat mixture, taking care not to press the potato down into the meat.  When in the oven, the meat mixture will expand and marry up properly with the potato, so if you press it down now, you may well find your potato disappears in the oven!  As a final flourish, run a fork lightly over the top of the potato, creating a rough texture that will brown easily in the heat.

14.  The pie can now wait until you are ready to put it in the oven.  Alternatively, place into a pre-heated oven (turn it on just before stage 3 above - 180degC/350degF/Gas 4) for a minimum of 45 minutes or until the gravy is bubbling up around the edges and the potato has browned.

Serve with steamed vegetables.

Printable version


  1. I am a big Shepherds pie fan. There is a place in Park Slope Brooklyn called the CHIP SHOP that makes it but just looking at yours I don,t think there,s can hold a candle to yours. If the photo here of that crusty potato top does not make your mouth water then your no Shepherds or Cottage Pie fan..........CARL R

    1. Die hard Shepherd's Pie fans across the world will be salivating at it, as we speak, Carl. LOL They really are so easy to make, it's well worth doing it. True, it might take an hour or so to assemble and then there's the cooking time, but if you pick a day when you don't have to rush, it is just SO worth it!

  2. Hi Jenny. This week's Food on Friday is all about lamb! So it would be great if you linked this in - as well as any other ones you would like to share. I know you like lamb! This is the link . Have a good week.

    1. Thanks, Carole! I'll be there! :)

    2. Thanks Jenny. Sorry to be slow replying but I have been away for a few days. Have a great week!

  3. I have never made Shepherd's Pie but was thinking of giving it a try, such a good wintery dish! Your recipe looks the nicest :)

    1. Thank you, Ute! You should very definitely try it out - you never know, it might become a favourite! :)


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