This traditional shepherd’s pie recipe is made with a savory ground beef and veggie filling and topped with fluffy, buttery, cheesy mashed potatoes for the ultimate Irish comfort food dinner.


I’m a big fan of all-in-one dishes, especially if it’s comfort food fare we’re talking about. Shepherd’s pie is one of those perfect dishes. It’s savory and hearty and with protein, veggies, and starch in each bite, it’s a full meal on its own. Traditional shepherd’s pie is simple comfort food—a classic meat and potatoes-type dish, dating back to the early 19th century Ireland. While it’s Irish in origin and great for St. Patrick’s Day (like my corned beef and cabbage or my Irish pork stew) it’s really perfect any time and too good of a recipe to only make once a year.

Shepherd’s Pie is typically made with ground lamb, whereas cottage pie (which is essentially the same dish) is made with ground beef. Since I’m not a fan of lamb I use ground beef in my Shepherd’s Pie. I start with a super savory beef and veggie base with carrots, celery, leek, garlic, and peas with fresh thyme and rosemary for aromatics. Beef stock, Worcestershire, soy sauce, and tomato paste bring a nice punch of umami flavor to the saucy filling made in one skillet. The beefy mixture gets topped with my fluffy and creamy mashed potatoes with Irish cheddar added in for an extra bump of flavor and cheesy goodness. Cheese is optional but who doesn’t agree that it makes everything that much better? Let’s dig in.


What’s In a Traditional Shepherd’s Pie

Traditional shepherd’s pie typically features a mixture of veggies and ground lamb. In my version, I prefer ground beef cooked in a savory gravy topped with cheesy mashed potatoes and baked up like a casserole.

This classic shepherd’s pie recipe is loaded with veggies and savory umami flavor. Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make it:

For the Mashed Potato Topping

  • Yukon gold potatoes (I prefer Yukon gold because they’re creamier than russet potatoes)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Butter
  • Irish cheddar cheese (or another white cheddar)
  • Half and Half
  • Chives

For the Savory Beef and Veggie Filling

  • Olive oil
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Leek (or you could use onion)
  • Garlic
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Ground beef (I use 85/15 here)
  • Tomato paste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Flour
  • Beef broth or beef concentrate mixed with water
  • Soy sauce (for added umami flavor)
  • Worcestershire sauce (also for umami)
  • Frozen peas

How to Make Shepherd’s Pie

  • Make the mashed potatoes.
  • Chop the vegetables and herbs and begin sautéeing.
  • Cook the ground beef.
  • Combine the veggies and beef.
  • Top with a thick layer of cheesy potatoes.
  • Bake in the oven, then serve.

Make the Mashed Potato Topping

Boil the potatoes. This should take about 20 minutes or until they are very easily pierced with a fork and the skin pulls away from the potato where cut. Then drain them.

Skin the potatoes. While the potatoes are still hot, use a paper towel to wipe the skin away and then add back to the warm pot.

Mash, cream, and season. I use a hand blender to mash then begin to cream the potatoes and add the butter and half and half. Season with salt and pepper. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the cheese and chives so it doesn’t get gloppy. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside while you make the shepherd’s pie filling.


Prepare the Filling

Chop the vegetables into small dice. Keep the vegetables in similar diced sizes so they cook evenly at the same rate.

I use a 10-inch cast iron skillet to cook and bake the shepherd’s pie. A 10-inch skillet gives height to the pie and one less dish to wash. An oven-safe skillet or Dutch oven that’s shallow and wide works well too. Or, cook the filling in a skillet or dutch oven then assemble with the potatoes in a 9×13-inch (or similar size) casserole dish before baking.


Sauté the Vegetables

Cook the veggies before the beef then set aside. Cook the carrots, celery, and leek over medium heat, and sauté, occasionally stirring for about 10 minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Stir in the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Transfer the veggie mixture to a large bowl or plate and set aside.


Cook the Ground Beef

Cook the ground beef. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to break up the meat into smaller bits, cooking until longer pink, about 5 minutes or so. Season with kosher salt and pepper.

Once the beef is browned, add the tomato paste to cook out its raw flavor along with the herbs. Tomato paste adds umami and intensity to the sauce but should be a subtle nod. Browning it for a few minutes with the beef deepens its flavor.


Make the Shepherd’s Pie Sauce

Stir in the flour then add liquid for thickening power. Add the flour and stir it in well to coat the veggies and beef. Add the beef stock, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and peas. Stir well to smooth out the sauce and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat. Taste the filling and add more salt or pepper if desired.


How to Assemble Shepherd’s Pie

Beef is the base to cheesy mashed potatoes. Layer the meat evenly in the skillet. Add dollops of mashed potatoes on top. Use an offset spatula or wooden spoon to spread the potatoes into an even layer.

Form the potatoes into fluffy clouds or make a smooth tater topping. I like to spoon my potatoes into fluffy piles but the more traditional way is a smooth topping raked with forked lines. To make, take a fork’s tines and lightly drag it over the mashed potatoes.


Bake That Pie

Place the shepherd’s pie in the oven to bake for 15 minutes, then finish under the broiler, on the middle rack (don’t move the rack up), for about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10-15 minutes before topping with chives and serving.

What is the Difference Between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie

Shepherd’s pie is traditionally made with ground lamb, while cottage pie is made with ground beef. Because I’m not a fan of lamb I use ground beef in my shepherd’s pie recipe. If you love lamb, you can just as easily use that instead.


Shepherd’s Pie Additions and Substitutions

  • Use yellow onion instead of leeks
  • Try adding parsnips or sweet potatoes to the filling.
  • Use half parsnips and half potatoes for the topping, or try it with mashed sweet potatoes
  • Add corn to the filling
  • Use yellow cheddar cheese instead of white cheddar
  • Substitute ground turkey or lamb for the ground beef

What to Serve with Shepherd’s Pie

More Comforting Casseroles to Try

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