My absolute number one favourite pie! Probably better known as cottage pie as I make it with beef mince and not lamb mince, it’s always known as shepherd’s pie to me!
A very versatile dish, it is traditionally made with minced leftover beef. Indeed, my mother keeps leftover meat of all descriptions for her shepherd’s pie – chicken, lamb and beef. I have to say, odd as that combination sounds, it is absolutely delicious!
I have made various toppings over the years, a combination of any of the following: mashed potato, swede (rutabaga in the US), celeriac, carrot, parsnip. I usually just make it with mashed potato though, very buttery mashed potato. I always sweat the green part of a leek in a little butter and mix that in with the mashed potato to top the pies too. A grating of cheese finishes the dish beautifully.
You can also finish it with a rosti topping (part boil and grate some potato and mix with a little butter) or a Teviotdale topping (see earlier blog post on this one).
Like most pies this improves on keeping and can be made well ahead of time, a day or even two in the fridge won’t do it any harm at all. I usually make this pie filling in the morning and prepare the topping later in the day.
The recipe I generally use is below, but is never cast in stone, just go with what you like and what you have to hand. It will serve four people and will freeze.
500g minced beef (or lamb)
Half a small swede (rutabaga in the US)
Chopped mixed herbs to taste (I usually use a mix of rosemary, thyme, parsley, a little sage)
Half a pint of beef stock (or a little more depending on how much gravy you like with your pie, if using lamb mince use lamb stock)
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop the onion, dice the swede and carrot and add both to a pan with a little olive oil. Sweat over a low heat for around 10 minutes or so.
Add the anchovy and push around the pan until it ‘melts’.
Add the minced beef and brown in the pan, cooking until the juices cook off.
Add the tablespoon of flour and mix into everything. Gradually add the beef stock stirring well.
Add the chopped herbs and a dash of Worcestershire sauce and stir, season to taste with salt and pepper and pop in a bayleaf.
Leave to simmer quietly on a very low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring from time to time so that it doesn’t stick.
Decant into your pie dish (or dishes if you are freezing some for another day). If you are making this ahead of time, allow the dish to cool and then cover and pop in the fridge until you are ready for it.
To make the topping simply slice the green part of a leek in half lengthways, and then in half again, chopping the quarters to dice them. Soften in a little butter for 5 – 10 minutes.
At the same time, boil and mash some potatoes (the amount you need will depend on how you are treating the pies – making all four serves for now or stashing two, or three, in the freezer).
Add the buttery leeks to the mashed potatoes and mix together.
If you are topping the pie for immediate re-heating spoon onto the pie filling and fork across, the ridges made by the forking will brown nicely. Add some (or a lot!) grated cheese and pop into the oven.
If you are making the potato topping ahead of time too (and I often do!), leave to go cold before topping the pies.
The hot pie filling will need 20 minutes or so, until the potato topping is nicely brown and crispy. A chilled/cold pie filling will need 30 minutes.
I always use enamelled pie tins to cook this so if you are using stoneware they might need a little longer.