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Recipe Revamp: Shepherd’s pie for every kind of eater

Chef, entrepreneur, baker, reluctant cupcake master, cookbook author, humorist/memoirist/essayist (writer), public speaker, raconteur, wife, mother,

6 ingenious twists on the classic shepherd’s pie — even a raw version

There are so many excellent reasons to adore shepherd's pie. It’s warm and comforting on the coldest of days. It’s relatively easy to make and costs very little, yet tastes like a million bucks. And it’s endlessly customizable.

It’s very hard to mess up a shepherd's pie recipe — in fact, you can almost say there is no wrong way to do it. The following recipe is for a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, but don’t feel handcuffed to that — scale it up or scale it down as you need, and don’t be too concerned about exact measurements. Shepherd's pie freezes beautifully, so it’s worthwhile to pick up some aluminum pans (any size) at the supermarket, then make a few so there’s always something to eat on those nights when your couch and Netflix win over slaving over a hot stove.

Basic shepherd's pie recipe

Ingredients:

For the bottom layer

  • A bit of olive or canola oil for the pan
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small can or 1 small bag frozen (about 14 ounces) English peas
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1-1/2 cups beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Ground pepper to taste

For the top layer

  • 2 pounds (about 5 large-ish) russet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or sour cream
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • Paprika (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish with paper towels.
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Put them into a medium saucepan, cover with an inch of cold water and a teaspoon of oil. Cook over high heat with the lid on until it comes to a boil. Once boiling, remove the cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to cook until the potatoes can be crushed easily with a pair of tongs — about 15 minutes.
  3. Drain the potatoes and put them back in the pan, off the heat. Add whole milk or sour cream, butter, salt and a bit of pepper. Mash by hand or use a hand mixer and whip until you reach your desired consistency (you can add more milk a bit at a time if you like creamier potatoes). Once mashed, mix the egg in well. Set aside.
  4. Put about a tablespoon of oil into a large skillet over high heat. Add ground beef and sprinkle with a hefty pinch of kosher salt . Using a wooden spoon, break it up into medium crumbles, spreading it out to allow moisture to evaporate (this will help the meat get a nice, deep-brown crust). When cooked, pour the entire contents of the skillet into the baking dish to drain.
  5. Return the skillet to the heat and add the onions, cooking for about 3 minutes until golden. Add the garlic and cook another minute, then remove it to the dish with the ground beef. Repeat the process with the carrots, cooking until they take on color and begin to caramelize — about 5 minutes.
  6. Lower the heat to medium. Add the beef and onions back into the pan, as well as the peas. Discard the paper towels.
  7. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the mixture and stir well until the flour disappears. Slowly pour in the beef broth and Worcestershire sauce while stirring constantly, and continue to cook until a gravy forms. If you find the gravy too thick, add a bit more stock or water. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as you see fit.
  8. Spread the beef mixture evenly across the baking dish and top with the mashed potatoes. Use a spatula to smooth the top, then sprinkle lightly with paprika. Put the baking dish on top of a sheet pan to catch any pie that may bubble over.
  9. Put the shepherd’s pie on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 20 minutes until hot and bubbling. Remove to a cooling rack and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Now that we've got that out of the way, here's all the fun you can have with shepherd's pie, depending on your preferences.

More: Top Chef contestants share their secrets for perfect pork chops

Paleo shepherd's pie

6 ingenious twists on the classic shepherd’s pie — even a raw version
Image: Taiftin/Getty Images

Tweaks for bottom layer

  • Swap out the peas for sautéed mushrooms — slice them up and throw them into the pan when you’re cooking the carrots.
  • Omit the garlic — you’ll be adding it to the top instead.
  • Cut out the traditional pan gravy. Instead, remove the beef mixture to the pan and spread it out to cool for a bit — about 5 minutes. Take the broth and blend very well with 1 egg, then mix it into the filling. It will appear liquidy, but it will set in the oven.

Tweaks for top layer

  • Replace the potatoes with mashed cauliflower.
  • Omit the cream. Replace with 1/2 cup chicken broth mixed with 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum or blended with 1 egg yolk.
  • Crush 4 cloves of garlic and simmer in 1/4 cup olive oil or grass-fed butter.

Low-carb shepherd's pie

6 ingenious twists on the classic shepherd’s pie — even a raw version
Image: jatrax/Getty Images

Tweaks for bottom layer

  • Swap out the carrots for caramelized mushrooms.
  • Cut out the traditional pan gravy. Instead, remove the beef mixture to the pan and spread out to cool for a bit — about 5 minutes. Take the broth and blend it very well with 1 egg, then mix into the filling. It will appear liquidy, but it will set in the oven.

Tweaks for top layer

  • Swap out the potatoes with two large cans of cannellini beans, drained.
  • Replace the whole milk with 2 tablespoons of heavy cream and 1 cup of vegetable or chicken stock.
  • Use ghee in place of butter.

Vegan shepherd's pie

6 ingenious twists on the classic shepherd’s pie — even a raw version
Image: nata_vkusidey/Getty Images

Tweaks for bottom layer

  • Replace the meat (obviously) with 3 cups cooked lentils and 1 cup quartered mushrooms, sautéed over high heat with a touch of olive oil until deep brown.
  • Replace the beef stock with vegetable stock and add a dash of liquid aminos of vegan Worcestershire sauce for a boost of umami.

Tweaks for top layer:

  • Instead of adding cream and butter, simmer 4 cloves of crushed garlic in about 1/2 cup olive oil until golden brown, then whip into the mashed potatoes.
  • Fold in 1/2 cup chopped parsley or experiment by adding the herbs of your choice.
  • Sweet potatoes (instead of white potatoes) are especially good with lentils.

Buffalo-style “beef on weck”

6 ingenious twists on the classic shepherd’s pie — even a raw version
Image: rez-art/Getty Images

Beef on weck is a sandwich originating from Buffalo, New York. It's a bit like a French dip. A salt and caraway seed-topped Kaiser roll (that is, a kimmelweck roll) is filled with thinly sliced rare roast beef and horseradish with au jus on the side for dipping. Now, here's the shepherds pie version of that concept.

Tweaks for bottom layer

  • Omit all the vegetables. You can leave them if you want, but for true Buffalo authenticity, they should be replaced by more meat.
  • If you truly insist on having a vegetable on your plate, swap the peas and carrots for well-cooked mushrooms, which have a beefy flavor.

Tweaks for top layer

  • Replace the milk with sour cream.
  • Add grated horseradish, a teaspoon at a time, to taste. There’s no good set measurement for horseradish — its intensity is entirely a personal preference.
  • Stir in 1-1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds.
  • Before baking, sprinkle the top with a somewhat generous portion of very coarse salt.

Bad decisions shepherd's pie

6 ingenious twists on the classic shepherd’s pie — even a raw version
Image: John E. Kelly/Getty Images

Tweaks for bottom layer

  • Replace the carrots with diced hot peppers.
  • Replace the peas with either more peppers or chorizo.
  • Replace the pan gravy with a jar of queso.
  • Add some hot sauce if you want. Your funeral.

Tweaks for top layer

  • Replace the milk with sour cream.
  • Pulverize 2 cups of Doritos and fold them into the potatoes.
  • Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Serve with a diced avocado to help convince yourself this is OK.

Raw shepherd's pie recipe

6 ingenious twists on the classic shepherd’s pie — even a raw version
Image: Viktoriia Leontieva / EyeEm/Getty Images

Yup, raw shepherd's pie, because anything is possible! Keep the carrot and the onion. Everything else is getting replaced — unless you like raw potatoes dipped in raw beef, in which case, have fun with that.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups walnuts
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup raw tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons raw soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup raw pressed olive oil
  • 2 cups sprouted lentils
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1 small head cauliflower
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Paprika
  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped

Directions:

  1. Coarsely chop the walnuts, put them in a bowl, cover with 1 inch of water and soak them overnight.
  2. Mince half the onion very finely, then soak in ice-cold water.
  3. Shred the carrot on a cheese grater.
  4. In a blender, purée the cremini mushrooms, celery, tomato paste, 1 cup of water, nutritional yeast, raw soy sauce, paprika, garlic powder and olive oil.
  5. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and maybe some dried thyme if you’re feeling it.
  6. Drain the walnuts and onion and toss them together with the carrots, mushroom “gravy” and the of sprouted lentils. Season to taste, then spread into 9 x 13-inch casserole dish.
  7. For topping, soak the cashews in water overnight. Drain and add them to the food processor with chopped cauliflower, the clove of garlic, 1/4 cup of water, olive oil, a teaspoon of salt and a few cracks of black pepper.
  8. Process until smooth. If you’d like your mash a bit creamier, drizzle in some water with the machine running until you’ve reached the desired consistency. Spread the topping over the walnut/lentil mixture, then top with a sprinkle of paprika and chopped fresh parsley.
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