My Dad's Shepherd's Pie is a classic, nostalgic recipe and one I have made countless times since I started my blog but it took me awhile to share it here. I think my reasons are that 1.) It is very personal, and 2.) It is never quite the same each time. I just make it from memory and vary certain ingredients depending on my mood or my pantry/fridge. It is personal because my dad made Shepherd's Pie a lot when I was a kid, and it's one of those recipes I make when I'm really missing him (he spends most of his time in far-away lands). It's reliable, inexpensive, I love making it, the leftovers are the best, and it is a real crowd-pleaser. To me, Classic Shepherd's Pie is the essence of comfort food and true comfort cooking.
This is how my dad made it
My dad often made his shepherd's pie with beef ( I know this is often called cottage pie but we never called it that), but sometimes he made it with venison or lamb. Lamb is obviously traditional; Shepherd's = those who herd sheep; lamb = baby sheep. I have made it with lamb, and love it, I've even used ground bison just for fun, but I usually use ground beef. You can use whatever ground meat you want, even turkey or chicken if that's your thing. I sometimes put a layer of frozen peas between the meat and potato layer, or serve peas on the side. My dad almost always served his with our home-canned green beans - we canned a zillion mason jars of them each summer and ate them all winter. Somehow I never grew tired of them.
I finally paid attention and wrote down my measurements one day as I made this to take to my grandparents' house for dinner and, after dinner, my grandfather implored me to share it with you all. You can thank him later.
6/6/2019 update - dad's classic shepherd's pie
I decided to re-shoot the photos for this Shepherd's Pie recipe. I'm slowly making my way through my older posts, updating recipes, SEO, and all that jazz. Since I posted this, many things have changed. I wrote about both my father and my grandfather in this original post. Since then, both of those wonderful men have passed away. My father on August 21, 2018, and my grandfather on September 18th, 2018.
Making these recipes is like some sort of full immersion therapy exercise. I called this "comfort cooking" in my original post, and it still is. I love the whole process from chopping the veggies to whipping the potatoes to shoving the whole thing in the oven. But now, as much as I love it, it makes my heart ache as it floods me with memories and emotion. Both my father and grandfather were subscribed to my blog, and I'd get the sweetest emails from them after I had posted something. After I posted this one my dad sent an email titled "happiness tears" from Afghanistan. In the body he wrote just one sweet sentence: "I just woke up and got your Shepherd's pie blog and it made me start weeping."
This was the relationship my dad and I had. I wouldn't say it revolved around food, but food, cooking, eating, planning meals, shopping for food together was just such a huge part of our relationship. We had a mutual love for all things food. I am so grateful to him for instilling that love in me, and I am so glad I cooked by his side from the time I could barely peek over the countertop until his last summer in 2018. I watched him make Shepherd's Pie countless times and while it makes me incredibly sad knowing I will never watch him or help him make it again, I am so glad I learned this and so many other recipes from him.
a few posts to read:
A couple notes on this Classic Shepherd's Pie Recipe that I left out the first time:
This can be just a two pan meal, meaning you'll assemble the Shepherd's Pie in the same dish you cook the meat mixture in. So your only other pan will be your potato pan. If you do this, just make sure you start out with a nice big skillet or dutch oven (my dad used a dutch oven a lot for his, rarely did he transfer to a casserole dish).
Something else my dad did was to sometimes add about a ½ cup of brewed coffee to the meat mixture. It adds a richness in flavor and color, but it's totally optional. I use this trick in my Pot Roast too.
If wine isn't your thing, feel free to add beer. A nice dark stout would be great. Or, leave the alcohol out all together. I might add a splash of vinegar just for a touch of acidity, maybe two tablespoons and I'd probably choose red wine vinegar or malt vinegar.
Make this classic shepherd's pie recipe your own. I know some people add corn and peas to their Shepherd's Pie; feel free to do that.Print
Here are some other Dad-inspired and/or Dad-approved recipes: