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Dad's Classic Shepherd's Pie

  • Author: anita | wild thistle kitchen
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Yield: 6-8 servings 1x


My Dad's Shepherd's Pie is classic, nostalgic, true comfort food and comfort cooking. This recipe is packed with flavor thanks to a few secret flavor enhancers.



For the filling:

  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, finely minced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 large carrot, or two small/medium carrots, finely diced
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 1 cup wine-red, white, rosé, marsala-whatever you have open
  • 1/2 cup brewed coffee (optional)
  • 3 cups chicken or beef broth
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped (optional)
  • a few springs fresh thyme, leaves removed and finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (if I'm out of tomato paste I just omit it. No big deal)
  • 2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • salt and pepper to taste (the salt will depend greatly on the saltiness of your broth, so just taste and adjust as needed)
  • about 1 cup frozen peas (optional)

For the potatoes:

  • 2 1/2 - 3 lbs (about 6) yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 to 1 cup milk (you might not need the whole cup)
  • 3 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the topping (optional):

  • 1 cup of grated, really sharp white cheddar


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.


First, get your potatoes going. Add your peeled, chopped potatoes, whole peeled garlic cloves, and bay leaves to a large pot of generously salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for about 30 minutes until very, very tender. (you can get the meat mixture cooking while you're waiting).

Once potatoes are tender, drain in a colander, remove bay leaves but leave the garlic, add potatoes back to pot and add butter and cream cheese. Let sit until the butter and cream cheese soften a bit.

Then, with a hand mixer or potato masher, mix or mash until all potatoes are mashed. My dad always used a hand mixer and made the creamiest mashed potatoes. Then, add milk in stages while mashing until you reach the desired consistency. You want a nice soft mash, but not so soupy you won't be able to scoop it out later. 1/2 to 3/4 cup milk should be plenty. Taste potatoes for salt, and add salt and pepper to taste. Usually a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper are sufficient, but taste your food! It should taste the way you want it to taste!

Meat Filling:

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook ground beef until most of the pink is gone, about 10 minutes. Then, add carrot, celery, onion, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, and season with a big pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook this mixture for about 10 minutes. If your beef is really fatty, scoop out excess fat. This is optional, and really depends on your meat choice.

Next, add tomato paste and stir to combine. Then sprinkle flour over meat mixture and stir until you don't see white anymore. Add wine, stock, worcestershire sauce, and coffee if using and cook for about 15-20 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom. The mixture will thicken. It should be a thick, gravy-like consistency.


Either assemble your Shepherd's Pie in the dish you've cooked your meat mixture in or spray a 2 quart casserole dish with non-stick spray. Transfer meat to baking dish and spread into an even layer. If using peas, add them now. Just an even layer on top will do.

Next, add potatoes. I place large spoonfuls all around the top of the meat mixture, then I use a rubber spatula to spread it out, almost like frosting a cake, making sure to seal the edges. Sometimes I make too many potatoes. If you have this "problem" just put them in a dish and refrigerate them for another time. Having too many mashed potatoes is never a problem in my book.

Now, if you really want to take it over the top, and if you have an uncontrollable passion for melted, bubbly cheese like I do, add a layer of cheese to the top. My dad did not do this.

Place casserole dish on a rimmed sheet tray in case it bubbles over, and place in preheated oven until cheese bubbles and browns a bit. Should take about 20 minutes, but keep an eye on it. Take it out when it looks brown and bubbly.



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 1/2 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.

  • Category: casserole, dinner, one pot
  • Method: stovetop and oven

Keywords: shepherd's pie, classic shepherd's pie, shepherd's pie recipe