Shepherd’s Pie: A British/Irish Staple

ShepPie_FinalPicJamie Oliver is a beloved culinary star who began cooking when he was eight at his parents’ pub in Essex, England. Inspiring millions to start making real food and get back into the kitchen, he is also helping shed light on the disastrous effects of unhealthy food being served to our children in school-lunch programs. Jamie is the recipient of numerous British awards for his efforts to establish healthy eating as a part of daily life, and for his campaign to raise public awareness regarding childhood nutrition.

ShepPie_BigTimeSome of the seasoning guidance I used for this dish comes from Jamie’s beautifully illustrated recipe in his recent cookbook, “Comfort Food,” although my real interest in Shepherd’s Pie came from another Englishman–my good friend, Alfa Zinkus. It is from Alfa that I learned Shepherd’s Pie must always contain lamb and peas. Not negotiable.

Alfa has recently taken the helm at Seattle’s landmark brewery, The Big Time on University Avenue, and is the former owner of The Red Door in Fremont. He has a remarkable palate. In fact, Alfa is the only person I know whose taste buds were once insured at Lloyds of London. Check out his Shepherd’s Pie, a menu favorite at The Big Time.

Our recipe below is a modification of the traditional dish which has a potato crust. We use a white bean and cauliflower mash with a touch of cheddar to boost the nutrition and fiber content while lightening the carbs.  Give it a go, you won’t be disappointed. We’ve also substituted ground lamb for the traditional lamb shoulder to make the recipe easier and more economical.

ShepPieRecipeIf you are using dried beans, which are vastly superior, give them a slight simmer for 15 minutes the night before you plan to make the dish or early in the morning. The partially-cooked beans are then stored in the refrigerator in enough water to generously cover them for at least four hours (the beans will expand some). It will then take about 60-90 minutes on a medium to low simmer to have them cooked properly, but not too mushy, for the mash topping. Don’t boil and let the skins split. Or in a pinch, use canned beans and drain thoroughly in a colander.

FOOD PROCESSOR: works best for this dish using the on-off pulse method for the bean-cauliflower mash.


The entire bean-cauliflower mash can be made a day ahead, or just the beans if that is easiest.

Cook dried beans according to directions above. Drain in colander. If you don’t cook the beans ahead of time, start them about 30 minutes before you turn on your oven.

Turn oven to 350 degrees.

Cut cherry tomatoes in half and place on a sheet pan. I line mine with parchment. Roast for about 20 minutes.

Begin browning the lamb. While it cooks, chop or dice your large onion and garlic cloves and add to the pan. Once the lamb has cooked, remove from heat and drain excess fat. I buy grass-fed lamb from Umpqua Valley Farms in Oregon, available at PCC. Give the carrots and leek a rough chop and add them to the food processor and pulse chop with an on-off method–don’t make them too fine.
ShepPie_CuisinartVegAdd the leek-carrot mix to the drained meat. Remove the leaves from the stems on the rosemary and thyme (discard the stems). Chop the rosemary finely and add both herbs to the meat. Season the cooked lamb mixture with salt and pepper to taste.ShepPie_MeatPan

Break the cauliflower head into florets (cutting away the coarse bottom part at the base), and place in a pan with several inches of water. Steam for about 5-8 minutes until tender. Give the cauliflower a stir once while cooking so all the florets have a chance to spend some time in the water. Drain in colander.

Combine beans and cauliflower. I use a ratio of  2/3 beans to 1/3 cauliflower (you may have leftover beans to fortify a salad, liven another weekday dish, or for snacking). If you are using cheese, grate and add 1/4 cup cheddar. If using garlic, press (my method of choice) or finely chop and add to the mix, along with the 1-2 T of butter, if you choose. Give the mix a little stir and place in food processor.

Once in your food processor, use the on-off pulse method to incorporate all the ingredients into a creamy potato-like consistency. Or mix minimally with a hand-mixer. For either method, add a tablespoon or two of milk if needed. Measure–you don’t want them too watery. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Jamie Oliver adds more chopped rosemary to his mashed (potato) topping, so feel free to add a few of the chopped herbs if you like. Don’t worry about having leftover mash–it is delicious the next day as a side!

Gently fold in tomatoes and frozen peas to the meat mixture and spoon into baking dishes. Cover with a layer of the mash, making sure to reach the edges of the baking dishes.

 Bake just above the middle rack spot in the oven for about 30-40 minutes until ingredients incorporate and the mash topping begins to brown. You may want to turn on broiler for a few minutes to get the desired browning on the crust. Watch closely so it doesn’t burn.