The History of Shepherd’s Pie

January 10, 2023 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

If you’ve ever enjoyed a dish of savory ground lamb with small cubes of mixed vegetables, topped with mashed potatoes, and grilled to perfection, you’ve enjoyed a dish that is straight from the heart and soul of Ireland.

It’s comfort food at its best and is best enjoyed around St. Patricks Day to celebrate Irish heritage, as opposed to eating corned beef and cabbage. But, have you ever wondered about the history of traditional shepherd’s pie?

The history of Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd’s pie, or cottage pie, as it is otherwise known, is a dish that originates from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It should be noted that these were originally two different dishes that had a few similarities. For example, shepherd’s pie contained ground lamb, while cottage pie contained beef. Over time, ground beef became the filling of choice, and lamb was used less frequently. Thus, these two names were used interchangeably. 

The dish originates from the British Isles, but some might argue that it is an Irish dish by origin. The name "Shepherd’s Pie" was first recorded in an 1877 cookbook. In this same cookbook, it was noted that the dish was of Scottish origin. 

During the period between the 18th and 19th centuries, money was very tight. Homemakers were constantly looking for ways to save and make their money and food last longer. As such, these homemakers were very frugal and were looking for creative ways to incorporate leftover food that the husbands and children would pull their noses up at, into dishes. And, by doing so, the humble shepherd’s pie was born. 

Originally, the dish contained a pastry shell at the bottom, top, or both. Over time, this morphed into potato slices at the bottom and top of savory minced lamb meat, until it eventually became a topping of mashed potatoes. 

Shepherd’s pie ingredients

A traditional shepherd’s pie starts by sautéing onions in oil until the onions are translucent. Garlic is added and sautéed for a further one to two minutes before the ground lamb is added and browned in the hot oil. 

Vegetables and spices are added according to their cooking time. Spices are usually added just after the meat is added. Spices may include salt, pepper, garlic salt, Italian seasoning, chili spice, and cayenne pepper. If you are adding carrots, they should be added when the onions are sautéed, and peas, corn, and other softer vegetables should be added when the broth is added. Continue to cook the meat until the liquid has thickened. 

The mixture is added to an oven-safe dish and topped with mashed potatoes before it is baked in the oven. 

What ingredients can you substitute in a shepherd’s pie?

Ground lamb meat may be substituted for ground beef. However, this would make it a traditional cottage pie and not a shepherd’s pie. You can switch out the mashed potatoes for mashed sweet potato or mashed cauliflower. You could add mushrooms to the dish, or you could add meatballs. 

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