Shepherd’s Pie with Caramelized Onions and Cheddar

This shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb, caramelized onions, mashed potatoes, all topped with grated Cheddar cheese. If you prefer beef instead of lamb, simply call it cottage pie.

A porcelain bowl filled with shepherd's pie and topped with potatoes, onions, and cheddar

A classic shepherd’s pie is always made with lamb (the similar dish made with beef is properly called a cottage pie). It’s one of the most comforting and homey dishes around. Traditionally, it was made with odds and ends from the Sunday roast, finely chopped. Grated cheddar melted on top isn’t traditional, of course, but it’s a natural and delicious addition.–Melissa Pasanen

Shepherd’s Pie with Onions and Cheddar

  • Quick Glance
  • (4)
  • 1 H, 20 M
  • 2 H
  • Serves 6 to 8
4.8/5 - 4 reviews
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  • For the caramelized onions
  • For the mashed potatoes
  • For the filling and to finish the shepherd's pie


Make the caramelized onions

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, warm the oil until hot. Add the onions to the pan and turn the heat down to medium-low.

Sprinkle the onions with the salt and cook, stirring frequently to make sure they brown evenly, for about 40 minutes, or even longer, until they’re completely softened and golden brown. This will take time, so don’t rush. You should have about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of onions. (You can cover and stash them in the fridge for up to 1 week.)

Make the creamy mashed potatoes

Find a large pot that’s large enough to accommodate a steamer insert or heatproof colander that will hold your potatoes. Pour enough water into the pot to reach the bottom of the steamer or colander, add the potatoes and garlic, and sprinkle with the salt. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil.

Reduce the heat to maintain an active simmer and steam the potatoes, until they break apart easily when poked with a fork, 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove the potatoes and garlic from the steamer, carefully pour off any remaining hot water in the pot, and return the potatoes and garlic to the pot. Place over low heat, shaking the pan occasionally to toss the potatoes and garlic, until any excess water in the potatoes has evaporated, maybe 30 to 60 seconds.

Add the butter to the pot and use a potato masher to mash the potatoes and garlic until blended but not completely smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste. (You can cover and stash the mashed potatoes in the fridge for up to 24 hours.)

Make the lamb filling and assemble the shepherd’s pie

Crank the oven to 400°F (200°C).

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil until hot. Add the carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the lamb (or beef), thyme, and salt, and sear, stirring occasionally and crumbling the meat into small crumbles, until the meat is no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Carefully pour off all the fat.

Sprinkle the flour over the lamb and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Then stir in the tomato paste and continue cooking and stirring, for 2 minutes more. Add the stock and 1 cup of the caramelized onions, increase the heat slightly, and simmer until the liquid thickens slightly, about 2 minutes.

Spread the meat mixture in a shallow round or oval 3-quart casserole dish or a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spread the potatoes on top. Strew the remaining caramelized onions over the mashed potatoes and then sprinkle with the Cheddar.

Bake the shepherd’s pie until the Cheddar is golden and crusty, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving it straight from the dish. Originally published October 19, 2017.

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  • Our recipe testers also made this recipe with ground dark-meat turkey as well as tofu and loved it just as much. Consider that.

Recipe Testers' Reviews

I made this shepherd’s pie both with lamb and with ground dark meat turkey. Both (and I do mean this) are divine. Succulent bits of meat with a luscious gravy and garlicky potatoes and Cheddar. How can you go wrong?

I portioned out this recipe into 4 large ramekins rather than 1 serving dish and it worked fine. Try this comfort food on a cool autumn or blustery winter weekend.

I decided to substitute ground tofu for the lamb and make this a vegetarian recipe. It was very tasty. My family said it was the best shepherd's pie they've had, and we've had other recipes quite a few times. My teenagers didn't know they were eating tofu until I told them. The caramelized onions really boosted the flavor.

I used two 340-g packages of Yves Italian Veggie Ground Tofu and French's ketchup. I would peel the potatoes next time before mashing. I do really like your slow cooker homemade stock recipe, but I didn't have any on hand, so I used Knorr Homestyle reduced sodium concentrated stock (it comes as a gel to which you add boiling water). The ground tofu doesn't need to be cooked, so I added it to the carrots and stirred it up over low heat for about 2 minutes to warm it up.

I did not want to dirty another dish, so I left the mixture in the cast iron skillet and then spread the potatoes and remaining onions over the top before sprinkling with Cheddar. I put the cast iron pan into the hot oven and the dish was ready in 20 min.


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  1. Well, this was delicious and pretty easy to put together. I made some modifications, but otherwise followed the recipe pretty closely. (Beef & pork instead of lamb, forgot the thyme, mashed the potatoes in an instant pot) I will admit that I tend to bolt when I see a 3-part recipe, but since the dish was so tempting I forged ahead. It was well worth it. I’m a big fan of caramelized onions and it added a nice touch to this recipe. It is a satisfying and delicious dish and I’m glad to add it to my list of go-to recipes.

    1. Cindy, I’m so happy you didn’t bolt. We don’t like people running in a room filled with sharp objects! And I’m delighted you enjoyed making the dish. It is wicked good.

  2. Actually have a question. As there are only two of us, I was thinking of splitting between two 8 inch square pans and freezing one for later. Is there any down side or things I should take into consideration?

    1. Hi Terry, this pie should be be fine to portion and freeze. My only suggestion would be to add the cheese before baking as sometimes freezing can affect the texture.

  3. I used 1lb beef, 1lb lamb and that suited my family. The garlicky potatoes and the nicely seasoned meat with salty caramelized onions mingling about created a perfect fall Sunday meal, with peas and a fresh salad on the side. Cool weather comfort food is always a favorite in my house, and this will definitely be added to the rotation.

  4. First heavy frost was this week, and this was a perfect meal for such a night, accompanied by some roasted Brussels sprouts on the side. Because I needed to use up a handful of cremini mushrooms that were feeling lonely in the fridge, I tossed them in to use them up and made a note on the recipe to add those again when I make this dish…which I’m sure will be often as the weather turns colder.

  5. I made this last night after a really long day of work and it provided all the comfort and flavor I needed! I used ground beef because I had some in the freezer, but look forward to preparing it with lamb next time. I also added fresh chevre to the potatoes because I had some partially used, which added a a nice bit of tang. As empty nesters, we will happily enjoy Shepard’s Pie for the rest of the weekend!! But if our sons were home, I know it would have disappeared last night!

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