This shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb, caramelized onions, smashed potatoes, all topped with grated Cheddar cheese. If you prefer beef instead of lamb, you’re gonna have to call it a Cottage Pie.
A true 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 is not traditional, of course, but with all that great Cheddar around, it was a natural and delicious addition. Originally published October 21, 2007.–Melissa Pasanen
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet set over medium heat, heat the olive 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 30 to 40 minutes, or until they are completely softened and golden brown. This will take time, so don’t skimp or you’ll have bitter burnt slices. You should have about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of onions. You can cover and refrigerate these for up to 1 week.
Make the smashed potatoes
Select a large pot that can accommodate a steamer insert or heatproof colander large enough to hold your potatoes. Fill it with water up to the bottom of the steamer insert, add the potatoes and garlic cloves, and sprinkle them with the salt. Cover the pot, set it over high heat, 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, pour off the hot water, and return the potatoes and garlic to the pot. Cover the potatoes with a clean dish towel and let them dry out for about 5 minutes. (Don’t allow the potatoes to cool before mashing or they will get disastrously gummy.) Add the butter to the pot and use a potato masher to smash the potatoes and garlic until blended but not completely smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste. (You can cover and refrigerate these 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, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat 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, until the meat is no longer pink, 8 to 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 longer. Add the stock and 1 cup of the caramelized onions, increase the heat slightly, and simmer until the gravy thickens slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.
Spread the lamb in a shallow round or oval 3-quart casserole 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 evenly. Bake the pie until the cheese is golden and crusty, about 20 minutes.
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 four large ramekins rather than one serving dish and it worked fine. Try this comfort food on a cool autumn or blustery winter weekend.