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

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

Shepherd’s Pie with Onions and Cheddar

4.80 / 5 votes
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.
David Leite
Servings6 to 8 servings
Calories906 kcal
Prep Time1 hour 20 minutes
Cook Time40 minutes
Total Time2 hours


For the caramelized onions

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds (about 6 medium) onions, thinly sliced crosswise into rounds
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the mashed potatoes

  • 3 pounds all-purpose potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, scrubbed but not peeled and cut into 2-inch (5-cm) chunks
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

For the filling and to finish the shepherd’s pie

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 medium (about 1 1/2 cups) carrots, scrubbed or peeled and finely diced
  • 2 pounds ground lamb (or ground beef)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon store-bought or homemade tomato paste, (ketchup will do in a pinch)
  • 2 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth
  • 1 cup grated Cheddar


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.


Shepherd’s Pie with Onions and Cheddar Variation

Our recipe testers also made this recipe with ground dark-meat turkey as well as tofu and loved it just as much. Consider that.
Cooking with Shelburne Farms by Melissa Pasanen

Adapted From

Cooking with Shelburne Farms

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 906 kcalCarbohydrates: 58 gProtein: 37 gFat: 59 gSaturated Fat: 26 gMonounsaturated Fat: 25 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 150 mgSodium: 1698 mgFiber: 8 gSugar: 9 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2007 Melissa Pasanen. Photo © 2007 Susie Cushner. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

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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.

I was curious to try shepherd’s pie and this is a great recipe. Family loved it and have requested I keep the recipe in the regular rotation. Leftovers were just as good and ingredients are simple, common items from the pantry. I like that this recipe can be made in stages as time allows and then assembled when needed.

I used russet potatoes that I had on hand. I’m sure Yukon Gold would be even better. I also used 85% ground beef.

I dig this shepherd’s pie! The caramelized onions in particular were a special touch, as this is one of the best flavors (and smells) that cooking can produce, in my opinion. I loved how they were incorporated in both the potato topping and the meat filling.

I went for ground lamb, which gives an extra richness to the pie. Because I shed some kitchen supplies recently, I didn’t have a steamer for the potatoes. Instead, I made the potatoes like regular mashed potatoes, starting in cool water just until covered and heating the water. It took about 17 minutes for the potatoes to cook through and they were perfectly done. I used a tenderizer in place of a fork to mash them. I enjoyed the texture of the skin left in the topping. The potatoes could probably use a pinch more of salt after whipping up, although when you hit a part of the topping with the caramelized onions, they make up for the lack of seasoning.

The filling has a nice savory light gravy. I might go slightly stronger on the thyme next time. I used a 10-by-14-inch rectangular dish. It was a little tricky to serve the dish out of the pan the first night, but I’m sure the subsequent nights will be easy now that the pie is chilled. I could have probably used a pinch more of the Cheddar—maybe another 1/4 to 1/2 cup, but that is probably getting decadent!!!

Caramelized onions and Cheddar mashed potatoes—enticing words. Pair them with ground lamb and this twist on shepherd’s pie is perfect for Sunday dinner. Love this!

In the morning, I prepped all the ingredients (diced carrots and caramelized the onions for approximately 90 minutes over medium-low heat). The lamb and gravy preparation is straightforward. After reading through the second step, I decided to cook the potatoes (Yukon golds) last, thinking that mashed potatoes are best if freshly prepared before baking. Interestingly, there’s no additional dairy or broth added—just cubed butter and a generous portion of salt. The mashed potato process (using a basic masher in the same pot) is effortless and delicious. The soft garlic is subtle and pleasant. I see now that yes, you could prepare this type of mashed potato even a day ahead, as the recipe notes, without sacrificing taste or texture.

I look forward to making this dish to share with extended family over Christmas break. With the exception of the cheese, this recipe could be easily adapted for those who can’t eat dairy or gluten.

Although I often add cheese to shepherd’s pie, I haven’t added cooked onion to the topping and I thought the result was delicious. The pie felt like a complete hearty dish in itself and I ate a large portion of it without any further accompaniments.

I used a type of white potato called Cultra from Northern Ireland. I also used 5% fat ground beef and a mature British cheddar. I used about half of the lamb mixture in my pie, as I was limited in the size of the dish I used.

This shepherd’s pie would serve 6 to 8 people—possibly more.

Two thumbs up!! This was a great recipe for a cold and dreary day, producing a warm, delicious, and comforting dinner. Although it calls for very little in the way of herbs or spices, the humble ingredients come together to create a subtle savory flavor. An added bonus was that it produced a huge amount (easily enough for 8 to 10), ensuring lots of simple-to-reheat leftovers.

Save this recipe for a day when time is not a factor, as caramelizing the onions and completing all the steps takes time. My onions took a full 70 minutes until they were a light golden brown. I used this time to prepare the mashed potatoes and grate the cheese. I used 85% grass-fed lamb and a fair amount of fat was drained off after browning. Do not even think about omitting the garlic from the mashed potatoes, as it gave them a delectable yet subtle boost of flavor. I used a sharp white Cheddar, but will probably try an orange Cheddar for color next time. My total bake time was 35 minutes in order lightly brown.

I used large thin-skinned new potatoes, labeled “Gold,” at Trader Joes. I wondered if there was a compelling reason to use chicken versus beef broth (though I tested it as written with chicken).

In making the gravy, I wasn’t sure how thick it should have been at the end. As it looked a bit thin after 3 minutes, I added an extra teaspoon of flour to thicken it up, and am glad that I did.

A couple twists to a regular, run-of-the-mill shepherd’s pie really set this version apart. As far as the recipe itself, there was nothing tricky or complicated. I loved the steaming of the potatoes, which I’d never done. It was so much easier than boiling them.

First, caramelizing the onion was a masterstroke. They added a light sweetness that really gave the pie a depth that otherwise would have been missing. And mixing some of the onions in with the meat and putting the rest on the potatoes was a great idea. I’d vote for upping the quantity to 3 pounds.

The second twist was the Cheddar on top. Cheese makes everything better and that’s no different here. We wondered, however, what would happen if we brought it into a pub!

This dish might not be one for a quick weeknight meal but was very much worth the time.

We used russet potatoes and half lamb, half beef.

The timing (20 minutes) on the bake was accurate (though we wanted to pull it out at 15 because it smelled so good and we knew we’d have to let it sit for a few minutes before digging in.)

We got 6 good-size servings. (It was hard to stop eating!)

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    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. 5 stars
    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.

    1. Diana, excellent. And I like the half and half blend of meats. I guess you could call that a Shepherd’s Cottage Pie.