Shepherd’s Pie with Caramelized Onions and Cheddar Smash

Shepherd's Pie Recipe

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.–Melissa Pasanen

LC Hallowed Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s have a rep for being humble. So it’s only fitting that chunky mashed potatoes gilded with extra-sharp Cheddar cheese form a hallowed halo of sorts for this oh so humble shepherd’s pie.

Shepherd's Pie Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 1 H, 20 M
  • 2 H
  • Serves 6 to 8


  • For the caramelized onions
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds (about 6 medium) onions, thinly sliced crosswise into rounds
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • For the potato smash
  • 3 pounds all-purpose potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, scrubbed but not peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) 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
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon coarse 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 (about 3 1/2 ounces) grated Cheddar


  • Make the caramelized onions
  • 1. In a large, heavy- bottomed saute pan or 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.
  • 2. 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. 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
  • 3. 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.
  • 4. Reduce the heat to maintain an active simmer and steam the potatoes for 25 to 30 minutes, until they break apart easily when poked with a fork.
  • 5. 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. (Do not 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 filling and assemble the shepherd’s pie
  • 6. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
  • 7. In a large saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes, until softened. Add the lamb, thyme, and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the meat is no longer pink. Carefully pour off all the fat.
  • 8. Sprinkle the flour over the lamb and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Then stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes longer. Add the stock and 1 cup caramelized onions, increase the heat slightly, and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, until the gravy thickens slightly.
  • 9. 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. Distribute the remaining caramelized onions over the mashed potatoes and then sprinkle the Cheddar evenly over the potatoes. Bake until the cheese is golden and crusty, about 20 minutes.
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