Shepherds’s Pie and other recipes

Shepherd’s Pie and other recipes for using up cooked meat

The names Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie are frequently interchanged but it is generally accepted that a Shepherd’s Pie should contain mutton or lamb whilst a Cottage Pie is made with beef.  There are earlier references to Cottage Pie than to Shepherd’s Pie, for example the diarist Reverend Woodford recorded that he had eaten Cottage Pie for dinner in 1791 (although it is not clear precisely what this contained).

Potatoes were first introduced to England in 1520 but they did not become widely accepted until the 18th century and it is probably during this century that both dishes were invented as a way of using up and eking out leftover meat.  Shepherd’s Pie originated in the north of England or Scotland, where there were the greatest numbers of sheep.  The oldest recipe using this name is dated 1886.  Food historian Alan Davidson states that the phrase “Shepherd’s Pie” dates back to the 1870s, when mincing machines made the shredding of meat easy and popular.

First I think it is worthwhile reading in full account of making Cottage Pie, written in 1894 by Lizzie Heritage in Cassell’s New Universal Cookery Book.  Note that she uses a layer of potato on the bottom of the dish to protect the meat from drying out as well as the more familiar potato topping.

“…Required: a pound and a half of cooked potatoes, half a pound to three-quarters of cold meat, seasoning and gravy as below.  Cost, about 9d.

The potatoes must be nicely cooked and mashed while hot… They should be seasoned and beaten until light with a wooden spoon.  A pie dish should be greased, and potatoes put at the bottom to form a layer from half to an inch in thickness.  The meat should be made to a thick mince of the usual kind with stock or gravy…or it may be mixed with onion sauce or any other which might be sent to table with meat.  The nicer the mince, the nicer of course will be the pie.  The meat doest next, and should be put in the centre of the bottom payer, leaving a little space all around.  The remainder of the potatoes go on top, beginning at the sides – this prevents the boiling out of the gravy when the meat begins to cook.  Rough the surface with a fork all over, because it will brown better than if left smooth.  It may just be brushed with melted dripping or a coat of beaten egg, part of which can then be used in the mashed potatoes.  As soon as the pie is hot through and brown it should be served.  There are many recipes for this pie, or variations of it, and in some directions are given for putting the meat in the dish first and all of the potatoes on top.  The plan detailed above will be found the better, because the meat, being enveloped entirely in potatoes, runs no risk of becoming hard as it would do if exposed to the direct heat of the oven.  Any other cooked vegetables may be added to the above, but they should be placed between the meat and potatoes, both top and bottom.  If a very savoury pie is desired, make the mince very moist and allow a longer time for baking. The potatoes will absorb some of the gravy and found tasty.  In this case the heat must not be fierce at starting, only at the end for the pie to brown well.  For a richer pie allow a larger proportion of meat….”

Modern recipes certainly do tend to include a much greater proportion of meat.  For example, Jamie Oliver uses 1¾ lb of meat for 6 people and recommends a 2″ layer of meat topped with a 1″ layer of potato.  With less people cooking joints of meat, it is often made now by cooking minced fresh meat, although shredded meat from a cheaper cut cooked slowly on the bone gives a better flavour and more interesting texture.  My own preference is to use shoulder of hogget (lamb over a year old), stripping the meat from the bones with the aid of a couple of forks after eating Sunday lunch, before the meat is completely cold.  The bones are put immediately to making stock.  Make sufficient gravy with the Sunday lunch to reserve a half pint for making the Shepherd’s Pie.


Serves 4

3 pint/1.75l capacity dish that is at least 2 inches deep. (see notes below)

Approx 1lb/500g of cooked lamb, shredded (about a shoulder from a larger lamb)

½ pint of left over gravy

For the vegetable base:

1 large onion

3 carrots

½ stick of celery

salt and pepper


For the potato topping:

2½ lb floury potatoes

¼ pint whole milk

1 small onion

bay leaf


¼ tsp salt

4 peppercorns

1 egg yolk

Shred the meat from the bones using a couple of forks.  It should be shredded reasonably finely so that no cutting is required and to double check that all the meat used is tender.

Finely chop the onion and celery, season with salt, pepper and a few thyme leaves, and cook gently in a little of the lamb fat until soft and lightly coloured.  Cut the carrots into half rings and cook these briefly to soften slightly.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the peeled potatoes until soft.  Meanwhile gently heat the milk with the flavourings and leave to infuse.

When the potatoes are cooked drain them into a colander.  Remove the flavourings from the milk and put the milk into the hot saucepan in which you just cooked the potatoes so that the milk is warm (re-heat if necessary).  Put the potatoes through a ricer into the milk.  Blend the egg yolk with a tablespoon of cold milk and stir this into the potato.  Mix until smooth.

Place the cooked vegetable base in the bottom of the dish and then cover this with the meat.  Pour on sufficient gravy to barely cover the meat.

Top with the potato and rough the surface with a fork to help it brown.  Place on a baking tray (to protect the oven from spills) and place in an oven pre-heated to 180°C.  Cook until the top is nicely browned and the whole dish is bubbling hot.


The prepared Shepherd’s Pie may be covered and refrigerated once cool for cooking the next day.  In this case remove the dish from the oven to bring it up to room temperature before cooking and allow a little longer cooking time to ensure the meat is thoroughly re-heated.

The quantity of potato required will depend on the exact dimensions of the dish used.  The dish needs to be at least 2 inches deep to allow sufficient room for the three layers but a deeper dish will give a greater proportion of meat to potato.


Rissoles are a perfect solution when you haven’t enough meat left over to make a Shepherd’s Pie.  Do make sure you chill them for at least half an hour between shaping and cooking- it helps keep the mixture together.

8 oz cooked lamb

1 small onion

1½ oz fresh breadcrumbs

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

2 level tbsps chopped parsley

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 small egg, beaten

salt and pepper

Either mince both the onion and the meat through the finest blade of a mincer or chop them finely in a food processor.   Then add the rest of the ingredients and combine thoroughly.

Divide the mixture into six portions and shape each into a round cake shape with your hands.  Coat each rissole with seasoned flour, cover and chill for at least half an hour.

Shallow fry for 5 minutes a side.

Variations: you can make rissoles with any meat you choose.  For spicy rissoles add half a red or green pepper and use chilli powder in place of the cinnamon – serve with chilli sauce.  For a Middle Eastern flavour try adding ½ a teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander and serve with Tzatziki.


The following sauce will bind 1lb of minced meat or any solid ingredients you wish to use.  I think ham and cheese are particularly good.  Form into croquettes, which are then deep fried, or use as a filling for pancakes.

2 level tbsps butter

4 level tbsps flour

7 fl oz milk

1 level tsp finely chopped onion

1 level tsp finely chopped parsley

salt and pepper

Make a roux with the butter and flour then add the milk, onion, parsley, salt and pepper and cook until the sauce is thick, stirring all the time.

Combine the sauce with the minced meat and pour onto a greased baking tray.   Chill for at least half an hour or until required.  Shape the mixture into sausages or balls and then dip into an egg beaten with 2-3 tablespoons of water then roll in breadcrumbs that have been lightly dried in the oven.  A second coating is advisable to prevent the filling from oozing out during the cooking.

Deep fry the croquettes until evenly brown all over.

Speltotto (and stuffed vegetables)

Spelt is one of the most useful ingredients to have in your store cupboard.  I have written a whole article about it here .

Speltotto is one name for a sort of “risotto” made with spelt rather than rice (Frumenty is another old English version, usually sweetened).  You can buy British grown spelt in many forms from Sharpham Park, the pearled grains are what I use for my speltotto and also to make the filling for stuffed vegetables such as peppers.  It is heartier than rice and a lot more forgiving to cook, plus as I have already mentioned – British.

I make many variations of the following recipe, one of which is included in the Spelt article, but this following is good when you have just a small quantity of meat to use up.  If you are stuffing vegetables you do not necessarily have to add so many of the flavouring I have included for the speltotto.

Olive oil

Mirepoix of chopped onion, carrot and celery

160g pearled spelt

Salt and pepper

1 tin of tomatoes

Approx 300 ml stock (to match whatever meat you are using)

Diced meat (as much or as little as you have available)

Optional extra ingredients: leek, garlic, a handful of raisins, herbs to complement meat

Gently sweat the mirepoix of vegetables in olive oil until they are softened, then add the spelt, salt and pepper, and the tin of tomatoes.  Add sufficient stock to cover, give it all a stir and then leave to simmer.  Give it a stir every now and again to stop the spelt sticking and add more stock if the mixture is getting a bit dry.  After 10 minutes add the diced meat.  It will take about another 10 minutes for the spelt to be cooked – taste to check.  If you are using the mixture to stuff peppers you can do this a bit before the spelt is fully cooked and the mixture still has some surplus liquid.

As with risotto, some parmesan cheese when serving is good.


Nasi Goreng simply means fried rice and is found throughout Malaysia and Indonesia.  It differs from Chinese fried rice in that the Chinese mince their meats and garnishes into tiny pieces and fry them with the rice whilst in Nasi Goreng the meat and vegetables are fried in larger chunks before the rice is fried in the same oil and only near the end of the process are all the ingredients combined.  It is almost impossible to list what may go into a Nasi Goreng as almost no two dishes are ever quite the same.  Here is one version:

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

vegetable oil

8 oz/225g long grain rice

½ level tsp ground coriander

½ level tsp caraway seeds

½ level tsp chilli powder

1 level tsp curry powder

2 tbsps soy sauce

1 lb/450g cooked pork, diced

½ lb frozen peas, freshly cooked

1 egg

2 tbsps water

salt and pepper

Fry the onion and garlic in the oil until soft.  Meanwhile boil the rice until cooked but still firm then drain and rinse under cold water.

Stir the spices and soy sauce into the onion and cook for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the meat and heat through thoroughly then add the cooked rice and re-heat before adding the peas.  Meanwhile make the omelette.

Mix the egg with the water and add salt and pepper.  Lightly grease a frying pan and heat until hot.  Pour in the egg and cook until set in a thin omelette.  Turn out and cut into thin strips.

Serve the nasi goring garnished with strips of omelette.

Other relevant articles

Monday’s Supper

Lovely Leftovers

Pheasant Rissoles

Making Stock

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