Keeping Up with Irish Tradition – Shepherd’s Pie

By Nanette Hebdige


This St. Patrick’s Day green Irish shamrocks will be painted on many faces, there will be loads of green beer consumed and the phrase Erin go Breagh will be shouted during St. Paddy’s Day parades by Irish lads and lassies, as in Gaelic it means “Ireland to the end of time”.

Let’s address the fanfare concerning corned beef and cabbage, the dish typically favored on St Paddy’s, with a preconception that corned beef is traditionally Irish or that consuming green colored foods is part of St. Patrick’s Day history.

Corned beef isn’t Irish and as for the green part, Ireland is called the Emerald isle for its lush, green covered hills.

Ireland is well also known for its fresh vegetables, seafood and wonderful breads and through the 19th century it was a big producer of salted beef for trade and export. Irish immigrants arriving in America relied on affordable cabbage and potatoes and that’s how the famous corned beef and cabbage got its notoriety, but salted pork was used for flavoring, as beef was too costly.

Let’s turn to an equally Irish dish for St. Paddy’s – shepherd’s pie. As with many dishes, sometimes there’s an ambiguous, murky yarn surrounding the origins of a recipe and with shepherd’s pie it’s no different. There’s the “Irish or British” conundrum as to where it originated, but it’s actually a traditional Irish dish that was brought to England from Ireland in the early 1500s, when the Brits took over the Emerald Isle. It’s called cottage pie in UK because they use beef and in Ireland since the shepherds tend the sheep, it’s shepherd’s pie.

No doubt, the English put out an excellent cottage pie but in Ireland it used to be a delicacy, since the Irish couldn’t afford beef they repurposed any unused veggies and meat into the dish and for special occasions mutton was used which was cheaper.

That pretty much sums up the story to this humble dish served in every Irish pub and one of the most beloved dishes in Ireland.

The prep is moderately easy, where the mash can be placed on the bottom and also added on to top to make it even more luscious and here the oven does most of the work. As with any recipe it can be tweaked and another great thing about it, it freezes exceptionally well.

So, get your shepherd’s pie hat on and make this comforting, deeply rooted Irish dish not only on St. Patrick’s but anytime throughout the year.

Classic Irish Shepherd’s Pie

If you’ve ever made or eaten Shepherd’s Pie you know every bite is pure comfort. It’s a succulent, hearty dish with meat and vegetables in a rich sauce with luscious, mashed potatoes and baked for additional bubbly goodness.

The traditional Irish dish calls for lamb to keep it authentic, but if you’re opposed to the lamby flavor, feel free to use ground beef.

Makes 6 servings


1 lb of russet potatoes peeled and quartered

¼ cup of half-and-half or cream

2 TBSP butter

1 bay leaf

1 egg yolk

Salt and pepper


1 onion chopped finely

2 medium carrots diced small

½ cup of diced celery

1 lb of ground lamb or beef

2 large cloves of garlic peeled and chopped

1 ½ tbsp flour

1 cup or more of chicken broth

½ cup of red wine

2 tsp tomato paste

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp each of dried rosemary and dried thyme

½ cup of frozen baby peas

Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F

Boil potatoes with some salt and the bay leaf for about 15-20 mins till tender. Drain and add to a bowl. Mash with a potato masher, add butter, half-and-half salt, egg yolk, salt and pepper, mix well and set aside.

While the potatoes boil, add some olive oil to a large frying pan and sauté chopped onion, carrots and celery for about 8 mins on medium. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add ground meat and cook till browned through. Incorporate the tomato paste, herbs, flour and cook for a couple of minutes to cook off raw flour taste.

Add the wine, cook until almost evaporated. Add Worcestershire, stock, reduce heat and simmer until sauce has thickened – about 15 minutes. Add peas last.

Pour onto a 9×13 glass baking dish, spread the mash on top and smooth with a rubber spatula. Bake on middle oven rack for about 25 minutes till the potatoes begin to brown and its bubbly. Remove to a cooling rack and wait about 15 minutes before serving.


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