Traditional Irish Shepherd's Pie for St. Patrick's Day

March 16, 2014

Shepherd's pieWith St. Patrick's Day coming up, my kids have been asking for Irish food for dinner. Since corned beef and cabbage is not exactly something you throw together after school, I've been making other appropriate dishes like this rib-sticking, easy-to-make, and kid-friendly shepherd's pie. It's essentially a beef-and-vegetable stew topped with mashed potatoes and baked in the oven until golden brown. I topped this version with a little grated Irish white cheddar cheese for a bit more authenticity.

This pub-grub favorite is more correctly known as "cottage pie", since it's made with ground beef instead of leftover roast lamb, but it's delicious regardless of what it's called. I always try to bulk up the stew part with extra vegetables to make it a one-dish meal. My kids love this and even my picky-eater daughter asks for a second helping. Feel free to substitute ground turkey or chopped leftover roast beef or lamb for the ground beef.

This recipe serves 6 to 8, so we usually get two dinners out of it, reheating the leftovers on a weeknight. It actually tastes better after sitting in the refrigerator for a day or two!


for the stew

  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard (like Coleman's) or Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

for the mashed potatoes

  • 2 pounds potatoes (about 4 large), peeled and quartered; I used organic Yukon Gold potatoes from Bloomfield Farms
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup or more milk (depending on the moisture in the potatoes)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup grated Irish cheddar cheese (like Dubliner) or other sharp white cheddar


Preheat your oven to 350ºF. First, make your mashed potatoes. If you have leftover mashed potatoes from a previous meal, lucky you! You can just thin them with a little more milk and use those. Don't try to make this with instant mashed potatoes—I've tried it and it was a culinary disaster.

Shepherd's pie ingredientsShepherd's pie veggies

Boil potatoes in plenty of water until they're tender, then drain and mash, adding butter, milk, and salt and pepper to taste. The amount of milk varies depending on the moisture in your potatoes. (Honestly, I usually just eyeball it with mashed potatoes, so all these amounts are approximate.) You'll want the potatoes to be a little moister than normal mashed potatoes so that they spread over the filling, but still sturdy enough so they don't sink into the stew.

Let the potatoes cool a bit while you make the stew. Heat oil over medium high heat in a large skillet, add ground beef, and brown, working in batches. Remove browned beef from the pan and set aside. Pour off any excess fat, leaving a couple tablespoons in the pan.

Shepherd's pie cookingStew in casserole

Add vegetables and thyme and cook over medium heat until onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Return beef to the pan and mix with vegetables. Add flour and stir until it's mixed thoroughly with the vegetables and meat. Pour in beef broth, a bit at a time, and stir into ingredients in the pan until it's all incorporated. Add mustard and Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15–20 minutes until carrots are tender and sauce has thickened. Stir in frozen peas, then pour stew into a casserole dish.

Top with mashed potatoes. You can pipe the potatoes on with a pastry bag or a large plastic zip storage bag with one corner snipped off (I call this the poor chef's pastry bag), or just carefully spread the potatoes over the top, which is what I did this time, being out of storage bags. Score the top of the potato topping with a fork if you like for extra crispiness.

Sprinkle grated cheese on top. You can dot the topping with a little more butter if you like, but it's probably not necessary with the cheese.

Shepherd's pie ready to go in the oven Finished shepherd's pie

Bake for 20–30 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and crisp in places and the stew underneath is bubbling. Serve on its own or with a green salad or steamed vegetables. You could also make individual-serving shepherd's pies in ramekins.