I have been told that, technically, a Shepherd’s Pie uses ground lamb and Cottage Pie uses ground beef. However, in our family we’ve always referred to this dish as Shepherd’s Pie and it would be confusing to a great many people to change it now. So, here is one of my ultimate comfort food recipes. It’s easy, tastes great, and freezes well in case you want to make multiple small casseroles for smaller groups.
And the ultimate recommendation is that it’s one of my husband’s absolute favorites.
I change this up by alternating the types of mashed potatoes I use for the topping. I frequently make horseradish mashed potatoes or cheddar mashed potatoes – both are a great match for the beefy dish. And, it can easily be a gluten-free dish if you use gluten-free brown gravy mix.
For the filling:
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 bag frozen mixed peas and carrots
2 envelopes brown gravy mix
4 cups water
For the mashed potato topping:
5-6 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium sized pieces
1/2 stick butter
1 1/2 cups milk (more or less)
2 tablespoons creamy horseradish
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Peel potatoes and cut into medium sized uniform pieces. Add water to cover the potatoes and salt the water with about a tablespoon of kosher salt. While the potatoes are cooking, make the filling for the Shepherd’s Pie.
In a large skillet, add the ground beef and onion, salt and pepper. Cook the ground beef mixture, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. When cooked through, drain any grease from the pan and return to the burner over medium heat. Add the 2 tablespoons tomato paste and stir it into the ground beef. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the bag of frozen peas and carrots, stirring to mix. Let cook for about 5 minutes or until the vegetable are thawed and softened. In a large mixing cup or bowl, combine the contents of the brown gravy packets with the 4 cups of water, mixing with a whisk. Pour the gravy mixture into the ground beef and vegetables. Cook until the gravy thickens, stirring occasionally. When thickened, remove from heat.
When the potatoes are fork tender, remove from heat and drain. Add the potatoes to a large heat-proof mixing bowl and add the butter, salt, and horseradish. With a hand mixer or a potato masher, start mashing the potatoes. Gradually add milk until the potatoes are the consistency you prefer. (Note: The amount of milk used varies depending on the potatoes themselves and the consistency you like for the topping. I tend to like mine to be a little moister and looser to top this dish than what I would serve as a regular side dish. They will be in the oven and a little extra moisture helps them remain creamy after baking.)
If you want to serve the whole batch, use a 9 x 13 baking dish. You can also break this up into smaller casserole dishes. I typically prepare half in a smaller casserole dish and prep smaller portions in disposable aluminum loaf pans and put in the freezer for future use.
Place the filling in the bottom of the baking dish. Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the filling, making sure you reach all the edges to seal. Sprinkle the top with the shredded cheddar cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the cheese is bubbly, about 20-25 minutes.