Shapely Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's Pie was the idyllic dish for celebrating St. Patrick's Day, but keep this recipe around for early spring feasts (note: it's encased in pie pastry!)

Even though I'm about 50 percent Irish, my maiden name is McCauley, and my grandfather on my father's side was born in the old country, I really struggle with St. Patrick's Day. I'm extremely proud of my heritage, and to see it reduced to green beer, often sodden behavior, and frequently bad food leaves me grumpier than an extremely unlucky leprechaun. That is, until someone makes me a really top-notch Shepherd's Pie, like the one in the recipe that follows, adapted from my recently released book, Tart Love - Sassy, Savory, and Sweet (Gibbs Smith, October, 2011).


Shapely Shepherd's Pie 
(Serves Eight) 
Photo by Helene Dujardin


Equipment needed: One 9-inch deep-dish (2 - 3 inches deep) pie pan


Savory Pastry 
2 1/2 cups White Lily all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt
2 sticks (1 cup) AA grade unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3 tablespoons. ice- cold water, or just enough to hold the pastry together


Mashed Potatoes
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
Water to cover
1/4 - 1/2 cup whole cream (depending on desired texture)
2 - 3 tablespoons sweet butter
1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


2 cups shelled fresh peas, blanched and refreshed, or 2 cups frozen peas
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt


Meat Filling
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground grass-fed beef (or substitute lamb or traditional ground beef)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 1/2 cups minced fresh carrots
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 egg wash (yolk mixed with a sprinkle of water, dash of salt)
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
Freshly ground black pepper


Prepare the pastry. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade, pulse together the salt and the flour to combine. Add the butter all at once, and pulse 40-50 times or until the butter is roughly the size of small peas. Through the mouth of the food processor, very slowly stream in the water while pulsing, until the pastry just holds together in a messy, loose clump. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, form into a 1-inch high disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or over night.


Roll out on a lightly floured surface and line the pie pan with the pastry, forming a pretty, slightly elevated border. Refrigerate until ready to use.


For the mashed potatoes, place the peeled, chopped potatoes in a medium pan with salt and enough water to just cover. Bring to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain potatoes in a colander; return to the same pan and let them steam over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes to remove any excess water. Add the cream, butter, horseradish, and seasoning. Mash with a potato masher, stirring to incorporate all of the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Let cool, then refrigerate to cool completely.


For the peas, bring a medium pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add peas and blanch for about 1 minutes. Drain in a colander and "shock" by running very cold water over the peas. (If using frozen peas, skip this step.)


To make the meat filling, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef, season generously with salt and pepper, and brown for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring to break up and cook evenly. Drain off any excess fat, leaving 1-2 tablespoons in the pan. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion, garlic, and carrots; stir to coat. Let vegetables cook into the meat until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in parsley, scallions, Worcestershire, and mustard. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Refrigerate to chill the meat mixture completely.


Putting it together: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Gently brush the bottom, sides and edges of the chilled pastry shell with the egg wash using a pastry brush. Spoon about 1 cup of the potatoes into the bottom of the prepared pie pastry, smoothing to distribute evenly along the bottom and about 2 " of the sides. Add all of the cooled beef mixture, and spread evenly. Top this with the cooled blanched peas or 2 cups of frozen peas. Top with the remaining mashed potatoes, smoothing gently with a spatula and leaving at least 1/2-inch (including the crust) free of filling, since the potatoes "puff" while they cook. Cook for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Meanwhile, whisk together the sour cream, mustard, horseradish and pepper. Bring to room temperature before serving. Place a generous dollop on or near each slice of the pie.