Shepherd’s Pie

November 11, 2012

I have a friend who introduced me to Shepherd’s Pie about 10 years ago. It was her signature dish, and when I saw the current issue of Cook’s Illustrated my memories flew back to those simpler years in Hoboken, New Jersey. I was surprised by the long length of the ingredient list, and while they are common enough, with such a long list you’re sure to need a special trip to the supermarket. In my case it was 4-ounces of white mushrooms, scallions, carrots and port. Overall, the pie took more effort than I had thought; making the mashed potatoes, browning the vegetables and meat in many steps, then broiling the final pie. However, it is not daunting; everything is straight-forward with no special skills or techniques. In the end Chris Kimball’s recipe was very good, I give it 3-1/2 stars; delicious, well-balanced. A solid recipe for classic Shepherd’s pie, but not so exceptional as to surpass the memory of my friend’s Shepherd’s pie.

Classic Shepherd’s pie is not as easy as you think

While I just got back power two days ago after Hurricane Sandy; I lost two 80-foot pine trees and spent 11 days without power; this recipe also reminded me how fortunately I am. The area where I lived in Hoboken was exceptionally low-lying and the damage was exceptionally devastating. My friends have virtually all moved out of Hoboken, it seems to be a transitional town, everybody staying and enjoying it for a few years before the headaches eventually become too great. But I feel for all those who have moved in, as it could have just as easily been me and my friends who were hit so hard.


  1. Chris Kimball says not to use beef that is fattier than 93%, but I tempted fate and used the 80% lean ground beef that was already in my refrigerator. I cooked it separately so that I could discard some of the extra fat, before combining the other ingredients.
  2. I didn’t have a 10″ broiler-safe skillet, so I used my 12″ skillet to cook the meat, then assembled the pie into a Pyrex pie plate.
  3. I didn’t melt the butter separately as instructed in the recipe, I just allowed the residual heat of the potatoes to do it for me.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $14.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:45 PM. Finish time 5:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:

1-1/2 lbs 93%-lean ground beef
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons water
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2-1/2 lbs russet potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg yolk
8 scallions (green parts only)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 onion
4-oz white mushrooms
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, pressed
2 tablespoons Madeira or ruby port
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups beef broth
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 carrots
2 teaspoons cornstarch

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the beef, 2 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and baking soda. Allow to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.
  2. In the mean time, Peel your potatoes and cut into approximately 1″ cubes. Put potatoes in a medium saucepan, adding just enough water to cover, then add 1 tablespoon salt. Set over high burner, cover, and bring up to a boil. Reduce to medium-low, and continue simmering for 10 to 12 minutes. The potatoes will be done when a paring knife doesn’t meet any resistance. Empty potatoes into a strainer and then return them to the same saucepan for about 1 minute until all the surface moister has dried. Remove potatoes from heat and stir in butter.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together your milk, egg yolk, then mix into the potatoes. Thinly slice the green parts of 8 scallions, add to potatoes and season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper. Cover saucepan and set aside.
  4. Chop the onion and mushrooms. Peel your garlic cloves. Peel and chop your carrot (to be used in Step 6)
  5. Using a 10″-skillet that is safe to eventually put into the oven, pre-heat vegetable oil over medium burner until it’s shimmering. Add onion, mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; saute for 5 to 6 minutes. Add tomato paste and press garlic directly into the skillet; continue to cook for 2 more minutes. Add Madeira or Port and continue cooking for 1 minute. Mix in flour and continue cooking for 1 minute.
  6. Add 1-1/4 cups beef broth, 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, 2 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf, and 2 chopped carrots. When it comes up to a boil, reduce the burner to medium-low and add ground beef in 2″ chunks. Cover the skillet and cook for 12 minutes until the beef is cooked through, using 2 forks to break up the meat half-way through cooking.
  7. Stir cornstarch and remaining 2 teaspoons water together in bowl. Stir cornstarch mixture into filling and continue to simmer for 30 seconds. Remove thyme and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Set an oven rack to be 5″ from the broiler, and pre-heat while assembling the pie. Put mashed potatoes in a large Zip-lock bag and cut of a 1″ opening in one corner, then pipe the potatoes into an even layer over the filling. Use the back of a spoon to smooth out the potatoes, ensuring that all the meat is covered. Finally use the tines of a fork to make ridges over the entire surface, in whatever pattern you like.
  9. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, put pie on-top and broil for 10 to 15 minutes until the potatoes are golden brown, rotating the pie half way through broiling to ensure even browning. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

I assembled in a pie plate, for lack of oven-safe 10″ skillet

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