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8 Things You Never Knew About Shepherd’s Pie

It's a comfort food staple, but do you know what makes shepherd's pie special? It's come a long way from its origins!

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Taste of Home

Shepherd’s Pie Hails from Scotland

The original shepherd’s pies were baked in pastry crusts and used leftover roast meat combined with a savory gravy to bring it all together. When the dish made its way from Scotland to Ireland, they skipped the pastry and used their abundance of potatoes instead, creating the modern-day mashed potato topping.

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Fresh Traditional Australian meat mini pie on the wooden board on table backgroundAnikonaAnn/Shutterstock

The Traditional Ingredients Aren’t What You Thought

Our favorite shepherd’s pie recipe has come a long way from its origins. The word “pie” likely comes from “magpie”—a bird well-known for collecting a random assortment of items in its nest. It’s thought that early pie eaters were equally un-picky about the contents of their pies, baking them with everything from pigeons to crows. I’m pretty glad we’ve evolved past that!

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Slow-Cooked Shepherd's PieTaste of Home

It Isn’t the Same as Cottage Pie

Technically, you can only call it shepherd’s pie if it contains lamb or mutton. Any pie made with beef, like these, should be called cottage pie. Want to top your pie with breadcrumbs? You’ll have to refer to it as Cumberland pie.

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Skillet shepard's pieTaste of Home

Its Pie Status Has Been Questioned

The Brits are serious about pie: According to a petition calling to “make wrongly describing a casserole with a pastry lid as a pie a criminal offence,” we shouldn’t be calling shepherd’s pie a pie at all! The petitioners argued that a pie has to have a top and base of pastry; a casserole covered by a puff pastry—or mashed potatoes—isn’t enough. (Spoiler alert: It only received half of the requested 10,000 signatures).

That begs the question, is the hot dog a sandwich?

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Scottish Pie - traditional stuffed fast food with different fillings. Macaroni cheese , mutton, shell, mince , football, cheese and onion, chicken and mushroom, cottage , curry, steak.JoannaTkaczuk/Shutterstock

Shepherd’s Pie Can Have a Pastry Crust

While some people still make shepherd’s pie with pastry the way the Scots did, it’s much more common to make it Irish-style using mashed potatoes as the topping. Vegans worry not, we’ve got you covered! Here’s how you can make a vegan pie crust.

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West Virginia Shepherd’s PieTaste of Home

It Can Be Pricey

The most expensive slice of meat pie was sold in Lancashire, UK, for over $1,700 a slice! It was made with Japanese wagyu beef filet, priceless Chinese matsutake mushrooms, Winter Black truffles, French Bluefoot mushrooms, and gravy made from made two bottles of vintage 1982 Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine. To top it all off, it was garnished with edible gold leaf! It’s a Guinness World Record.

Put these impressive dinners on your cooking bucket list.

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vegan green lentil mushroom sweet potato Shepherds pie. Nataliya Arzamasova/Shutterstock

There’s a Shepherd’s Pie for Vegetarians, Too

A popular vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie is emerging these days. It doesn’t have an official name; some people refer to it as shepherdless pie while others name it gardener’s pie. The fillings vary, from lentils and sweet potatoes to mushrooms and leeks.

Try our veggie version!

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Pastel de Papa, typical Peruvian potato casserole dish; Shutterstock ID 392829607; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH Pastel De PapaHann Leon Stock/Shutterstock

South Americans Have Their Own Spin

In Spanish-speaking countries like Chile and Peru, it’s called pastel de papa. With potatoes on top, the casserole looks similar to the shepherd’s pie you know, but instead of vegetables, cooks often layer in chopped hard-boiled eggs, black olives and raisins. Sometimes, it’s wrapped in pastry dough and served up empanada style.

Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.