There’s a reason why shepherd’s pie is a consistent family crowd-pleaser. With a thick and hearty filling of ground meat, an array of nutritious vegetables and a cloud-like topping of mashed potatoes and melted cheese, what’s not to love? And here’s another thing to love. In this recipe, the entire dish is cooked in a skillet, saving you from both tedious dish cleanup and bake time.
How to Make Shepherd’s Pie
A traditional shepherd’s pie is made with lamb (more on this below), but this easy version is made with ground beef. It’s prepared entirely on the stovetop and comes together in right around 30 minutes. Simply prepare the filling in a single skillet, then top with any types of mashed potatoes and a generous sprinkling of cheddar cheese. It’s a comforting meal that’s perfect for busy weeknights or for hosting company.
What is shepherd’s pie?
Shepherd’s pie is a savory dish composed of a meat-and-vegetable filling that’s topped with mashed potatoes. Shepherd’s pie filling can vary greatly among recipes. However, a mandatory inclusion is typically either ground beef or ground lamb.
Shepherd’s pie made with lamb is more common in Europe, while beef is the meat of choice in the United States. The vegetable selection also varies among recipes. Onions, peas and carrots are most traditional, with mushrooms and root vegetables (such as turnips, rutabagas and parsnips) also making possible appearances.
The Shepherd’s Pie Origin Story
Shepherd’s pie is quintessential British food and a classic Irish recipe. While iterations of this potato-topped delight have existed for generations, the first written mention of a shepherd’s pie recipe appeared in an English cookbook published in 1877. However, unlike most modern shepherd’s pie recipes, that earliest recipe originated in Scotland and featured a thin pastry shell topping (like our best chicken pot pie recipes).
The version we all know and love today was likely born from that crust-topped shepherd’s pie, with home cooks in England and Ireland opting to omit the pastry topping for ease and affordability.
Similar to cottage pie and also reminiscent of a French hachis parmentier, today’s homemade shepherd’s pie is one of the most beloved comfort food dinners. It’s enjoyed around the world in homes, pubs and even fine-dining establishments.
Shepherd’s Pie vs. Cottage Pie
While often used interchangeably, these two meat and potato casseroles do have subtle nuances. The primary difference between shepherd’s pie and cottage pie is that shepherd’s pie is traditionally made with ground lamb, while classic cottage pie is made with ground beef.
This distinction is often made in Europe and other parts of the world where ground lamb is popular and more commonly consumed. Due to beef’s popularity in the United States, however, we tend to see ground beef shepherd’s pie recipes. For this reason, the term “cottage pie” is not as well known in the U.S.
Shepherd’s Pie Ingredients
- Ground beef: Ground beef adds a meaty flavor and essential fat to make the filling rich and satisfying. Follow our guide to the best beef for burgers when choosing the right type of ground beef for shepherd’s pie.
- Vegetables: This recipe opts for frozen (and thawed) peas and corn for ease and accessibility. However, fresh corn and peas may be used if available.
- Worcestershire sauce: A popular British condiment, Worcestershire sauce lends the filling some essential umami and traditional shepherd’s pie flavor.
- Cornstarch: Some homemade shepherd’s pie recipes use flour to help thicken the filling, but this recipe uses everyday cornstarch to give the filling its body.
- Mashed potatoes: You can get creative with the potatoes to add a fluffy and whimsical finish to any shepherd’s pie. For a rustic look, scoop and spread the mashed potatoes over the pie. For a more refined look, try piping the potatoes in a decorative design using a pastry bag.
Step 1: Brown the beef
In a large skillet, cook the beef and onion over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink, breaking it into crumbles. Drain to remove any excess fat or water released from the cooking process.
Editor’s Tip: Here’s how to choose the best skillet for your kitchen.
Step 2: Add the vegetables
Next, stir in the corn, peas, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and garlic. Reduce the heat to medium-low, then cover and cook for five minutes.
Editor’s Tip: If you don’t enjoy corn or peas, feel free to adapt the recipe to suit your taste preferences. Suggestions are included below in the variations section.
Step 3: Thicken
In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, combine the cornstarch, bouillon and water until smooth and evenly mixed. Pour into the beef mixture, and stir to combine. Increase the heat to medium, and bring the filling to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about two minutes. Stir in the sour cream until heated through (do not boil).
Editor’s Tip: Take care not to let the filling mixture boil once the sour cream has been added. Using too high of heat on recipes containing dairy can cause the mixture to split or curdle.
Step 4: Top with potatoes and cheese
Spread the creamy mashed potatoes over the top, then sprinkle with cheese.
Editor’s Tip: If making freshly prepared mashed potatoes, be sure to start preparing them alongside Step 1 of this recipe. Otherwise, you may also use leftover mashed potatoes or those packaged and prepared by your local grocer.
Step 5: Cook until hot and bubbly
Cover the skillet, then continue to cook until the potatoes are heated through and the cheese is melted.
Shepherd’s Pie Variations
- Make it meatless: For a vegetarian shepherd’s pie, omit the ground beef, and opt for your favorite brand of plant-based meat crumbles. Alternatively, you can add additional vegetables. Chopped portobello mushrooms are an excellent option that have a meaty taste and texture.
- Swap the meats: If you would like a leaner shepherd’s pie without red meat, make a turkey shepherd’s pie or chicken shepherd’s pie. Or go for a bolder red meat with venison in our hunter’s pie.
- Bake it: For a more old-fashioned preparation method, you may also finish this stovetop shepherd’s pie in the oven. After topping with potatoes and cheese, leave the casserole uncovered, and bake in a 350°F oven until the cheese is melted and the casserole is hot and bubbly.
- Skip the ketchup: For a more robust and richly flavored filling, you may swap the ketchup for an equal amount of tomato paste. (It’s one of those great tomato paste recipes to use up any left in the can.)
How to Store Shepherd’s Pie
Store leftover beef shepherd’s pie in an airtight storage container in the fridge for up to four days. Leftovers may be reheated gently on the stovetop or in the oven until heated through. A microwave may also be used to reheat leftovers; however, we advise heating gently at a reduced power setting to prevent the filling from curdling.
Can you make shepherd’s pie ahead of time?
Yes! Skillet shepherd’s pie one of the best make-ahead meals. Prepare as directed, but let the filling cool (almost to room temperature) before topping with potatoes and cheese. Then cover with foil, and transfer to the refrigerator. The shepherd’s pie may be stored for up to two days before being finished and prepared as directed in Step 5. (This slow-cooked shepherd’s pie is another make-ahead favorite.)
How to Freeze Shepherd’s Pie
Add this recipe to your rotation of make-ahead freezer meals. To freeze shepherd’s pie, prepare the beef mixture as directed, but do not add sour cream. Freeze the cooled meat mixture in a freezer-safe container for up to three or four months. To use, partially thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then warm gently in a large skillet until heated through, stirring occasionally. Stir in sour cream (and a little water if needed), and proceed with the recipe as directed.
Shepherd’s Pie Tips
Why is my shepherd’s pie filling runny?
A loose shepherd’s pie filling is typically caused by excess water or liquid in the filling. For the best results, make sure to drain the meat after browning and the vegetables once thawed. It is also possible that you have not allowed the filling to cook long enough after adding the cornstarch. If the issue persists, consider adding a small amount of additional cornstarch or other another best thickener (as a slurry) to help thicken the mixture.
Can I make shepherd’s pie dairy free?
Yes! To make a shepherd’s pie without dairy, omit the sour cream from the recipe, and swap in for your favorite plant-based sour cream or plain dairy-free yogurt. Also, be sure to choose a mashed potato recipe made without milk or butter (these vegan mashed potatoes are as creamy as any we’ve ever tried). Last, omit the cheese topping, or pick a vegan cheese instead.
What should you serve with shepherd’s pie?
Fortunately, shepherd’s pie has all of your meat and vegetables covered. That said, you can serve a light green salad or even more vegetables, like steamed green beans or roasted asparagus, alongside shepherd’s pie.