Shepherd’s Pie – Scottish Style

Several years ago, Dan and I took the trip of our dreams. We visited Scotland for two weeks. Both of us have Scottish ancestors. Dan’s are much easier to trace. His MacKenzie and MacLeod relatives came over in the 1830s from the Isle of Raasay during the Highland Clearances to Prince Edward Island, Canada. Further back in his tree, I’ve also found Grants. Mine are a bit more elusive. My ancestor – a Miskimens – was one of the many Scotch-Irish immigrants who came to America in the early 1700s. While I know where he lived in Northern Ireland, there is no record telling us where in Scotland his family originally came from.

That said, we loved our visit and truly appreciated the Scots love of good food, cooked using the freshest ingredients. We had only one bad meal in Scotland. Contrast this with our more recent trip to England where the food was ok, but not great.

While on our trip to Scotland, I picked up a number of Scottish cookbooks. So last week, armed with frozen ground lamb from the Remick Farm Museum, I pulled out Step-By-Step Scottish Dishes, 2010, to make Shepherd’s Pie. This was an easy and very tasty dish to prepare.

Like much of the recipes I make, there’s much history behind the dish. For instance, did you know that Shepherd’s Pie must contain lamb? Originally it would have been chopped leftover lamb, rather than ground. If your dish has chopped or ground beef in it then it must be called Cottage Pie.

The earliest versions of this type of pie had a pastry crust covering it. When potatoes were an accepted and widely eaten vegetable in the 1700s, mashed potatoes became the covering of choice. All in all, these meat pies were a great way for poorer people to make a satisfying meal.  As to the name, the first reference to these pies in writing as Shepherd’s Pie is found in British and American cookbooks in the 1880s.

Shepherd and Cottage Pies are eaten throughout England, Scotland, Ireland and America. Some claim that the dish was invented in England, while others say Scotland. Either way it’s good stuff.

  • 2 tbs. veg. or olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs. sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 lb lamb (ground or chopped)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup stock (they called for lamb or vegetable, but I used chicken)
  • 2 tbs. tomato puree (I used paste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 oz butter
  • 6 tbs. milk
  • 1 tbs. fresh chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Heat oil in a large saucepan and add onion, carrot and celery

Since I was using ground lamb, I added it to the vegetables to brown   

Cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes until softened and starting to brown

Drain the fat from the cooked lamb

Add thyme and cook briefly

Add wine, stock and tomato paste

Season with salt and pepper

Simmer this gently for 25-30 minutes until reduced and slightly thickened

Remove from heat to cool slightly and season again

Meanwhile boil potatoes in plenty of salted water for 12-15 minutes until tender

Drain and return to saucepan over a low heat to dry out (make sure they don’t burn!)

Remove from heat and add butter, milk and parsley

Mash until creamy, adding a little more milk, if needed

Adjust seasoning

Transfer lamb mixture to shallow, ovenproof dish

Spoon mash potatoes over filling and spread evenly to cover completely

Fork the surface

Place on a baking sheet

Cook in the preheated oven from 25-30 minutes until potato topping is browned and filling is piping hot.

The meal was delicious. Wouldn’t change a thing!



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