Comfort food has the power – or is it magic? – to fill a sad soul with warmth and happiness. And I have definitely fallen under the spell of this homemade shepherd’s pie!
The casserole creator is certainly not the only one who will be enchanted by this layered masterpiece of meat and mashed potatoes – part of the charm of shepherd’s pie is sharing its larger-than-life existence with many others.
In quite a number of recent instances, I have turned many frowns upside down when serving it as a hearty dinner.
And you’ll unlock the same comfort food sorcery, you culinary warlock!
Friends traveling for hours and visiting for a quick pit stop will be reinvigorated for the rest of their journey after consuming a hefty plateful.
Partners coming home from stressful jobs will be immediately relieved and relaxed once they step inside the house, smelling the savory aromas wafting from the oven.
And saddened friends or family, grieving some form of loss or battling a melancholy state of mind, will feel uplifted by its all-encompassing warmth and tender texture.
There are no complicated cooking techniques, vegetarian substitutions, or eclectic updates to this simple recipe – comfort is king here.
Use your favorite wine you enjoy drinking. If you enjoy merlot, read our guide to choosing a bottle of merlot that is best for your budget.
All of this is blanketed with a thick layer of creamy and buttery mashed potatoes. I’ve chosen to simply season them with freshly ground salt and cracked pepper, but you can use Foodal’s easy recipe for garlic parsley mashed potatoes for an additional boost of savory flavor.
Both of the layers are already fully cooked when they are assembled in the casserole, so you only need to bake it for about 25 minutes, with the option to broil it for a few minutes to form a beautifully golden-brown crust on top.
Even with a meticulously measured list of ingredients and well-outlined directions to support the cut-and-dry, formulaic procedure of a recipe, there is still something inexplicably magical about sharing a home-cooked meal with someone in need.
Treat yourself and yours to something special for dinner soon. They’ll be bewitched not only by the delicious recipe, but by your unconditional kindness to nourish them with both food and love.
Ah, there’s the magic!Print
Shepherd’s pie is an ideal casserole dish to make when you are looking for warm, satisfying, and meaty comfort food.
For the Mashed Potatoes:
- 3 medium russet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- 1/2 stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/8 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
For the Meat and Vegetable Base:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 medium onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 1 medium carrot, diced (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 pounds 80% lean ground beef, ground lamb, or a mix
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup dry red wine
- 3/4 cup beef stock
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
For the Mashed Potatoes:
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Peel and quarter the potatoes. Place in a medium pot with enough cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Transfer to the stovetop and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10-12 minutes.
- Drain the potatoes and transfer to a large bowl. Mash with a handheld potato masher or ricer, so there are no lumps.
- With a sturdy spoon or spatula, gently mix in the softened butter, sour cream, milk, salt, and pepper until smooth and creamy. Adjust the seasoning to taste with additional salt and pepper.
For the Meat and Vegetable Base:
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Saute for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent and slightly caramelized. Add the carrots and garlic and saute for another 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are just slightly softened.
- Add the ground meat, the remaining salt, and the black pepper to the skillet. Cook the meat, stirring occasionally, until it’s browned but not yet cooked through, about 5-8 minutes.
- Evenly sprinkle the flour over the meat and stir until completely incorporated. Add the tomato paste and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Pour in the stock, red wine, and Worcestershire sauce to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom of the skillet to release and incorporate any stuck-on browned bits. Stir in the thyme and 1 teaspoon parsley.
- Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces slightly and the mixture thickens.
- Add the peas and corn and cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper to taste and remove the skillet from the heat.
To Assemble and Bake:
- Spread the meat and vegetable mixture in the bottom of a 2- or 2 1/2-quart ungreased casserole dish.
- Gently spread the mashed potatoes over the meat and vegetable mixture in a smooth and even layer. Completely cover the bottom meat, being sure to spread the mashed potatoes until they touch the sides of the casserole dish.
- Transfer the dish uncovered to the preheated oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the mashed potatoes are lightly golden brown on top.
- Remove the casserole from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before garnishing with the remaining chopped parsley. Serve.
For a more browned and crispy crust, broil the casserole on high for the last 2-3 minutes of baking.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- Category: Casserole
- Method: Stovetop/Baking
- Cuisine: Comfort Food
Keywords: shepherd's pie, mashed potatoes
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
This is a long ingredient list – so stay clean and organized in the kitchen as you are prepping all of the items!
It’s a smart idea to fully review the recipe, and keep what you need for the mashed potato layer and the meat and vegetable layer separate.
For the Mashed Potatoes:
Measure out the unsalted butter, and leave it out at room temperature as you prepare the remaining ingredients.
Peel and quarter the russet potatoes. To prevent them from oxidizing and browning, immediately place the pieces in a large pot and fill it with cold water to fully submerge them by one inch.
Measure out the sour cream, whole milk, and salt and pepper.
For the Meat and Vegetable Base:
Measure out the peas and corn. If they’re still frozen, leave them out at room temperature to defrost slightly as you prepare the remaining ingredients. You don’t need them to be completely defrosted to make this recipe.
Measure out the olive oil, all-purpose flour, tomato paste, dry red wine, beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.
Don’t have beef stock? Feel free to use chicken or vegetable stock instead – the sauce won’t be as deep and robust, but it will still be equally savory and delicious!
Brush up on your chopping techniques by reviewing our article on how to prep an onion!
Wipe the cutting board. Coarsely chop the fresh thyme and parsley. Divide the chopped parsley, reserving and refrigerating 2 teaspoons for the final garnish.
Set out the ground beef or ground lamb. You can also use a mix of both, if you prefer.
Step 2 – Boil the Potatoes
Transfer the pot of potatoes to the stovetop. Bring the water to a boil over high heat.
Once it’s boiling, reduce the heat to medium and continue to simmer until the potatoes are tender, for about 10 to 12 minutes.
Check the tenderness of the potatoes by inserting a metal fork or knife through one of the pieces. If you are able to easily pierce it with no resistance, the potatoes are ready.
Step 3 – Make the Meat and Vegetable Base
As the potatoes are boiling, prepare the meat and vegetable base.
You shouldn’t attempt to use a small skillet here! Don’t use any skillet that’s smaller than 10 inches in diameter, or you’ll overcrowd the pan and prevent the ingredients from cooking properly.
On the stovetop, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the chopped onion in the olive oil, using about 1/4 teaspoon of the salt for seasoning. Cook while stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes, until the pieces are translucent and lightly caramelized.
Add the carrots and garlic to the pan and saute for an additional 3 to 5 minutes. The garlic should be aromatic but not burnt, and the carrots will begin to soften.
Add the ground meat to the pan, as well as the remaining salt and black pepper. Stir the ground meat occasionally, breaking up any larger pieces, for about 5 to 8 minutes. The meat will be browned but still partially raw inside. It will continue to cook as you add the other ingredients.
Evenly sprinkle the flour over the meat and stir until it’s completely incorporated. Don’t add the flour all in one pile, or this will cause it to clump.
Add the tomato paste and continue cooking for another 2 to 3 minutes. Because the tomato paste is thick, you’ll need to stir constantly to warm the paste and evenly distribute it throughout the ground meat. The mixture will begin to look a little dry at this point.
Now, for the liquids!
Stir in the thyme and 1 teaspoon of parsley.
Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. The liquid will slightly reduce, and the mixture will thicken during this time. Stir occasionally to promote even cooking.
Add the peas and corn and cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Done! At this point, the ground meat is cooked through, so you can safely taste it in order to adjust your seasonings. Add more salt and/or pepper as needed, and remove the skillet from the heat.
Step 4 – Drain the Potatoes and Mash
While the meat mixture is cooking, make the mashed potatoes. This step is quick and easy to coordinate simultaneously as you are cooking the meat mixture, especially if you own a ricer!
When the potatoes are tender, drain them by carefully pouring the contents through a colander in your kitchen sink.
If you’re using a potato masher, add the potatoes directly to a large bowl and mash by hand until no lumps remain.
If using a ricer, rice the potatoes over a large bowl.
Using a sturdy spoon or spatula, gently incorporate the butter, sour cream, whole milk, salt, and pepper just until fully combined. The mixture should be soft and fluffy.
If needed, make seasoning adjustments with additional salt and pepper.
But don’t overmix! Overmixing will cause the mashed potatoes to be gummy.
Step 5 – Assemble
In an ungreased casserole dish, either a 2- or 2 1/2-quart size, evenly distribute the meat and vegetable mixture in the bottom.
Gently and evenly spread the mashed potatoes over the meat and vegetable mixture in a smooth, flat layer. Don’t press down too hard – you want the layers to stay neatly separated.
Cover the bottom layer entirely with the mashed potatoes, spreading them until they touch the sides of the casserole dish. Any exposed areas will allow the liquid from the meat mixture to spill over.
Spillage may still happen as the casserole cooks, even if you fully covered the meat base and sealed the sides, but it’s an added precaution that’s worthwhile to reduce the chances.
If the liquid does spill over the mashed potatoes – don’t worry about it! It won’t affect the integrity of the dish, and shepherd’s pie is not meant to be perfectly pristine.
Step 6 – Bake
Transfer the assembled casserole to the preheated oven – preferably a rack in the middle for the most even cooking, but you know your oven best!
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is light golden brown. Again, the liquid from the meat mixture may bubble and spill over the mashed potatoes in some sections. Don’t fret!
Step 7 (Optional) – Broil
Not satisfied with how the mashed potatoes look? Want more of a crispy topping?
Broil the casserole!
In the last few moments of baking, move the pan if needed so it will be centered under the broiler, and turn the broiler on high.
Broil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the top of the casserole is browned to your liking. Be sure to keep an eye on it!
Step 8 – Cool Slightly and Serve
Remove the casserole from the oven and place it on a trivet or cooling rack. Don’t touch it for about 10 minutes!
Not only does the casserole need some time to cool down – its piping hot! – but this will help the meat mixture set slightly.
If it’s cut into immediately, the liquid in the meat mixture will leak out at a rapid pace, drying out each serving every time you slice into the casserole – so give it some time before cutting!
Garnish the top with the remaining chopped parsley that you reserved, and use a sturdy spatula to cut out portions.
Go On – Make It Pretty
Other than broiling the top of the mashed potatoes for the last few minutes of baking to get a gorgeously browned and crispy crust, I have one more simple suggestion to beautify this casserole.
Not that it really needs the extra help – the amazing aromas are enough to entice the entire neighborhood!
But it’s still fun to play around with the final presentation, especially when you can add some extra flair in a nearly effortless way.
Instead of spreading the mashed potatoes in a smooth and even layer, experiment with the way they look on top.
You can form them in rustic dollops with your spoon or spatula, or you can drag the tines of a fork through the very top of the mashed potatoes to create various designs like waves, rows, or crosshatches.
Do you have any other presentation ideas for the top layer? What homemade dishes bring you the most comfort and joy? Show me the love by leaving a comment below.
If you enjoyed this recipe, dig into more hearty casserole dishes! Take your time by looking through our entire collection of casseroles, or try one of our current favorites next:
Photos by Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Lorna Kring on October 11, 2015. Last updated on February 18, 2023.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.