Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans

Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans
The Celtic Cross Memorial in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Adrian McGrath. Click the image for the story about the cross.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie or "Shepherd's Pie"
Photo by Adrian McGrath

By Adrian McGrath

Let me begin by saying that I’ve never eaten “Shepherd’s Pie,” but I always thought I did. I have eaten what I thought was Shepherd’s Pie many, many times. But I just recently found out that I was wrong.

I always thought Shepherd’s Pie was a baked dish made of ground beef, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, and cheese shaped like a “pot pie” and cooked in the oven. But I made a mistake, technically. In Ireland and in Britain where the dish originated, the technical term for what I made above is “Cottage Pie.” Shepherd’s Pie is similar, but it uses lamb meat instead of beef.

So, what I will be discussing in this little article is really Cottage Pie, although most people in the USA have never heard of that term but have probably heard of Shepherd’s Pie and, like me, thought they knew what it was.

Cottage Pie, with cheese, right out of the oven
Photo by Adrian McGrath

Much to my surprise this popular Irish dish first got its name around the year 1791 when the potato was becoming a popular food for the peasants and working class in Ireland and in Britain. The term used was Cottage Pie indicating it was food for people who lived in simple cottages. The beef versus lamb distinction was not clear then.

Later in 1854 the term Shepherd’s Pie began to appear in print and was interchangeable with Cottage Pie. As time went on, however, a distinction was made between Cottage Pie meaning beef and Shepherd’s pie meaning lamb. Everything else in the two dishes was essentially the same. And today in Ireland and Britain, Shepherd’s is lamb and Cottage is beef.

I made my own version of Cottage Pie and included a few photographs. There are many ways to make the dish, and you can change it as you wish. In fact in America you can still call it Shepherd’s Pie (even if made with beef) because if you call it Cottage Pie, most people will have no idea what you mean.

Basic ingredients for Cottage Pie,
ground beef, mashed potatoes (instant),
mixed vegetables, Cheddar cheese
Photo by Adrian McGrath

The dish mainly has four ingredients -- ground beef, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and cheese. Many Irish and British versions do not add cheese on top, but it is a popular option. If cooking without cheese, the idea is to brown the top of the mashed potatoes a bit for flavor and effect.

One popular Irish food website, BiaMaith, has a detailed version here. The Irish national television service, RTE, has its recipe here and uses lamb and beef interchangeably. There is even one Irish website -- -- devoted just to the potato which has a variant of a Cottage or Shepherd’s Pie recipe.

I try to keep mine simple; and, as usual, I do not give a tedious, detailed recipe because I think people can best make the dish the way they want it by providing just the basic ingredients, a few photos, and a general explanation of how to prepare it. You can add or subtract things and cook differently depending on your own likes and dislikes. Nothing is written in stone.

Unlike most recipes I used a store bought pie crust as the base for the pie. Most recipes just place the prepared ingredients in a baking dish without a crust. In addition to the pie crust, I used lean ground beef, instant mashed potatoes, frozen mixed vegetables, and cheddar cheese sliced. Then you need spices of your choice and a little sauce to go with the ground beef. This could be your favorite steak sauce or a brown sauce. Or just go without that sauce. Just use a little of the sauce and avoid making the dish watery.

Cook the pie crust a bit first in the oven (not totally, just a bit); brown, cook, and season the meat, and add the beef to the crust. Heat up the frozen vegetables and put them on top of the meat. Then add the cooked instant mashed potatoes (or use freshly made mashed potatoes if you have them). Then slice some of the cheddar cheese (or the Irish cheese of your choice) and place that on top of the mashed potatoes. Bake the pie in the oven until the crust is done and the cheese melted and a bit browned.

And that is it. Serve it like sliced pie.

Now you have another great dish for St. Patrick’s Day.

Sources and Further Reading: Wikipedia article on Shepherd's Pie; RTE article on Shepherd’s Pie; BiaMaith article on Shepherd’s Pie; article on Shepherd’s Pie


  1. Adrian, I use beef mainly because lamb is so very expensive!

  2. Well I've never heard of using pastry in either Shepherd's pie or Cottage pie...I do agree everyone has their own recipe & lots of pies do have pastry..I like grated cheese on top of the mash....
    Enjoy !

  3. The shepherd pies I grew up helping my mum make had mashed potato on the bottom & sides minced meat as the filling and topped with more mashed potato then browned in the oven.