Experience a taste of Ireland on St. Patrick's Day with shepherd's pie

Irish lore has it that shepherd's pie was the creation of frugal wives looking for different ways to serve leftover meat to their families in the late 1700s. Two hundred years later, moms can still relate.

If you're looking for a St. Patrick's Day dinner to serve the family on Friday night, consider a shepherd's pie as a tasty alternative to Irish stew or corned beef and cabbage. (Oh, that boiled cabbage odor!)

The name "shepherd's pie" has become a somewhat generic term for any meat pie with a mashed potato crust on top. The term is commonly used interchangeably with shepherd's pie or cottage pie. But technically there is a difference.

"Shepherd's pies are traditionally made with lamb," says Rashelle Stafford, owner of Polly Claire's Tearoom on Bonny Oaks Drive. Her shepherd's pie is one of four savory homemade pies offered on the menu.

Cottage pie is prepared with beef. A shepherdess pie is a vegetarian variation with no meat. But all three dishes share the common feature of mashed potatoes on top.

"I love shepherd's pie. I had it a lot growing up. It is a fond childhood memory of leftovers after Easter," says Margaret Johnson, chef at Lookout Mountain Golf and Country Club. "I always make it with lots of lamb, gravy, carrots, peas and creamy buttery mashed potatoes."

The beauty of the shepherd's pie is that cooks can fill the dish with any meat and veggies they have on hand. Plus it's an appetizing way to stretch leftover roasted meat.

"We used to make our own kind of made-up version of shepherd's pie" until discovering a cottage pie recipe online that she uses now, says East Brainerd resident Gail Dooley. But she hasn't given up experimenting with recipes; she adds frozen corn and peas to her new favorite. (Recipe included below.)

"It uses ground beef, sautéed onions, carrots. It's seasoned with rosemary, thyme and Worcestershire sauce. It uses garlic on the mashed potatoes on top. Very yummy," she says.

At Polly Claire's Tearoom, Stafford says, "We like to say that we are a British-inspired restaurant with an American flair, so we make our pies using Angus Prime ground beef."

The tearoom entrée incorporates beef with shoepeg corn, baby English peas and crushed tomatoes that are roasted 24 hours.

"We do a rustic potato mash on top, where we leave some of the skins on the potato," Stafford says. "The Irish do not add bacon on top, but we are Americans."

Cathy Robbs Baker says shepherd's pies are popular Sunday meals in her home.

"I make mine with ground turkey and the more traditional shepherd's pie with ground beef. We love shepherd's pie in my family," says Baker, director of education at Christ United Methodist Church.

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.


Polly Claire's Shepherd's Pie 1 cup finely shredded celery 1 cup finely chopped shallots 1 cup (plus 8 ounces for topping) sliced green onions 1 1/2 cups marinated, oven-roasted, sliced Roma tomatoes 1 1/2 cup beef broth 3 ounces dry sherry Splash of Worcestershire sauce 1 bay leaf 1 cup finely shredded carrots 5 cloves roasted garlic 2 pounds ground beef (may substitute ground lamb or combination of both) 2 teaspoons pink Himalayan salt 1 teaspoon ground black pepper 1 1/2 cups shoepeg corn 10 ounces English peas Rustic Mashed potatoes, recipe below Potato Topping, recipe below Brown beef with salt and pepper until thoroughly cooked. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon. Add to pan drippings: celery, carrot, garlic, shallots and onion, and sauté until thoroughly cooked but not browned, about 7 minutes over medium heat. Return beef to pan and add tomatoes, broth, sherry, Worcestershire and bay leaf. Simmer 20 minutes. Add corn and peas last, stirring until incorporated. Portion meat mixture into eight crocks or arrange in 9- by 13-inch oven-safe casserole pan while hot. Top liberally with 4 ounces of Rustic Mashed potatoes and Potato Topping. Bake at 375 degrees until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Add bacon pieces and return to oven an additional five minutes while bacon crisps. Top with green onion before serving. Makes eight, 15-ounce servings. Rustic Mashed Potatoes 6 large potatoes, semi-peeled and cubed 1 cup butter 1 cup heavy cream 1 teaspoon ground black pepper 2 teaspoons pink Himalayan salt Bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil. Add cubed potatoes and simmer until tender, about 12 minutes. In a microwave-safe dish or a large pot over medium heat, warm butter and cream together until butter is thoroughly melted and cream is warm but not steaming. Add seasonings last. Pour liquid over potatoes, and mix until fluffy with an electric mixer. Potato Topping 4 cups Rustic Mashed potatoes 16 ounces torn bacon pieces 8 ounces aged shredded cheddar cheese - Rashelle Stafford Day Ahead Shepherd's Pie 1 pound ground beef chuck 1 medium onion, chopped 1 garlic clove, minced 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme 2 tablespoons ketchup 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour 1 (10-ounce) box frozen mixed vegetables (no need to thaw) Coarse salt and ground pepper 3 cups mashed potatoes Heat oven to 425 degrees. Heat a large (5-quart) heavy pot or Dutch oven over high. Cook beef, breaking up meat with a spoon, until no longer pink, 4-5 minutes. Add onion and garlic; cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add thyme, ketchup and flour; stir until combined. Add 1/2 cup water and vegetables. Cook until vegetables are warmed through and liquid has thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon beef mixture into a 2-quart baking dish. Spread potatoes evenly over beef. Using a fork, decorate potatoes with lines and peaks. Place dish on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until potatoes are lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve. Can be made one day ahead and refrigerated until ready to bake. - Martha Stewart Cottage Pie 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef 8 tablespoons butter, divided 1 onion, chopped 1/3 cup chopped carrots 1 1/2 to 2 pounds potatoes 1/2 cup frozen corn 1/3 cup frozen peas 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 1/2 cup beef broth 2 sprigs fresh thyme 1 teaspoon dried rosemary 2 teaspoons cornstarch 1 clove garlic, minced 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese Heat oven to 400 degrees. Peel and quarter potatoes. Boil in lightly salted water for about 20 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, melt 4 tablespoons butter in large frying pan. Sauté onions and carrots in the butter until tender (about 10 minutes.) Add ground beef and saute until well-browned. Add salt and pepper to taste with corn, peas, Worcestershire, beef broth, thyme, rosemary and cornstarch. Cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it's well-mixed. In a bowl, mash potatoes with remaining butter, minced garlic and salt to taste. Place beef and vegetable mixture in the bottom of a baking dish. Spread mashed potatoes across top. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top. Bake until bubbling and brown on top, about 30 minutes. For a slightly more crusty top, broil for the last few minutes. - Gail Dooley, from 12tomatoes.com