Best Shepherd's Pie

October 12, 2022
20 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.
  • Prep time 35 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Serves 8
Author Notes

A massive casserole of meat and vegetables, topped with a mashed-potato crust, classic shepherd’s pie is ideal for chilly nights when you’re feeding a crowd. The traditional British version is made with ground lamb, a fatty, gamey-flavored meat that really holds its own in the dish. American recipes tend to favor milder ground beef (in the U.K., if made with beef, this recipe is often called “cottage pie”). Ultimately, when it comes to deciding which meat to use when making shepherd’s pie, the choice is completely up to you. You could even swap in half of each.

One major difference between this shepherd’s pie and classic recipes is the addition of legumes. Though they aren’t a traditional ingredient, we swapped in tender French green lentils for half of the ground meat. Not only do lentils add bonus texture and flavor to the casserole, they’re significantly cheaper (at my local supermarket, it was $10.99 per pound for ground beef and lamb, compared to $4.19 per pound for dry bulk lentils—granted, I live in New York City; prices may be different depending on where you live and shop), not to mention more sustainable (lentils produce nearly 30 and 40 times fewer greenhouse gasses per kilogram of food consumed than beef and lamb respectively).

Of course, it’s not shepherd’s pie without a mountain of fluffy mashed potatoes on top. Yukon Gold potatoes have super-creamy flesh, which makes them ideal for mashing. Russet potatoes on the other hand, are much starchier—great for baked potatoes, but they simply don’t boil as nicely as Yukon Golds. And while you could make a topping of just potatoes, if you’re not already a member of the Parsnip Appreciation Club, it’s high time. Like a flavor hybrid between a carrot and potato, parsnips add some much-needed sweetness to balance the dish. —Rebecca Firkser

What You'll Need
  • Filling
  • 1/2 cup French green lentils
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound ground beef or lamb (I like using 15 to 20% fat)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, such as shitake, crimini, or button, sliced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 large fennel bulb (stems and fronds included), finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine, optional
  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Topping
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds (about 4 to 5 medium) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 pound (about 2 to 3 medium) parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup whole milk, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Cook the lentils in a medium saucepan of salted, boiling water until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain, transfer to a bowl, and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the beef or lamb and cook, undisturbed, for 3 minutes (less stirring means more browning). Use a wooden spoon or spatula to break up the meat into small pieces, and continue to cook until browned and mostly cooked, another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat to a plate and set aside.
  3. There should be a decent amount of fat in the pan, but if it’s dry, add another splash of oil. Add the mushrooms and cook undisturbed for 3 minutes (again, we’re browning here!), then toss and let sit again for 2 to 3 minutes until all the mushrooms are charred. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the onion, carrot, and fennel and sauté until they’re just starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Stir in the thyme and tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until the paste darkens in color, about 90 seconds, then sprinkle the flour on top. Cook for 1 minute, then add the wine. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, then lower to medium-low and let the wine reduce, about 5 minutes. (If you’re the skipping wine, just move onto the next step.)
  5. Stir in the cooked meat and lentils, followed by the stock, peas, and Worcestershire sauce. Turn up the heat to bring the mixture to a boil, then lower to medium-low to reduce until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of ragu, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a 2-quart baking dish and heat the oven to 400°F.
  6. While the filling simmers, make the topping: bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (I estimate 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per quart of water). Add the potatoes and parsnips and cook until a paring knife easily pierces both vegetables, about 15 minutes. Drain into a colander then return to the pot and mash until smooth. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then slowly whisk in the milk. Stir the butter mixture and sour cream into the mashed potatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Top the filling with the potato-parsnip mixture: To prevent the filling from bubbling through the topping, start from the outside of the dish to seal in the mixture. Use an offset spatula to swoop and swirl, like frosting a cake. Place the baking dish on a rimmed sheet pan and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the topping has started to brown. Turn on the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes to further brown the topping if you want. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Lisa Moore
    Lisa Moore
  • Martin
  • panania
  • La Dolce Vita
    La Dolce Vita
  • cookbabycook

57 Reviews

Lisa M. December 1, 2023
I made this recipe with Impossible "ground beef" and leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving. It was a hit for the whole family and I felt really good about the amount of vegetables it got my picky 4 year-old to eat!
Martin October 26, 2022
It was OK, but next time around I'll half the amount of fennel, omit the mushrooms, and have less parsnip.
[email protected] December 6, 2021
Wonderful recipe. I changed the order a little for how I made it, and it still turned out to be delicious. Pretty easy to make, and really tasty.
panania February 24, 2021
It was OK. I've made Shepherd's pie all my life and when I saw this recipe I thought 'here is something new.' I followed the directions, but opted out on the wine and sour cream. The sauce was good. I especially like the addition of tomato paste and mushrooms, I've not done that before, but it didn't win me over. The basic recipe of ground meat with onions (I do use chuck when I don't have lamb in the freezer, it works fine), topped with creamed corn, topped with peas, topped with mashed still (in my humble opinion) holds second place. (Where first place is the Shepherd's pie at the local tavern. I don't know what they do, but it's awesome; really.)
Deleted A. February 24, 2021
I agree with you. I grew up with that basic recipe and have stuck to it my entire life finding nothing else good enough to replace it, even if friends turn their nose up at the inclusion of peas. Have you ever tried frying it the next day? That is actually my favourite way to eat it, all mixed together and fried over medium heat until it builds up a nice crust on the bottom and I sprinkle it with some celery salt and ketchup once it is in my plate. My personal guilty favourite on a chilly day. :)
Karen February 8, 2021
If your using beef, it's COTTAGE PIE
La D. December 16, 2020
With the exception of the parsnips (I did not have any) I followed the directions as written. This is absolutely delicious! I would say that prep takes a little longer than the 35 minutes listed but I would not change a thing and will definitely use this recipe again.
La D. December 16, 2020
With the exception of the parsnips (I did not have any) I followed the directions as written. This is absolutely delicious! I would say that prep takes a little longer than listed but I would not change a thing and will definitely use this recipe again.
cookbabycook December 9, 2020
Wonderful dinner for a cold Chicago Winter's evening, even better than pub grub in London - so many flavors here! Perfect way to use up last night's wine and some leftover mashed potatoes (I make mine by adding melted butter with with Rosemary and Garlic, plus cream cheese and sour cream; with a little milk to loosen it up for spreading here), along with unused Lentils from making Chris Kimball's Italian Lentil Soup yesterday, and topped it with a little bit of Cheddar, not alot. I had more potatoes than what the recipe calls for, so I used 1 lb. Ground Chuck in a 3 qt. baking dish. Loved it. This would be a great do-ahead for a cozy Sunday night family dinner.
Paula September 27, 2020
Parsnips have been required since a friend from the UK introduced this style of mash to us. The other "must have" addition to the mash is some horseradish. We may have be make extra mash to have enough for "taste testing" and finishing off the pie these days.
Katy L. May 15, 2020
Knew I needed a Shepherd's Pie on a rainy day and was pleased to find this one! I'm Qtime-cooking and made a few swaps with what I had on hand. Loved the idea of making it more robust with lentils - I used finely chopped walnuts which added a lovely crunch, nuttiness and extra protein. I didn't have lamb but has some breakfast sausage that I threw in with ground beef. Didn't have Worcestershire so I used my trusty Pickapeppa Sauce (Jamaican Katsup) combined with some chopped anchovies. For the topping I had mashed cauliflower which was delicious but I am going to use this recipe again with the ingenious parsnip!! Thanks for sharing!
Great recipe and I can't wait to try it again being a little more true to Rebecca Firkser's version! Thanks!
Micheal April 13, 2020
This is by far the best shepard's pie!!! I've now made it twice and it will become a staple in our home. The only thing I do slightly different is that I steam the potatoes and parsnips. I think this helps keep them from absorbing as much water and it's just easier to get out instead of fishing them out of water. I also just put in the butter, milk and sour cream and warm them slowly all together. When I did it this way everything stayed in solution better.
Micheal April 13, 2020
This is by far the best shepard's pie!!! I've now made it twice and it will become a staple in our home. The only thing I do slightly different is that I steam the potatoes and parsnips. I think this helps keep them from absorbing as much water and it's just easier to get out instead of fishing them out of water. I also just put in the butter, milk and sour cream and warm them slowly all together. When I did it this way everything stayed in solution better.
Jane L. April 12, 2020
We loved this Shepherd's Pie. It was much better the second day
Mary March 17, 2020
Swapped out bok choy for the fennel (had it on hand). No parsnips so steamed a cauliflower (pantry item) and mashed it with potatoes. Almond milk instead of milk. Everything else the same. Wonderful recipe, very forgiving and versatile. Thank you!
Rebecca F. March 18, 2020
Thrilled to hear this <3
Beth March 16, 2020
I'd like to make this today and freeze for later use - prepping now during this virus crisis. Please advise as to how to freeze and then how to bake after. Thank you
Rebecca F. March 16, 2020
Hi Beth! I'd recommend making the meat/lentil filling up until step 5. Then, instead of transferring to a baking dish, let it cool slightly and transfer to freezer safe containers. Let cool completely in the fridge, then freeze. That will last pretty much indefinitely. Make the mashed potato/parsnip topping completely, then transfer to a freezer safe container (or, to save more space in your freezer, put in a zip-top freezer bag and spread out the mixture flat. Place that on a sheet pan and freeze it solid laying flat, then you can safely pile other frozen items on top of it.)

To reheat, remove everything from the freezer and defrost in the fridge (could take several hours) or in pots on the stove. The filling may have thickened up a bit so you can loosen with some water. Then bake the dish from step 5 as directed.

Hope that helps, let me know if you have other questions!
Susan B. March 16, 2020
Made this this weekend as it is cold, damp, and rainy in Missouri. It was so easy and a fantastic Sunday night dinner! I, however, made mine without the parsnips and French lentils (couldn't find any), but did substitute 1 lb of lean ground lamb and 1lb of 80/20 ground beef. The flavor was amazing, and when we added a Ice Cold Killians Red we were in Food Heaven! Make this for everyone you know even kids. It was absolutely delicious!
tastysweet March 16, 2020
Love Killians Red☀️🌈
Cindylou March 14, 2020
My favorite Shepard/cottage pie recipe is from Nigella Lawson. It is so flavorful. And what’s this about russet potatoes not making good mashed potatoes? I always use russets and they are the fluffiest tastiest mashed potatoes.
elly March 14, 2020
And a couple of anchovies melted into the mix. Makes all the difference! :)
David March 14, 2020
Jeff E. March 14, 2020
I love Shepherds Pie. Been making it for a while using 1/2beef and 1/2 Lamb. But willing to try this. And I like the parsnip/potato mix.
Question- what’s a “medium” onion??? Yellow onions these days can be HUGE. How about giving an amount in Cups or weight for a starting point?
Rebecca F. March 14, 2020
When recipes call for a "medium" (or another size) produce item, it typically means that the final dish will not be majorly compromised by the amount used. Here, the onion is for flavor, and truly a little more or a little less won't make a difference. However, medium onions are typically 6-8oz and yield about 1 cup when chopped. Hope that helps!
Deleted A. March 14, 2020
I agree 100% with your comment about the 'medium' onion. The same problem exists when recipes say 'X# of cloves of garlic'. Sometimes I have a large head of garlic with huge cloves, other times a small head of garlic with much smaller cloves. It is not difficult to provide more accurate measurements, whether in volume or in weight - preferably metric in grams - when using such ingredients.
Rebecca F. March 14, 2020
As I mentioned above, when recipes call for a "medium" (or another size) produce item, or as you mention cloves of garlic, it typically means that the final dish will not be majorly compromised by the amount used.

Cooking is often less precise than baking—you can rest assured that if a recipe (I can't speak for every recipe platform, but can speak for this one, which I know tests recipes) doesn't include weights/measurement, you can use your best estimation. Go to the store and pick an onion that seems in the middle of the selection, size-wise; if your cloves of garlic are incredibly tiny/large, use a couple more/less.

Also, most importantly: taste your food! If there's no raw meat, it's perfectly safe to taste and adjust if you think the dish could use a bit more salt, pepper, garlic, onion, etc to please your personal palate. For example, with this dish, taste after step 3 (at this point the meat has been browned in the skillet and removed, and traces of raw meat in the pan have cooked off) and again at step 5 before transferring the filling to the oven. Hope this helps allay your concerns :)
tastysweet March 14, 2020
I have asked that question several times to various online chefs as well. I had to look up how much does a large or medium onion weigh?
The recipe should just say the weight. Same For all ingredients, where necessary.
tastysweet March 14, 2020
Yes. Absolutely.
Deleted A. March 14, 2020
I did not make the comment for myself, I am very experienced in the kitchen, have been cooking my entire life and learned mainly from my grandfather who was a chef. What people who write articles, such as yourself, tend to ignore is that most people who follow sites such as this are not experienced cooks and are not aware of things that those of us who are take for granted.
Beginners need to have as many details as possible and that is especially important when it comes to ingredients.
Perhaps it would not be a bad idea for someone to write an article regarding such things and have it appended to the bottom of all recipes for people who require it to refer to.
Jeff E. March 14, 2020
Thx! Exactly what I was looking for. I tend to go heavy on vegetables on these kind of things and can easily go overboard on onions. I just like to know what the original recipe calls for & can vary from there.
The next comment is similar on garlic. Same thing. I often double or triple what’s called for in a recipe, but like to have a reference point.,.
tastysweet March 13, 2020
I just picked up green lentils for a different recipe. I wanted red, but Publix in my area did not have any. But the directions for the green ones called for precooking. So, what’s the deal with this. Precook or just follow these directions?
Rebecca F. March 14, 2020
If you're making this recipe, the first step has you cook lentils in salted, boiling water until tender! no need to cook them in advance of that.
tastysweet March 14, 2020