Shepherd’s Pie

Here is a simple and inexpensive way to turn leftover roast mutton, lamb or beef into a delicious dinner.  Recipes for Shepherd’s Pie date from the end of the eighteenth century, but it was called Cottage Pie then and could be made with any leftover roasted meat.  In the eighteenth century, a cottage was a simple shelter where poor people lived in the rural areas of England and Ireland, so a Cottage Pie was something cheap enough for poor people to eat.

Potatoes had become a cheap edible crop by that time, so they went well with the leftover meat.  The earliest recipes tell the cook to line the sides and bottom of the pan with mashed potatoes before spooning in the filling and covering the meat with more mashed potatoes, so some of those pies may have had very little meat.  If there were a few vegetables and some fat and flour to make the gravy, the result could still be a nourishing and tasty hot dish. 

It wasn’t long before people with extra money learned about the dish and were making fancier versions.  Poor people used any meat they could afford or come by in the dark of night.  Wealthier people could afford to eat roast mutton or lamb on Sundays, so they started making Shepherd’s Pie, a name chosen because shepherds looked after sheep.

This recipe is my version of one I found in a cookbook published by the Church of  the Immaculate Conception in New Richmond.  Mary Sullivan’s recipe specifies hamburger and cream of mushroom soup, but I liked her additions of green peas and carrots, the bell pepper and seasoned mashed potatoes, so I think she deserves credit for inspiring me.  My recipe, however, is a little closer to a real shepherd’s pie with good brown gravy and diced lamb left over from our Easter dinner.


For the gravy:

4 T roast drippings or butter

4 T all-purpose flour

1 1/2 – 2 cups stock or beef broth

Salt, pepper and other seasonings to your taste

For the pie:

2 to 3 cups chopped roasted lamb

1 T vegetable oil

1 cup chopped onion

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup diced bell pepper

1 T all-purpose flour

About 2 cups brown gravy

2 cups frozen peas and carrots

2 cups mashed potatoes

4 T butter, divided

1/3 to 1/2 cup half and half

1/4 tsp. white pepper

2 tsp. chopped parsley (fresh or dried)


Trim the bones and excess fat from the meat, and chop it  into a quarter-inch dice.  Clean and chop the onion and pepper into a quarter-inch dice.  Otherwise, cook the frozen vegetables until they are crisp tender.  Peel and boil the potatoes.  Make or warm the gravy.

Making brown gravy from scratch is easy and takes only a few minutes.  Put four tablespoons of lamb or beef roast drippings or four tablespoons of butter into a medium saucepan or skillet over moderate heat.  Blend a quarter cup of all-purpose flour into the oil and stir continuously until the flour has turned to a medium brown.  I like to add some seasoning to the browning flour.  An eighth teaspoon each of salt, black pepper and thyme or rosemary are all good choices.  

Whisk in one and one-half cups of beef broth or stock made from the leftover lamb or beef bones.  Cook for three or four minutes until you have a thick gravy.  Add a little more broth if the gravy seems too thick.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 350º and lightly grease a two quart casserole. 

Heat the oil in a large skillet and warm the meat.  Stir in the flour and salt and add the onion and pepper.  Cook over low heat until the onion is translucent.  Blend the gravy, peas and carrots with the meat mixture.

Mash the potatoes and heat a third cup of half and half and three tablespoons of butter.  Blend these liquids with the potatoes and the quarter teaspoon of white pepper.  Spoon the meat mixture into the casserole and top it with the mashed potatoes.  Dribble a tablespoon of melted butter over the potatoes.

Put the casserole on a center shelf in the oven and bake for fifty minutes or until the potatoes begin to brown a little.  Sprinkle the parsley over the potatoes and bake for another four or five minutes.

NOTES:  Many recipes for Shepherd’s Pie today are like Mary’s and substitute hamburger or leftover roast beef for the lamb.  Drain any excess grease from the hamburger before adding the vegetables.

If you are using fresh peas and carrots, shell and rinse the peas and clean and chop the carrots into a half-inch dice.

Roast Leg of Lamb in Red Wine

It was the last day of the State 4-H Fat Stock Show in Wichita, Kansas. Joyce Livingston, the popular host of “Women’s World” and “The Joyce Livingston Show” on Channel 12, was interviewing 4-H members whose market lambs were going to be sold. Lisa, one of Jerri’s nieces, was about to have a brief but memorable television interview with Joyce Livingston.

The show was limited to 4-H members, but not all of them lived on sheep farms. As Lisa explained, “A lot of kids that showed lambs at the fair didn’t raise sheep like we did. They would buy one or two lambs when they were really young, and would feed and raise them until it was time to show them at the fair. So for those kids, the lambs were more like pets, per se, than they were for us. Our lambs were just in with all of our other sheep on the farm, so we never really spent time with them like the other kids did, so we weren’t nearly as attached to them.”

There were about fifty lambs judged high enough to be in the auction that year, so the television interviews were short, basically the name of the 4-H member, where he or she was from and the name of the animal. If it was something like “Fluffy” or “Lambchop”, Joyce Livingston might comment or ask another question.

Lisa tells how her interview went: “She got to me; I think she asked my name and where I was from, and then she asked me what my lamb’s name was. I just looked at her, probably blankly, and said ‘It doesn’t have a name.’ I remember she looked a little surprised, but then I really don’t remember what she said after that.”

Having worked long ago in radio broadcasting, I’ll bet she didn’t say much more. When you find yourself starting to dig yourself into a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. What could she say? “You heartless girl. Have you no love for an innocent lamb?” After all, it was a meat animal auction, and people in Kansas like lamb on the table almost as much as a good steak. As an experienced TV host, she probably said “Thank you” and moved on to the next lamb and its owner.

Lisa with lambHere is a photo of Lisa taken at that auction with her lamb. Like her sisters, Lisa helped raise hundreds of sheep, but this lamb was one she had picked to show. She had worked with it so it was accustomed to her and groomed it for the competition. When her lamb was judged good enough to sell at the Fat Stock Show, she earned some money to help pay her way through college. The girl in the picture is now a banker.

This is a recipe by Phyllis, Lisa’s mother, from The Krehbiel Family Cookbook. She and her husband, Theron, raised prize-winning lambs and helped guide their four daughters through 4-H projects showing lambs at county and state fairs. As you might expect, Phyllis knew how to turn some of those lambs into delicious dinners.


6 lb. leg of lamb
2–4 medium onions
2–4 medium carrots
2 1/4 cups red burgundy, divided
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
6 whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic


Scrape or peel the carrots and remove the outer skin of the onions along with the stem and root ends. Cut the vegetables into large pieces.

Wipe the leg of lamb with damp paper towels and trim excess fat from it. Set the meat in a 13 x 9 x 2” glass baking dish with the carrots and onions. In a four cup measure, combine two cups of wine with the vinegar, salt, black pepper and bay leaves to make the marinade. Pour it over the meat. Cover with foil or plastic wrap. Refrigerate twenty-four hours, turning the meat occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 400º. Take the lamb from the marinade and allow it to drain. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Reserve the marinade.

Remove the paper from two cloves of garlic and cut them into slivers. With a sharp narrow-bladed knife make several slits on the lamb and insert the garlic slivers. Place the lamb fat side up in a shallow roasting pan.

Roast uncovered for twenty minutes, then baste the meat with three tablespoons of marinade. Place the carrots and onions around the meat. Continue to roast, basting every ten minutes for about an hour and forty minutes or until the meat registers 165º on an instant read thermometer for medium rare. Remove the meat to a heated serving platter and let it rest while you make the sauce.

Add a half cup of water and a quarter cup of burgundy to the drippings. Bring the liquid to a boil, scraping the drippings from from the bottom of the pan. Simmer for a few minutes to reduce the volume slightly. Strain the sauce into a small bowl or server. Let it stand for two or three minutes. Then serve it with the thinly sliced meat.

NOTES: Burgundy is the name reserved for wines made mainly from Pinot Noir grapes in Burgundy, a famous wine region in France. Some very good Pinot Noir wines are being made in California, Oregon and Chile and other places from Austria to Australia. If you have a Pinot Noir wine you enjoy drinking, use that to cook your leg of lamb.

Mint jelly is traditionally served with roast lamb, but cranberry sauce also goes well with it. Add a green salad, mashed potatoes and bread or dinner rolls , and you will be putting a gourmet dinner on your table.