A Simple Formula to Make Shepherd's Pie
Traditionally, Shepherd’s Pie or Cottage Pie refers to simple casseroles made by layering meats cooked in gravy with vegetables and topping with a crust of mashed potatoes. Shepherd’s pie is usually made of lamb (hence the shepherd part) and cottage pie of beef. Some recipes create a true stew with chunks of meat, some use ground meat sautéed and then simmered in gravy.
It is always a terrific way to use up leftover meats, extending their life by bulking them up with potato. But what if you think of this style of pie as more of a technique? Because leftover stewed things under a blanket of comforting carbs is a generally good thing, especially if you have a tendency to over-order your take-out. As a technique, there are some things to know.
One, choose your vessel carefully. You want your dish to be full to prevent drying out, so err on the side of a smaller baking dish when eyeballing your leftovers. Two, if your leftovers are in large pieces (think stewed chicken thighs or braised lamb shanks), be sure to shred down into bit sized pieces and stir into the gravy or sauce as your base layer.
Here is your basic process: Find a baking dish or casserole that is the right size for your leftovers, and grease it to prevent sticking. Preheat your oven to 350. Spoon your stew or shredded meat in sauce in the bottom of the dish it should fill 1/3-1/2 of the height of the dish.
If you like, add some cooked, canned or thawed frozen vegetables that are a good pairing with your base dish. Think peas with Indian dishes like vindaloo or butter chicken, broccoli with Chinese dishes like egg fu yung, corn with pulled pork or carrots with boeuf bourguignon.
Finally, top with something carby, which you likely already have on hand. Leftover roasted potatoes that you served with your braised chicken can be mashed with a little bit of butter and sour cream and make a terrific topping. Leftover couscous will top your tagine pie, and leftover fried rice will be perfect on top of that leftover kung pao chicken. Sweet potato mash works wonderfully with spicy dishes like chili or Thai curries, and you can mash up the yuca in mojo or plantains from your Cuban feast and pile it on top of the leftover ropa vieja or piccadillo. Mashed celery root is a genius topping for shredded short ribs.
If your carbs are loose, like rice or couscous, add a binder if you like. You can stir in a beaten egg mixed with a tablespoon of milk, or add some cheese or sour cream or Greek yogurt, or a combination, but only if you care about getting the topping to stay together in one layer, if you don’t mind it loose, just pile it on top and press down to fill the dish.
Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes just to heat everything through and make the top a bit golden brown. If your dish wants buttered breadcrumbs, fried onions or toasted nuts on top for crunch, or some fresh chopped herbs for punch? Only you will know. But once you start thinking outside the Shepherd’s Pie box, you’ll have a world of delicious coming your way. You might even start ordering extra takeout just to ensure a next-day pie.