I didn’t learn what Shepherd’s Pie was until I was 19 or 20 years old. I was disappointed. You see, when I was a kid, one of my favorite meals was something my mother called Shepherd’s Pie and it wasn’t Shepherd’s Pie.
Shepherd’s Pie is a casserole having layers of sweet corn, ground beef, and mashed potatoes. At a restaurant, you may get an individual baking dish containing Shepherd’s Pie and you excavate to uncover the meat and corn layers from beneath the potatoes. My mom’s Shepherd’s Pie held no such mysteries.
Mom would load a platter with mashed potatoes and then dump on ground beef that she had fried with onions. THIS was Shepherd’s Pie. If there was corn involved, it came as a side dish, but we never thought corn was part of the pie. We never even thought of Shepherd’s Pie as anything to do with pie.
Super Budget Gourmet
At supermarket prices for packaged ground beef, you’ll pay around $4 for a pound. If you buy London Broil or Chuck Roast when it’s on a two-for-one sale, you might pay from $2.60 to $3.00 per pound. Select a package, take it to the meat counter in the store, and ask whether they’ll grind it for you. Most grocery stores will, and you’ll have very low-fat ground beef at a price that you’ll rarely find on pre-packaged beef.
For potatoes, shop farmers’ markets. You can find less-than-perfect potatoes in 20 pound bags for $4; a five pound bag in the grocery store can cost as much. Farmers’ market onions can also be inexpensive. For a dollar I can usually buy two or three onions so large that one quarter of an onion is what a recipe means by “medium onion.”
Here’s how to make fake Shepherd’s Pie the way my mom did:
6 medium potatoes
1 medium onion
1 pound ground beef
4 tablespoons butter (divided)
¼ cup milk
salt & pepper to taste
Wash, peel, roughly slice, and boil the potatoes until they’re soft—15 to 20 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, dice the onion and sauté it for three minutes in one tablespoon of the butter. Add the ground beef to the skillet, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook the meat through. If a lot of fat melts out of the meat, drain all but a small puddle of it away.
While keeping the cooked meat warm, drain the cooked potatoes and mash them adding 3 tablespoons of butter and ¼ cup of milk (add more or less to adjust the consistency of the potatoes). Heap the mashed potatoes on a large platter and distribute the beef on top. Serve with sides of vegetables, fruit, or both. The Shepherd’s Pie provides about six servings.
I prepared Mom’s Shepherd’s Pie recently with sides of corn and peas and a glass of milk for each diner at a cost of $6.72. Using 90% lean beef, a serving (with sides) provided 669 calories, 19 grams of fat, and 13 grams of fiber.