Shepherd's pie, occasionally referred to as cottage pie when made sans lamb, is traditionally made with lamb or mutton. But as I don't really have a taste for mutton, I am using lamb. My grandma tells me stories of raising sheep: "And let me tell you, we never butchered lambs. They were too valuable . . . we always ate the old mutton." She has a look of horror on her face as she tells me this story. The moral of that story is lamb is good; lamb is delicious. And we should be thankful we are not eating mutton.
For this recipe I am using some leg meat in the form of steaks that I've minced myself. Some neck meat or shoulder meat would have been good, too. It just takes a little more work with the knife. The shepherd's pie recipe that I came up with is a variation of one I learned while working at an Irish Pub, so I imagine it's authentic enough.
1. Get the lamb and vegetables together for the pie. Mince about a pound of lamb or pick up some ground lamb, which is similar enough in texture that it will pass. I've always put carrots and peas in my shepherd's pie, and I don't really know if it's authentic or not. But I think this type of pie has a lot of room for flexibility, born out of necessity as it was. As so many good things have been.
2. Saute the minced or ground lamb in a bit of butter. Melt 2 T of butter or a little oil and saute the lamb in a large saute pan until browned. Add a pinch of salt and black or white pepper while it cooks. You want to cook it over medium-high heat so there won't be too much liquid in the pan. While that cooks, start making the mashed potatoes. Boil the peeled and chopped russets until tender, and mash with cream and butter.
3. Finish making the lamb and gravy filling. Add the minced carrots and onions to the pan and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Add more butter if needed. Then add the 2 T of flour and stir to evenly coat everything in the pan; this will thicken the gravy. Then pour in the stock and the 4 T of dark beer and cook it down until thickened, about 8-10 minutes. Take it off the heat and mix in the herbs and peas. This will ensure maximum flavor from the herbs, and the peas won't get too mushy.
4. Put the shepherd's pie together and bake it. Spray a two-quart casserole dish with a bit of pan spray and preheat the oven to 360 degrees F. Line the bottom of the dish with a one-inch layer of mashed potatoes. Then pour in the lamb filling and cover the top with more mashed potatoes. You can add a little cheese to the top if you want, or just leave it plain as I have. Bake it in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. The crust should be nice and brown. If it isn't, pop it under the broiler for 2 minutes and it will be.
Ground lamb will work instead of minced lamb. Minced goat or minced venison will also make good pies. Or, if you must, you may use ground beef, but that would be considered cottage pie instead of shepherd's pie.
You don't have to put mashed potatoes on the bottom of the dish for this shepherd's pie recipe, but it makes removing the pie slices easier.
Make sure the shepherd's pie isn't too close to the broiler, or the dish may break.