Minced meat in thick gravy, often with a modest admixture of onions and other small-chopped vegetables such as carrot or peas, fully topped by mashed potato and baked until crisped.
Although it is commonly taken that Shepherd's Pie uses sheep meat whereas Cottage Pie uses beef, this is not by any means necessarily so. The earliest known receipts for Shepherd's Pie specify "meat of any kind" or simply "meat" and differentiate the two dishes in that Cottage Pie has a ridged mash top - perhaps imitating the thatched roof of a cottage- while Shepherd's pie is smoothed, giving two very distinct textures.
First known in the modern form from the Scottish 'Practice of Cookery and Pastry' by Mrs I Williamson of 1854. A slightly later version given in the 1877 'Kettner's Book of the Table' is equally Scottish and adds a pastry base.
Original Receipt in 'Practice of Cookery and Pastry' by Mrs I Williamson, 1854;
Shepherd's Pie Take cold dressed meat of any kind roast or boiled. Slice it, break the bones, and put them on with a little boiling water and a little salt. Boil them until you have extracted all the strength from them and reduced it to very little and strain it. Season the sliced meat with pepper and salt lay it in a baking dish and pour in the sauce you strained. Add a little mushroom ketchup. Have some potatoes boiled and nicely mashed cover the dish with the potatoes smooth it on the top with a knife notch it round the edge and mark it on the top the same as paste. Bake it in an oven or before the fire until the potatoes are a nice brown
Original Receipt from the 'Sheffield Independent' - Saturday 04 March 1882, p13
Shepherd's Pie. - Chop fine about a pound of cold meat, add salt, pepper, parsley, and any other seasoning that may be liked; put it in a pie dish and pour over it some good gravy, sufficient to cover the meat; boil about two pounds of potatoes, mash them and put them over the meat nicely smoothed, a few bits of dripping stuck on top and a little flour; bake in the oven, or in front of the fire until nicely brown.
Original Receipt from 'Western Gazette' - Friday 03 January 1947, p5
SHEPHERD'S PIE. Mince any meat you may have left over from yesterday's dinner; mash some potatoes, and cover the meat with these. Then add slices of onion and uncooked potatoes, season to taste with nepper and salt, and brown the oven.
Whatever its origin, SP seems to be something of a favourite among English politicians. The Tory grandee Jeffrey Archer was noted for serving shepherd's pie and Krug champagne at his receptions, Jim Callaghan ate it at his 'last supper' before leaving the premiership and it is said that Mrs Thatcher always ate it after Prime Minister's question time.
Table Potato Pasty
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