A shepherd's pie traditionally uses leftover lamb and mashed potatoes from a roast dinner. According to the website Cooks Info, the dish was originally made with a pastry topping before potatoes became regular fare in Britain at the end of the 18th century. Any similar savoury pie that uses meat other than lamb would more accurately be called a cottage pie.
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Basic Traditional Seasonings
A shepherd's pie traditionally uses the British flavouring called Worcestershire sauce. This fermented sauce contains vinegar, molasses, anchovies and tamarind, among other ingredients. Worcestershire sauce is a complex blend of ingredients, some of which are secret, so you may have trouble getting the Worcestershire flavour without using the sauce itself. Salt and black pepper are also integral to the pie, although cooks can substitute sea salt or kosher salt for regular salt. Different recipes use various ingredients to make the sauce. For example, you can use beef stock and port, chicken stock and tomato sauce, or red wine and lamb stock. A common herb for flavouring is thyme. Minced or thinly sliced garlic is a common addition to shepherd's pie, although it is not strictly required.
You can tweak the traditional taste of a shepherd's pie by adding several herbs that go well with the other flavours. An equal amount of chopped marjoram to thyme is an option. Alternatively, you can use up to double the amount of chopped rosemary to thyme in the dish.
You need to season the mashed potato topping differently to the meat filling of the pie. Salt and black pepper change the potatoes from bland to flavourful and butter or sour cream mixed in add flavour. You can also add chopped chives to the mash or make a traditionally Irish champ with thinly sliced spring onions.
You may like to add more unusual seasonings to your meal for a twist on the traditional shepherd's pie recipe. According to Cooks.com, a spicy alternative is chilli powder along with a tomato-based sauce and paprika-sprinkled mashed-potato topping. Caraway seeds, paprika and chopped marjoram can give the pie a Hungarian flavour, according to a Food Network recipe by Rachael Ray, but this pie also needs Worcestershire sauce, beef stock and garlic for the sauce.
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