Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Old School Shepherd's Pie

Come eat with me and taste this pie,
And we will all the flavors try
Of onions, gravy, 'shrooms and mash,
With filling of the finest hash
~ Christopher Marlowe, The Passionate Shepherd to his Pie

Pardon my somewhat free interpretation of this oft-quoted paean to the pastoral, but a good savory pie is every bit as worthy of a sonnet as any apple-cheeked milkmaid, and I feel sure Kit Marlowe would agree. Shepherd's pie is one of those one-dish meals that irresistibly summons up childhood; there's just something about it that evokes the idea of "home," especially on a raw, chilly day. Originally known as "cottage pie," it served as a thrifty use for leftover bits of meat and vegetables; topped with a layer of mashed potatoes, it became a filling, affordable dinner. The substitution of the word "shepherd" referred to a variation made with minced lamb, and was meant to distinguish it from the original, which typically used beef. (I'm bound to observe that these can't have been very nice shepherds. "With friends like these," etc.)

Nowadays the names are used pretty interchangeably in the UK and the US, and I daresay there are as many versions on both sides of the Atlantic as there are moms and dads to make them. Lots of American interpretations seem to use - {{{shudder}}} - corn, which to any rational mind is just wrong, wrong, wrong. My own (British) mother's was a pretty straightforward affair featuring ground meat, onions, peas, and carrots, and seasoned with sage, thyme, parsley, etc. The recipe below is my veganized approximation of hers: the happy result of an afternoon spent tinkering around in the kitchen, in pursuit of what I can only characterize as an "English" taste.

This successful outcome was due in no small part to the strategic application of two UK cupboard staples: HP sauce (much of which is produced in my mother's native Birmingham, the label's
über-culturally-signifying image of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament notwithstanding), and the much maligned yet magical Marmite. Served with braised carrots, extra mash, mushy peas, and gravy, this is a meal that lacks only a pint or two of bitter to achieve gustatory nirvana. Or as my friend Kit might have put it:

The shepherd's pie shall brown and bake
For thy delight each bite thou take:
If these delights thy mouth might try,
Then eat with me and taste this pie.

Old School Shepherd's Pie
~ 2 tbsp. canola or other neutral oil
~ 2 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 big onion, chopped
~ 2 carrots, diced
~ 2 stalks celery, diced
~ 1 10 oz. package mushrooms, chopped fine
~ 1 12 oz. package vegetarian meatballs, mashed (TJ's or Nate's), or equivalent ground meat substitute such as Gardein, Gimme Lean, etc. 
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, sage, thyme, marjoram, parsley
~ ½ tsp. ground rosemary
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 1 tbsp. each: vegan Worcestershire,  HP sauce
~ 1 tsp. Marmite
~ 1 12 oz. bottle good, brown ale (you won't need it all, just drink the rest)
~ ¾ cup frozen peas
~ ¼  cup nutritional yeast
~ A big batch of your favorite mashed potatoes (champ would work nicely, too)

~ Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit and coat a large casserole with cooking spray.
~ Saute onions, garlic, celery, and carrots on medium-high heat, about 5-7 minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms and dry seasonings and saute another 5-7 minutes, adding a splash of beer if necessary to prevent sticking.
~ Add the meatballs, the HP sauce, and the Marmite, and stir to combine.
~ Taste for seasoning, then pour in about 6 oz. of the beer and mix well, then cover and cook about 10 minutes, to achieve a nice, smooshy brownness (stir occasionally to be sure it doesn't stick).
~ Remove the lid, and stir in the peas and the nutritional yeast. Raise the heat a bit and cook another 5-7 minutes, until thickened but still slightly moist (you'll recognize the texture you want when you get there). Taste for seasoning.
~ Remove from heat and spoon evenly into your greased casserole.
~ Cover with a layer of mashed potatoes, smooth them out with a rubber spatula, then lightly drag the tines of a fork through the potatoes, to make a pattern.
~ Drizzle the top with about a tablespoon of melted Earth Balance, then sprinkle with a little paprika to make it pretty.
~ Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
~ Remove foil and bake uncovered another 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and lovely (keep an eye on it, since ovens vary; mine tends to be slow).
~ Allow to cool slightly before serving with extra mash, mushy peas, and a nice ale and onion gravy.


  1. I love shepherd's pie. Your version sounds similar to the version my mom made when I was a kid. For Christmas last year I made my first vegan shepherd's pie, using tempeh. Even the non-vegans loved it!

  2. I've never had shepherd's pie but it sounds interesting. Is there a substitute for HP sauce?

  3. YUMMY Shepherds pie....I can feel one of them making an appearance round here soon.

  4. Linanil - you could easily substitute Daddy's sauce, or vegan Worcestershire!

  5. Excellent recipe! I am making up a cookbook for my co-worker who's husband recently decided to go vegan. She is a bit resistant to the change, but I told her I'd make her up a mini-packet of "familiar" recipes that I've veganized. I might give her this shepherd's pie recipe too, along with one of mine ^_^

  6. Saving this recipe. Can I ask what brand of ale you used?

  7. I love vegan shepherd's pie! I cannot have it with some of the vegan meats, due to celiac's, but I make a pretty good one with daiya cheese & veggies & mashed potatoes. I think I'm going to try your version tho, sans any wheat ingredients. We need to update it. Sounds great!

  8. I've been looking for an excuse to buy HP sauce. I think this is just the ticket! I haven't loved Marmite in the past; do you think nutritional yeast would be an okay substitution?

  9. From an English perspective (and this obviously does not apply to a Vegan recipe), but I would say Cottage Pie is made with beef and Shepherd's Pie with lamb.

    1. Paul - exactly; I said as much in my headnote above.