During the cold months, I will occasionally read on Twitter or someone’s blog that they are fixing shepherd’s pie. Further reading — such as a perusal of the recipe they so helpfully link to — leads to the discovery that the person in question is not in fact making shepherd’s pie, they are making cottage pie. This is a common error and one that is perpetuated by some of the chefs and cooks shown on Food Network shows.
Cottage pie refers to a dish made with minced (or ground) beef with a crust of mashed potatoes. Shepherd’s pie, on the other hand, is the same dish, but with minced (or ground) lamb in place of beef.
As a bit of history, cottage and shepherd’s pie go back to 18th century England and Ireland, when potatoes were being introduced as an edible crop for the poor. (For a great many years, potatoes were thought to be poisonous.) The dish was basically leftovers — bits of meat or lamb and potatoes from another meal put together and baked to create an easy new meal.
Here in my house, I make cottage pie, as my family does not eat lamb for ethical reasons. (Seriously, you try to make my daughters eat lamb when all they can think about is cute fluffy animals.) To the meat mixture, I add diced carrots and peas as a way to sneak more vegetables into my loved ones’ bodies. For the mashed potatoes, I like to use Yukon Gold potatoes, as they have an incredible buttery flavor that surpasses all other potatoes. (That’s not to say that I don’t add more butter, because I would be lying if I claimed that.) There are scores of recipes available online, but my personal favorite is the basic recipe found in the Joy of Cooking.