The time of year for Shepherd’s pie

Published 10:54 am Tuesday, November 15, 2022

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The“comfort food”  that I cover today is indeed considered to be consolation fare. Shepherd’s pie is a type of savory dish whose origins come from far away. The Shepard’s pie is thought to have derived from Ireland in the late 1700s and was baked in pastry crust using leftover meats combined with gravy. 


The classic recipe for Shepherd’s pie uses lamb cooked with vegetables such as carrots, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, peas, onions, leeks, garlic and mushrooms, then topped with mashed potatoes. The same repast using ground beef is called “cottage pie.” Regardless of what you call it, Shepherd’s pie is basically a wholesome casserole. 

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However, this is more than just a cold weather treat. Shepherd’s pie supplies some pretty serious nutrition. The meats in Shepard’s pie provide protein. Protein is the building block of nearly every cell in the body. In addition to repair and maintenance, amino acids, which make up proteins, are utilized by the body to form “messenger proteins.” These messenger proteins are usually in the form of hormones that transmit signals to coordinate biological processes between different cells, tissues, and organs. 


The meats in Shepard’s pie also furnish iron and vitamin B12. Iron is crucial in the manufacturing of red blood cells which carry oxygen throughout the body. Vitamin B12 is an animal-based nutrient that too plays an essential role in red blood cell formation, cellular metabolism, nerve function, and the production of DNA. 


The vegetables in Shepard’s pie are naturally low in fat and calories. They are also important sources of nutrients including potassium, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Vegetables also offer dietary fiber. The crust and mashed potatoes in Shepard’s pie provide complex carbohydrates for energy. The crust found in Shepard’s pie offers yet another benefit. Pie crust holds in heat, which allows the ingredients to become, and remain piping hot. The human digestive system works best with foods and liquids that are at warmer temperatures because with heat, the body doesn’t have to work as hard to digest the food.


Here are a few facts about Shepard’s pie you might not know. Technically, you can only call it “Shepherd’s pie” if it’s made with lamb or mutton (meats obtained from sheep). Any pie made with beef is called “cottage pie”. If you top your pie with breadcrumbs, you’d call it “Cumberland pie.” A “St. Stephen’s pie” is made using turkey and ham. 


In Brazil, “escondidinho” is a similar dish. Besides beef, other possible fillings include chicken, jerked beef, and salted cod. In the Netherlands, a similar dish, sometimes with apples, is called a “filsoof.” A fish pie is an English dish of seafood topped with mashed potatoes. 


While some folks make Shepherd’s pie with pastry, the way the Scots did, it’s much more common to make it Irish-style using mashed potatoes as the topping. The most expensive “meat pie” was sold in Lancashire, UK, for over $1,700 a slice. It was made with Japanese wagyu beef filet, Chinese matsutake mushrooms, Winter Black truffles, and French Bluefoot mushrooms. 


Yes, there is Shepard’s pie for vegetarians. The fillings vary from lentils and sweet potatoes to mushrooms and leeks. Though it doesn’t have an official name, some folks call it “Shepherdless pie,” while others refer to it as “gardener’s pie” when made without dairy for vegans. Whatever you call it, this is a hearty nourishing treat packed with warm, delicious goodness.


David Crocker is a nutritionist and master personal trainer. Questions? Email David at Or text to 864-494-6215.