Shepherd's Pie was first recorded in Victoria's reign, and of all the ways of using leftover meat, this potato-topped pie must be the most enduring, though these days it is more often made with fresh mince.
Boil and mash 1kg of big, floury potatoes, adding a thick slice of butter as you mash. Soften 2 large onions, peeled and chopped in a little butter. (You can add a few diced carrots and celery at this point.) When they are golden, add 600g minced lamb, letting it brown thoroughly. Now add your salt, pepper, thyme and a shake or two of Worcestershire Sauce, and about 350ml of stock. Let the mixture simmer gently for 30 minutes. Tip the lamb into a shallow baking dish, top with the mash, dot with a little butter then bake for 35-40 minutes in a hot oven till the surface is crisp. Serves 4.
Nicely browned onions, a few leaves of thyme and maybe a shake of the Worcestershire Sauce bottle is all you need. Whether you are using minced, cooked lamb or fresh meat it should be neither too small nor too large. Let the mince cook for a good 30 minutes, if not longer. The crust must be crisp on top, so either pull a fork across its surface to create "furrows" or pile it up into clouds with a spoon.
Using beef instead of lamb turns the recipe into a cottage pie. A layer of grated cheese is a wholly unnecessary but popular way of adding a bit more flavour. I often use mashed pumpkin or butternut squash in place of the potato, and leeks, softened in butter, in place of the onions. A mash of trendy celeriac and potato can be good, too.
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