Shepherd’s pie, a recently popular topic in food articles and new cookbooks, is a Northern Isles kind of meat and potatoes concoction that’s a classic pub dish in England and Ireland. The meat is usually lamb, but sometimes it’s beef, in which case it’s called cottage pie. Whether lamb or beef, the idea is the same: a simple mix of meat (most often leftover) flavored with a mirepoix—onion, carrot, celery, some herbs, under a crust of mashed potatoes. I’m tossing in my revisionist rendition, which I developed for my cookbook Sausage: Making and Cooking with Homemade Sausage. The leftover meat is swapped for a quick and easy homemade lamb sausage to give the humble pie a fresh and lively taste. To gussy it up, I replace chopped onion with pearl onions, which gives the allium element more presence in the filling, and add horseradish in the potato mash to lift the topping above what otherwise might be humdrum fare. Leo Gong’s enticing photo below exactly expresses how I imagined the dish smoothly sashaying from the pub onto a rustic home table.
1 pound ground lamb
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/ 8 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/ 4 teaspoon dried sage
2 tablespoons dry mustard
Small pinch of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup filtered water
2 pounds russet or Yukon gold potatoes
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons freshly grated horseradish or unseasoned prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons butter
16 pearl onions, peeled
2 carrots finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup filtered water
1. Place all the ingredients for the sausage in a bowl and mix with your hands until thoroughly blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.
2. To make the crust, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1 1/2-inch chunks. Place the chunks in a pot, add water to cover generously and a large pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil briskly until the potatoes are a bit beyond fork-tender, almost collapsing, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and, while still moist, return them to the pot. Let cool briefly until no longer steaming. Add the milk, butter, and horseradish and mash with a potato masher or sturdy wire whisk until no longer chunky. Whisk in 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Correct the seasoning with more salt if desired and set aside in a warm place.
3. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
4. To make the filling, melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pearl onions, carrots, and celery, stir to mix, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the lamb sausage and continue cooking, stirring to break up the clumps, until no longer pink, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the remaining filling ingredients, bring to a boil over medium heat, and cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.
5. Transfer the filling to a 2-quart baking dish. Spread the potato mash across the top and, with a fork or spoon, lift it up here and there to make decorative peaks. Bake until the top is golden around the edges and over the peaks, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve directly from the baking dish.