Minty Shepherd’s Pie

“Oh we have some shepherd’s pie
peppered with actual shepherd
on top”

Sweeney Todd

It’s normal to serve a joint of lamb with mint sauce. In this version of shepherd’s pie the mint sauce is added into the lamb mince to stop it being bland. There’s comfort food … and then there’s just tasteless, the mint sauce prevents such a tragedy.

Which herb to use – it doesn’t have to be mint

But it doesn’t always have to be mint. Leonardo da Vinci (yes, the Mona Lisa man) gives very helpful advice as to how to choose the correct accompanying herb.

“Take three shepherds, cleanse them thoroughly, then let them into your kitchens to choose which of your herbs their sheep do eat the most of amongst their grasses. Now pound these herbs most thoroughly into a paste with oil and spread all on the sheep – with utmost generosity….This dish is so called because, thanks to goodly shepherds, what’s within the sheep is without as well and thus there is no conflict of its taste.”

The Codex Romanoff of Leonardo da Vinci

Or you can make Welsh shepherd’s pie

Tom Kerridge suggests making a sort of Welsh shepherd’s pie using Welsh laverbread (actually a soft-flavoured seaweed. Using the same philosophy as Da Vinci’s, above, this works particularly well if you are using salt marsh lamb (yes, from north Wales… but also from north Essex.. and also from Brittany in France). These graze on estuary salt marshes and coastal, salt-lashed pastures.

Kerridge uses cider instead of red wine. And instead of cheddar in the mash, he uses Caerphilly.

Recipe for minty shepherd’s pie

Serves 8

Ingredients for the mince

• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 2 medium red onions
• 2 medium carrots
• 1 stick of celery
• 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
• 1 stick of cinnamon
• 900g/2 lbs minced lamb
• 400g/14 oz mushrooms (the type with a bit of interesting taste – not just button)
• 2 level tbsp. plain flour
• 180 ml/¾ cup red vermouth
• tin (400g) tomatoes, drained (don’t get the chopped ones – with whole you have the chance to cut large pieces, also I suspect the tomatoes in the chopped tins are less good quality. in a recent taste test Lidl tomatoes came first with a startling nine out of ten; second place was a tie between Waitrose, Tesco and Asda at six out of ten; last with a shameful three out of ten was Sainsburys)
• smoked salt, Indonesian long pepper
• 2 tbsp mint sauce
• 2 tbsp of sundried tomato paste

Ingredients for the mash

• 240g/2 cups smash instant potato
• ½ pt/280ml/1 cup just boiled water
• 2 x chicken stock cubes dissolved in it
• 1½ pt/860ml/3 cups full milk (or you can use 410g tin evaporated milk and an ⅛ cup more stock
• smoked salt and WHITE pepper
• just under half of a pack of butter (100g)
• 4 cloves of garlic, mashed
• 75g/3 oz cheddar, grated


1. Chop all the vegetables (except the tomatoes and mushrooms).
2. In a large casserole fry them for about ten minutes in the oil – until the onion is translucent.
3. Add the lamb, breaking it up with a fork. Cook on a high heat until it is fully browned – about another ten minutes. Sieve in the flour, mix in well.
4. Chop the mushrooms, and add them to the mince.
5. Chop the tomatoes.
6. Add the wine, the tomatoes, the sundried tomato paste, the cinnamon and the salt and pepper to the mince.
7. Cover and simmer on a low heat (if you have an aga put the casserole in the simmering oven) for about an hour.
8. If it’s still too liquid boil uncovered for a little longer.
9. Add the mint sauce and take out the cinnamon stick.
10. Heat the oven to 180ºC.
11. Heat the milk to nearly boiling, but DO NOT LET IT BOIL.
12. Mix all the mash ingredients except the cheese together with a fork – heat if necessary.
13. Spread the mince mixture onto a flattish lasagne type rectangular dish, put the mash on top, make it look arty by running tracks over it with a fork, sprinkle the cheese over it.
14. Put it in the oven (baking oven for Agas) to brown for about 25 minutes – or you can increase the heat and cook for less time.

Random fact: in later life one of David Bowie’s favourite dishes was shepherds’ pie.

Lovely quote below from the chapter in Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, which covers nursery food. She recalls:

“Once upon a time when I was in mourning for my father I was taken home by my best friend who sat me in a chair, gave me a copy of Vogue and told me not to move until called. I sat like a good girl while she busied herself in the kitchen. When I got to the table I realised that this angelic pal had made shepherd’s pie. My eyes swam with tears of gratitude.”

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