The shepherd’s pie is one such dish that has its history sandwiched in layers of murky narrations.
It is not exactly specific where it originated from, what ethnicity gave rise to its preparations and what the circumstances were that led to its genesis.
All we have are speculations to debate on.
This article explores the origins of the shepherd pie as tied with the Irish people as well as some of the popular variations of it across the world.
Does shepherd’s pie have Irish origins?
Shepherd’s pie could have an Irish origin due to the fact that the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland which began in the 12th century and lasted for 8 more centuries witnessed its birth (in the 18th century to be precise).
Based on historical evidence, the name for the dish “cottage pie” likely parent “shepherd’s pie”.
Cottage pie is speculated to have made allusion to the state of people who consumed the pie as at that time — mostly poor Irish and british households that lived in cottages, subsided on potatoes which gained ground as an edible food for the poor, and also had to repurpose their leftover mutton and beef from roasts in order to avoid waste of food and money.
The peasants typically cut the leftover meat into mince, cooked them in flavorful gravy and surrounded the meat mixture with a “potato” crust to form a sort of pie.
The fact that the people who made these dishes lived in cottages might have been the sole inspiration for where the dish got its name.
Additionally, the British at that time who would make this dish likely used beef since they preferred it above any other meat, whereas a majority of the irelands would make versions using the cheaper mutton instead of beef or lamb since they weren’t a fan of beef at that time.
As for the ethnicity that would have started the dish, it is most likely the Irish given the unfoldings of the occupation at that time which presented them, in majority, as the sufferers and likely to repurpose leftovers to save food and money.
In the preceding century, somewhere in the mid 1800’s, the term “shepherd’s pie” was birthed and was used to refer to a dish where mutton and diced potatoes were encased in a pastry shell.
In modern times, the dish refers to minced lamb meat sandwiched between two (or one) layer(s) of mashed or sliced potatoes.
The name shepherd’s pie might have come from the fact that shepherds were responsible for taking care of sheep from where the meat for the dish was derived. The mashed potato atop is further patterned, to mimic the wool covering of a sheep.
The variations of shepherd’s pie over the years
Previously, shepherd’s pie would include three layers of food: two sliced potato layers then a meat layer sandwiched in between.
Over time, mashed potatoes were substituted for the potato slices. Modern versions of shepherd’s pie now include a series of vegetables such as corn, peas and carrots, and they can even substitute the first layer of potatoes in the bottom of the casserole to form a three layered pie of vegetable, meat and potatoes atop.
Other modern variations include cheese also for flavour and aesthetics.
Nowadays, the dish is referred to as shepherd’s pie when lamb, mutton or any other meat is used which isn’t beef or veal. The term cottage pie is then used to refer to the beef variant, just so as to distinguish it from shepherd’s pie.
What are other dishes like shepherd’s pie?
The cumberland pie has nothing to do with cucumbers (in case your eyes didn’t read that correctly) but with the cumberland region of the far North West England. There, is where the birth home is.
Cumberland pie is like the twin version of the cottage or shepherd’s pie with the only difference being in the “use” of meat as well as the ingredients that make up the crust.
The cumberland pie follows the same recipe as the cottage or shepherd’s pie recipe, except that it has cheese and breadcrumbs added to the topping of mashed potato.
There also appears to be freedom with regards to the choice of meat. Any type of meat can be used to make a cumberland pie.
The shepherdless is the vegan twist to the shepherd’s pie — as you can easily tell from the name “shepherdless” alluding to the lack of meat in the pie.
The shepherdless pie substitutes the meat part of the shepherd’s pie with vegetables such as mushroom or lentils.
It still maintains the mashed potato layer atop and even below depending on how medieval you want to be.
Empadao is the portuguese version of shepherd’s pie although it is more flexible. It consists of meat such as red meat, fish or poultry cooked in estrugido: veggies and herbs braised in cooking oil like olive oil, and then sandwiched in layers of mashed potato, bread or rice.
Escondidinho is a Brazilian dish that is similar to cottage pie in its preparations and origins — it was mainly consumed by the poor.
Its fillings can be poultry or seafood cooked in sauce and sauteed veggies and then the toppings can be mashed potatoes or cassava sprinkled with flavorful cheese.
This is the Indonesian version of the shepherd’s pie. It is made in exactly the same method with some twists and turns; however, for instance, egg is boiled and sliced in circles and then used to create a second layer above the meat layer underneath.
Then the mashed potato is topped over it, patterned into long ridges with a fork and then brushed with egg wash (which is basically egg white mixed with a few drops of milk then added with seasoning) to give it a browned appearance after baking in the oven.
Pastel de papas
Pastel de papas is the shepherd’s pie twist from Argentina and chile. The name literally translates to a “potato pie”.
In this twist, a layer of boiled eggs is added when making the layers which results in the following order: mashed potato at the bottom of the casserole, meat layer, then diced boiled eggs, then a final layer of mashed potatoes sprinkled with paprika, pepper and cheese to develop that nice golden brown crust.
Layers of boiled sliced potatoes can also be used, sometimes surrounding the sides of the casserole dishes before the fillings are placed into order.
The Pâté chinois is a canadian dish that can be compared to the shepherd’s pie in its make up.
It typically consists of three layers, a ground beef layer (cooked), canned corn middle layer and then a mashed potato layer atop.
Other variations exist as well and one common one reverses the order of the pie with the potatoes at the bottom and the meat at the top.
The dish is usually served with beets or pickled eggs.