Now, there’s a headline you probably weren’t expecting to read – frankly, it’s not one we expected to write, either. However, tonight at 8pm, Jamie focuses on a magnificent shepherd’s pie in episode four of Comfort Food, and it got us thinking about the dish.

Being the epitome of simple, homely comfort, the idea that there may be “more to know” about shepherd’s pie is mildly amusing. I should have known better, however. No matter how ubiquitous or basic you think a dish is, if it’s been around in a country’s food culture for a long time, chances are it’s got a few stories to tell.

shepherd's pie

Here are the best of the ones I came across when looking into a dish many of us have been eating for comfort our entire lives:

  1. Let’s start with a fairly well-known one: there is a difference between “cottage pie” and “shepherd’s pie”, and it’s in the meat. Shepherd’s pie should only be named as such if it contains lamb, and “cottage” usually applies to one made with beef.
  2. The name “cottage” was applied to this kind of meat pie around the time potatoes were being introduced in the UK, because they were an affordable for thing for peasants, many of whom would live in cottages, to eat. It seems a bit convoluted but hey, we’re always an odd bunch with our etymology.
  3. The term “cottage pie” predates “shepherd’s” by nearly a century,  but each was used synonymously with the other for a long time.
  4. The Chilean version of “pastel de papa”, a dish similar to shepherd’s pie eaten in many parts of the world, also contains hard-boiled eggs, raisins and black olives.
  5. The same dish in France is named “hachis Parmentier”, after the Frenchman who convinced his country to eat potatoes. “Hachis”, which takes its root from the English word “hatchet”, means a dish containing chopped or minced ingredients.
  6. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, once upon a time, Scotland made its shepherd’s pies with pastry instead of mashed potatoes.
  7. Indian cooks once considered shepherd’s pie to be a perfect dish for tiffin (a word used to mean a light snack in British India).
  8. Many vegetarians and vegans call a meat-free version a “shepherdless” pie. Although Jamie’s vegetarian shepherd’s pie, with lentils and sweet potato, doesn’t keep the name, it’s an absolutely killer recipe and we’d recommend it to everyone.
  9. Topping the potato crust with breadcrumbs actually turns your dish into a “Cumberland pie”.
  10. Although variations of this dish crop up throughout history, no name for it came into use until the introduction of the mincing machine. Before that, the meat would have to be chopped by hand, or made from leftovers.

shepherd's pie

For a limited time, you can find the recipe for Jamie’s incredible shepherd’s pie from the Comfort Food book online, as well as a whole host of others at jamieoliver.com/comfortfood.

Tune in tonight to see Jamie’s Comfort Food at 8pm on Channel 4.


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  • Bella Sapore

    I found this really interesting! I am doing research for an article about Shepherds Pie and this is the type of history I was looking for. Thanks!