shepherd's pie and Guinness

Cottage Pie or Shepherd’s Pie: A Simple Dish with a Complex History

Last Updated on March 15, 2022

As the days start to get warmer, let’s skip the stew and dig into a dish that’s a lot easier to make.

The dish itself is not complicated. Popular in the British Isles, it is usually some combination of meat, spices, vegetables, with a mashed potato crust.

A problem arises, however, when discussing the name of the entree. Shepherd’s pie? Cottage pie? “Pâté chinois?

The Name of Shepherd’s Pie/Cottage Pie

Here in America, we usually refer to any dish that contains beef, hearty veggies, and is topped with potatoes as “shepherd’s pie.” However, what we know as shepherd’s pie is actually called a “cottage pie” in Europe. Popular in Ireland, Scotland, and England, cottage pie features beef, while the meat in shepherd’s pie is usually lamb.

The background for the name differences is quite interesting. Cottage pies have traditionally been more common because they were made from the leftovers of larger meals. So common-folk in places like Ireland and England—who predominantly lived in country cottages—would take leftover beef they had, cut it up, and throw it into a pot or dish with whatever veggies they had lying around.

As our in-house chef, Yankel Polak explains, “There are endless variations since its basically a free-form stew topped with mashed potatoes.”

Because potatoes have been such a prevalent and accessible crop to broader swaths of the population — especially in Ireland — it made more sense to use mashed potatoes as a crust or topping rather than any grain-based foods. And so, the cottage pie became a staple in Ireland, Britain, Scotland, and, eventually America.

It is a bit odd that a cottage pie—the dish with beef as its meat—would be called shepherd’s pie more commonly here in the U.S. If you haven’t made the connection yet, shepherd’s pie gets its name because it features lamb, the livestock tended to by shepherds.

Ground Beef or Stew Recipe?

Whatever name it goes by, the savory dish is good just about any time you happen to have ground beef or any leftover meat and vegetables handy. But it is a perfect hearty meal for the winter, especially in the more snow-blanketed, northern sections of the country.

ButcherBox’s Chef Yankel likes to make a beef stew and store mash potatoes in a pastry bag. “When I’m hungry,” he explains, “I heat up the stew in a sauté pan, pour it into an oven-safe dish, pipe the mash on top with a sprinkle of parmesan and pepper and broil it till golden.”

For another variation on the cottage pie/shepherd’s pie, check out Chef Yankel’s “Spiced-Up Cottage Pie (Shepherd’s Pie with Beef),” which adds some more complexity with Indian-inspired flavors and a unique potato topping that blends in cauliflower for a lower carb count.

Spiced-Up Cottage Pie (Shepherd's Pie with Beef)

3.80 from 43 votes
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Protein: Beef
Cut: Ground Beef
Diet: Gluten Free
Course: Main Course
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 4 people


  • 1 pkg ButcherBox Ground Beef
  • 1 c butternut squash small dice
  • 1 c carrots small dice
  • 1 c peas if frozen do not thaw
  • 1 15.5 oz can garbanzo beans rinsed and drained
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 med yellow onion small dice
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp muchi curry powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • c beef stock


  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 2 ea sweet potatoes
  • ½ tsp muchi curry powder
  • ½ tsp coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ghee


  • Preheat oven to 350°F.


  • Rinse potatoes, poke them twice with a fork and place on baking sheet. Roast in oven for 1 hour or until fork-tender. Peel the skin off once you are able to handle them.
  • Cut up cauliflower and place in a steaming basket. Steam for 10 minutes, or until fork tender.
  • Puree cauliflower, potatoes and spices in a food processor until smooth or mash with potato masher for a little chunkier topping. Set aside

Beef and Vegetable Filling

  • Preheat sauté pan on medium-high heat. Crumble ground beef into hot pan, and sauté until for 1 minute.
  • Add garlic, onion, butternut squash, carrots and spices. Sauté until onions are translucent.
  • Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste and beef broth, and cook for 3 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat then add the garbanzo beans and peas. Mix everything together and pour into a 9" x 13" casserole dish. This can also be divided into smaller oven-safe resealable containers for meal prep!
  • Spread the mashed cauliflower and potato mixture evenly on top of meat.
  • Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and enjoy!
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Dennis Keohane is the Editorial Director for ButcherBox.