Take everything you know about shepherd's pie and throw it out the window. This is the real recipe you need. No offense, moms. This is based on a recipe my mom has made for years. It's rich, indulgent, flavorful, and everything you want in comfort food. There's not a lot of vegetables in the filling. The focus here is on the meat and potatoes, which is what you really want, right? I'll still advocate for vegetables, but not in this recipe.
First, get your dutch oven out and render some bacon. Can't really go wrong there, right? Then, add in a whole lot of onions and shallots (which are technically vegetables...). Get them softening up in the bacon grease (yum). Cook up your favorite ground meat in all of the bacon-y onion goodness. Wait, it gets better. Add some wine and reduce it down. Stir in some tomato paste and fresh parsley and let it do its thing for a couple of hours. Something magical happens when you let the filling cook low and slow. The onions caramelize, the tomato paste binds to the meat, the wine adds a luxurious body to the mixture, and all of the ingredients combine to become a decadent filling for your pie.
Now that I've sold you on the filling, let's get to the potatoes. Yukon golds are my favorite potato for any use. I love their creamy, buttery texture and sweet flavor. Most people add milk or cream to their mashed potatoes. But have you ever steeped your cream with herbs and spices? If you haven't, it's a total game changer. Imagine your favorite buttery, creamy mashed potatoes with notes of thyme, garlic, and nutmeg. Yeah, they're pretty good. I like to use a potato ricer to help get my potatoes to the perfect smooth consistency.
Now that you have the 2 basics of the pie made, it's time to assemble it. I like to grease the pan with some butter and spread the potatoes on the bottom and sides of the pan to create a little pocket for the meat filling. Spread the meat over the potatoes and then seal the meat in with more potatoes on top. Now add a healthy amount of shredded Jarlsberg cheese on top and it's ready to bake! Bonus: this recipe makes 2 8x8 pans, so you can eat one now and freeze one for later!
If you haven't tried Jarlsberg, it's kind of like a milder hybrid between Swiss and Gruyere. You want to really cover the potatoes in the cheese so it melts into a nice crispy, cheesy blanket for your potatoes. Sounds like the kind of blanket I need. Serve hot with vegetables on the side because, yes, they're still good for you.
Venison Shepherd's Pie (Hunter's Pie)
- 1 lb ground venison
- 6 slices bacon, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 4 shallots, finely diced
- 1 yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
- ⅓ cup tomato paste
- ¾ cup red wine
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoon flour (optional)
- 2 cups stock
- 5 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 2 cups half and half
- 6 tablespoon salted butter
- 3 fresh thyme sprigs
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon whole peppercorns (or ¼ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper)
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 8 oz jarlsberg cheese, shredded
- Cook bacon in dutch oven or skillet until browned and fat has rendered out, about 5-10 minutes. Remove bacon to plate. Add in shallots, onion, and garlic. Cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add in meat, season with salt and pepper. Break up meat with a wooden spoon. Cook until meat is browned, about 5 minutes. Add bacon back in. Add in wine and cook until liquid has reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in parsley and tomato paste. Partially cover the pan and simmer on low heat for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Add in small amounts of water if mixture looks dry.
- If you like your pie to have gravy, you can add in flour to the cooked mixture, cook for 2-3 minutes, then add in stock and let it boil on medium-low heat until it reaches gravy consistency.
- To a small saucepan, add half and half, thyme, nutmeg, ¼ teaspoon salt, peppercorns, and smashed garlic cloves. Bring to a boil and simmer on very low heat for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add in potatoes and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.
- Drain potatoes and run them through a potato ricer. Add riced potatoes to mixing bowl.
- Strain solids out of cream mixture and add the cream mixture to the potatoes. Add in butter and salt to taste. Mix on medium-high speed until whipped and creamy, about 4-5 minutes.
- Grease a 9x13 pan (or 2 8x8 pans, or 2 pie pans) with butter. Spread a thin layer of potatoes on the bottom and sides of the dish. Top with meat mixture and spread evenly over potatoes.
- Spread remaining potatoes over meat mixture. Sprinkle cheese over potatoes.
- Bake uncovered at 450°F for 20-25 minutes if your shepherd's pie is already warm. If you've refrigerated or frozen your pie, bake at 375°F, covered with foil, for 40 minutes or until heated through. Remove foil and continue baking for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is slightly browned and crisp.
- Assemble shepherd's pie in pie pan as if you were baking it. You can use a disposable pan if you'd like. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, then cover with foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw under refrigeration before baking.