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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Shepherd's Pie with Jalapeno-Pea Puree

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Whether to use up leftovers or as a creation all on its own, shepherd's pie is an ultimate comfort food. But as I began experimenting with various ways to make the dish spicy compared to my tried and true recipe, I realized creativity can be utilized in each of the three foundational layers for a new spin on the classic:

The Meat Layer: While the traditional route is to use ground lamb, any ground meat or stewed meat chunks can be used (although it's technically called cottage pie when made with ground beef). Just make sure to drain the oil when using fattier meats like lamb and beef. My mom's route is always adding tomato sauce to the meat, but I prefer to make a roux with beef or chicken broth for a creamy gravy to combine with the meat. Also, chopped carrots, onions and celery can be added for extra taste (and nutrients).

The Veggie Layer: I love a layer of corn in shepherd's pie, and for many years, I would attest that this was the only way I liked it. But others swear by peas instead. For a spicy version of Shepherd's pie, I puréed peas with a few jalapenos, and loved the results. Other options could be roasted root vegetables, asparagus for a spring version or creamed spinach.

The Mashed Potato Layer: Try flavoring the mashed potatoes with a little horseradish or wasabi. Sweet potatoes with maple syrup is another option. While I've never added cheese on top of my potatoes, some people rave about the results. Or, add a strong dose of chile powder for a Mexican flair to the dish.

How do you build your shepherd's pie?

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