Venison Shepherd’s Pie
November 16, 2021
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
It’s taken me more than a decade to post a recipe for venison shepherd’s pie on this site, largely due to post traumatic stress syndrome from gawd-awful lunch lady renditions of this classic dish way back in middle school.
Those versions were abominations. Somehow gelled up so you could cut them like lasagna — and since I grew up in New Jersey, those lunch ladies did make a mean lasagna. But this was not that. Middle school shepherd’s pie smelled odd, unnatural. Not of this earth.
Now, finally, decades later, I present to you a venison shepherd’s pie worthy of the name.
The dish is English, and really quite old, dating back to the 1700s, when it was called cottage pie. Pies are a big deal in Great Britain, but this particular one has always seemed a sort of cheat because it’s so easy.
It is usually diced or ground meat — lamb, beef, mutton or venison — often with things like carrots, turnips, parsnips, maybe peas, a nice gravy, and typically Scarborough Faire herbs.
If you’re not familiar with that one, you’re too young. It’s an old English song made famous by Simon and Garfunkel back in the 1970s. I was just a kid, but I remember the “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” line to this day. I always hated that song…
But, unlike the rest of the great British tradition of pies, shepherd’s pie has no real crust. Just a layer of mashed potatoes on top, entombing the goodness like thick ice in February. This would keep the flies off the meat, and add heft to the dish.
I imagine that a venison shepherd’s pie was not uncommon back in the 1700s, although in much of England only the wealthy could hunt, leaving us commoners to literally eat humble pie. “Umbles” is an old English term for offal, and the modern steak and kidney pie is that ancient delicacy’s descendent.
When you set out to make a venison shepherd’s pie, understand you are doing two things at once: Making mashed potatoes, and the filling that goes into the pie pan; more on the pan in a moment.
So yes, there will be several pots going, as well as the oven. Nonetheless this is an easy recipe.
I am assuming everyone knows how to make mashed potatoes, although I will detail my method below. I like to mix shredded cheddar cheese in there for flavor and calories. You make that first and let it sit on the stovetop.
Meanwhile. you are browning the meat, browning the onions — both very important steps, not to be shirked — adding whatever vegetable matter you’ve chosen to toss in there, and finally making a lovely gravy to tie it all together.
The gravy for my venison shepherd’s pie is a hodgepodge of good British things to eat: a dollop mustard, Worcestershire, a splash of Maggi, a touch of tomato paste.
It is thinned out with red wine (claret), or a dark, malty beer, some beef or venison stock, and the whole lot is cooked down so that the filling is wet, but not soupy.
Now you can go all homey and use a standard 9×13 casserole dish — this recipe is designed to fill one — or use something nicer, or even individual ramekins, which pretty up what is otherwise a very homey dish.
Once made, your venison shepherd’s pie will keep a week in the fridge.
Venison Shepherd’s Pie
- 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1/2 cup half and half, or buttermilk
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, about 3 ounces
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 pounds ground venison, or other meat
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut small
- 1 parsnip, peeled and cut small (optional)
- 1 cup peas (optional)
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 cup red wine, or malty beer
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 cup venison stock, or beef stock
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
- 2 teaspoons Maggi sauce (optional)
- Black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- Set a large pot of water over high heat, add the potatoes, and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender. Drain the pot, then return the potatoes to the pot. Turn the heat to low. Let them steam a couple minutes.
- Add the remaining potato ingredients and mash it all well. You want the potatoes to be delicious, and fluffy. Set aside for now.
- Heat the butter in a large, wide pan over high heat. When it just barely starts to brown, add the venison and brown well; salt it as it cooks. Take your time here, because you want good browning, not just gray meat. Remove and set aside.
- Add the onions to the pan and some more butter if you want. Brown the onions well, too, over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, parsnips and garlic and cook another couple minutes.
- Set a large Dutch oven or similar pot over medium heat. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Add the browned meat and onions to the Dutch oven, plus all the remaining ingredients — except for the last 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. Stir well and bring to a boil. Boil this down, stirring often, until the mixture is wet, but not soupy. This should take 5 to 10 minutes.
- Pour the meat mixture into a 9×13 casserole dish or other similar baking dishes. Leave about 1 inch space for the potatoes. cover the casserole with the potatoes and make the surface irregular, which will make nice brown marks. Sprinkle that last 1/2 cup of cheese over the top. Bake until everything is pretty and browned, about 25 minutes.
Keys to Success
- The alcohol you choose to cook with should be what you drink with your shepherd’s pie, so a decent dry red or, ideally, an English ale. Can’t use alcohol? Use more stock.
- The Maggi really adds something to this dish, but is not 100% required.
- If you like this filling, it makes a great filling for venison pasties, too.
- Once it goes into the oven, you are really just heating things up and looking for pretty browning on top. Everything is already cooked, so the timing is approximate.
- The ramekin idea elevates shepherd’s pie to a dinner party or date night dish. Definitely give it a whirl.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Delicious and so simple to make. We made this together as a fun date night – I did the potatoes and he did the meat (this year’s white tail) and veggie prep. About 10 minutes of the final baking step he stands up and yells “F*ck!” Turns out he left the peas in the freezer! It was delicious regardless, just missing that little pop of green. He also forgot the stock but compensated with more of the barrel aged bock we had and it was still amazing. And since it’s just the 2 of us, leftovers for days!
Thank you for sharing this recipe. Simple enough and spot on! Ive always preferred venison for a shepherds pie and have had many different versions, but this has been the best one yet. Again, thank you!
Hullo Hank,,, Can I take you back to my childhood days,, 1940’s War Years ,,when us kids helped our German Grandma turn the handle of her mincer that she had screwed to her kitchen table, while she fed pieces of left over Roast Lamb, or Mutton, (they had their own few sheep,,,) into it to grind it into a mince,, which she then mixed Tomato Sauce, and a dash of Worcestershire Sauce through it, topped it with mash potato and made little hills to make it look good when browned in her big wood stove,, that delicious taste and texture of that ground meat is delicious,, not a bit like Cottage Pie which is made with mince meat from butcher, that has to be cooked, and lots vegies added from the cottage garden, thus the name !!!
So I dont understand shy so many top cooks do not make it clear when they say “ground” meat,, which is ground cooked meat !! or “mince”meat from butcher,,, Ellen was right, Shepherds Pie is lamb or mutton.. but it is already cooked meat, so no great long list of ingredients needed,, in later years we did add some Pickled Leg of Mutton, or silverside to it .. and boiled vegies were served beside it,,
I do hope my “on the spot” knowledge of all those years ago,, helps all top cooks to recognise the huge difference between these two delicious pies ,, the taste and texture of that ground Roasted meat is delicious,, thanks for reading this ,,, Marion.
I add, – and cattle did not have shepherds,, !!!?? and you sound like a very interesting cook too,,
By far the most gourmet tasting Shepherds Pie I’ve ever had. It was delicious. Will definitely make it again next time I have some Venison. Thanks for sharing this recipe and I’m going to share it too for my many Hunter friends.
Thank you SO much for this recipe!! It was delicious. Even my toddler loved it.
A delicious take on a classic.
Made this exactly to instructions and it was amazing!! I ground my own venison, (4:1 ratio with beef fat) the night before. I just used my Dutch oven to bake instead of getting another dish dirty. Truly a beautiful recipe I’ll use again.
This looks amazing, will try with wild turkey. Hank, any suggestions for dairy substitutes (have a kid with a severe dairy allergy)? Thx, another home run!
Alex: Yes, skip the dairy. Add a nice oil to the potatoes instead so they are not dry.
Even the mother in-law was impressed with this recipe. I used a bay leaf in place of maggi sause.
Homerun, as usual, fratello?
Wonder if spec would work? Dove?
Over to you.
PS Do we get a notification when you answer, sir? If not, could you email me when (if) you do?
I have done this with Specs! I smoke at 180 until internal temp of 100 degree. Cut into small cubes and use instead of venison. I double or triple the garlic. My choice.
Pierce: Good call! Sounds delicious.
Lou: Yes, it will work with basically any meat. Another commenter says he uses specks, too.
Shepherds Pie was for sheep/lamb/mutton
Cottage pie was for cow/beef/steak
Venison: Hunter’s Pie? 😉
This, and the whole cadre of British meat pies are some of the best meat cooking out there, IMO.
We’ll add in caramelized mushrooms in there occasionally, or skip the tomato, depending on season.
Love the parsnips ??
I had a heart emoji after parsnips, don’t know why the question marks showed up…
Would this dish be good to freeze? If yes, best method?
Krystal: I don’t think so, sorry.
Seems like this would lend itself to using chicken pot pie tins and then freeze for quick easy meals this winter? What do you think?
All the best,
There is a difference between shepherd’s pie and cottage pie. Cottage has vegetables in with the meat. Shepherd’s does not.
In common usage in the UK, if it does not have lamb in it, it is not a Shepherd’s Pie!
A Cottage Pie usually has beef in it but there is no reason why it should not have venison instead. Although our woods and forests are full of deer, there is almost no tradition of hunting deer (except for Red Deer in Scotland) and we get most of our venison from traditional butchers using farmed meat.
Your recipe sounds delicious!
This looks amazing! Any reason I can’t assemble the pie, refrigerate, and bake the next day?
There really isn’t. The safe way to do that would be to let the component parts cool well before assembling. Otherwise it may not cool safely in the refrigerator. It’s too thick.
I’ve been making venison shepherds pie almost exactly like this (Maggi seasoning??) since forever and it is wonderful. But I use the deep cast iron fry pan I brown things in to bake it in the oven. Saves a pan. This recipe is one reason I prefer so much ground venison (and lamb; we butcher 2 a year) in the freezer!
James Beard threw a little flour in with his potatoes to improve browning. I do that when I make my “Lonely Shepherd’s Pie.” Why lonely? I developed it when I was a vegetarian (to prevent gout attacks), it has beans instead of mutton. That must have been one lonely shepherd.
Try sweet potatoes.
Now you’re ready to entertain Her Majesty, should she just drop by!