Growing up, Beef Shepherd’s Pie was a regular meal in my house. My mother made a Tex-Mex version that I loved. It was such a big meal that I could eat until I hurt for dinner, then wake up the following day and have more for breakfast.
One day I’ll work on replicate her version here on Texas Recipe Workbook, but for now, I’m going to share the version I make at home.
This is more of a Southern-style Shepherd’s Pie (or, potentially even English, except I use Shiner Bock instead of Guinness). I am a Texan, after all. I have to use a Texas beer.
The key ingredient for me, in my shepherd’s pie, is fennel. Once we start getting into fall, I start craving it.
Something about fennel hits the spot in the Fall.
This recipe is the first thing I cook when Fall weather hits (in West Texas, Fall is the first day the temperature drops below 90 degrees).
How to Cook Beef Shepherd’s Pie
This recipe is really rather basic. A little bit of chopping and lots of simmering is all there is to it.
The only cooking technique that you really should know to amp it up is how to brown beef, instead of steaming it.
Browning beef creates the Maillard Reaction, which is key to maximizing its flavor.
If you simply throw the beef into a pan, then break it up and stir while it cooks, it steams rather than browning. The released fat, coupled with whatever oil is in the pan, creates a barrier between the meat and the pan.
It turns it gray rather than browning it.
To get ground beef to brown properly, it’s best to start it cooking like you would a hamburger patty.
To do that, get your pan good and hot, then add a little cooking oil to it and swirl it around (don’t use a non-stick pan. Cast iron or stainless/carbon steel works best.)
Next, take your ground beef and smash it into the pan. Let it cook undisturbed for three to four minutes. This will give the beef time to sear.
It’ll stick initially, but that’s okay. Once it starts getting a good sear on it, it should release.
Once you’ve got a good sear on it, break it up with a sturdy spatula and cook it the rest of the way.
It’s a simple technique, but it’ll add an additional layer of flavor that you just can’t get any other way.
Beef Shepherd’s Pie
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1/2 lb. bacon - cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 lbs. lean ground beef (90/10)
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 2 medium yellow onions - finely chopped
- 1 large fennel bulb - finely chopped
- 1 large carrot - finely chopped
- 2 large celery stalks - finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 1 bottle Shiner Bock Beer
- 2 cups chicken stock - divided, preferably homemade
- 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary - finely chopped
- 1 tbsp. fresh thyme - finely chopped
- Preheat a large saute pan (12-inch) over medium heat and add the diced bacon, cook, stirring often, until it has rendered its fat and become crisp. About 10 minutes. Transfer to a large plate or bowl and set aside.
- Increase the heat to medium-high and cook 1/2 of the ground beef by smashing it into the pan with a spatula, and letting sear for 3 minutes. Add a pinch of salt, then break it up and cook, stirring often, until it still has some pink left in it, but isn't completely done. Transfer to the plate with the bacon. Repeat with the other half of the ground beef.
- Add 1 tablespoon of oil (if necessary) and add the onions to the pan, along with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes, until it starts to become translucent. Add the remaining vegetables and cook, stirring often an additional 10 minutes. Deglaze with 1/2 cup of chicken broth, and cook until almost dry.
- Add the tomato paste and flour and cook for an additional minute, stirring constantly.
- Add the Shiner Bock beer and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove any stuck-on bits. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half. About 5 minutes.
- Add the remaining chicken stock, the beef and bacon, and the rosemary and thyme. Stir thoroughly to make certain it's well combined. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has almost completely evaporated and the sauce is the consistency of gravy. About 30 minutes.
Potatoes and assembly
- While the filling is simmering, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover them by two inches with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a rapid simmer, cover, and cook until a knife easily slides through the thickest potato. About 35 minutes. Drain and place back into the pot.
- Put the half-and-half into a small saucepan and heat until the butter is completely melted. Pour into the potatoes, along with 1 tbsp. of kosher salt and 1 tsp. of freshly ground black pepper.
- Mash the potatoes with a potato masher, skin and all, until your desired consistency.
- Carefully dollop the top of the pie filling with all of the potatoes, then spread it with a spatula until the filling is completely covered.
- Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Serve.