Last fall, I was asked to make shepherd’s pie for a client dinner party. The “twist” was that they asked me to make it healthy and with ground turkey instead of the traditional ground lamb or ground beef (when it would be called a cottage pie). That’s the Irish tradition, anyway.
I had recently made a similar shepherd’s pie for another client by adapting a recipe out of Comfort Food Makeovers from America’s Test Kitchen. While I find it educational to read many of the Test Kitchen recipes, sometimes they are a little too involved—even for me. But then the kitchen has a staff of dishwashers, so maybe if I had one, I would feel differently.
Here is my take on the recipe.
1½ pounds ground turkey
2½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup milk
1 large egg
8 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons Madeira or dry sherry
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ cups beef or chicken broth
2 carrots, washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Place potatoes and 1 tablespoon salt in a large pot and fill with water until potatoes are covered by about an inch. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook until potatoes are tender. This should take about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes in a colander. Let all the water drain out, as well as some steam to release so as to not make watery mashed potatoes.
While the potatoes are still hot, return them to the pan they were cooked in—but keep it off the heat. Mash with a potato masher until smooth, or place in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and blend until smooth. Top with butter, stirring it around a bit so it melts. In a measuring cup, stir together the egg yolk and milk. Add to the potatoes along with scallions and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until incorporated. Cover and set aside.
Heat a broiler-safe skillet over medium heat. When pan is warm, add oil, mushrooms, and onion, and cook until onions start to turn translucent. This will take about 6 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and garlic, and cook for approximately 2 minutes to caramelize the paste.
Stir in the Madeira, scraping brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Stir in the flour, and cook for about a minute to cook off the flour taste. Add broth, carrots, Worcestershire, peas, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf, and stir until combined. As mixture is coming to a boil, continue to stir and scrape off the bits on the bottom of the skillet.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Pinch ground turkey into 2-inch pieces and place on top of the mixture in the skillet. Cover pan and cook until meat is cooked through, about 10–12 minutes, breaking up meat chunks halfway through the cooking.
Combine cornstarch and 2 teaspoons of water in a bowl, then stir into mixture in skillet. Continue to simmer, stirring constantly, until filling is slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper.
NOTE: In the photos here, I assembled the pie in a casserole dish for a more appealing presentation for my clients’ dinner. This would be the point in the recipe to transfer the meat mixture to a casserole dish, preferably pre-warmed so your Shepherd’s Pie stays hot.
Adjust the oven rack to sit 6 inches below the broiler element and heat the broiler. Dollop mashed potatoes evenly over the turkey mixture, and spread out the potatoes so the meat is evenly covered with potatoes. You can use the tines of a fork to make ridges over the surface, if you so choose.
Place the skillet (or casserole dish) on a rimmed baking sheet and broil until the potatoes are golden and the sauce is bubbling, 10–15 minutes. Let cool slightly and serve.
NOTE: You might try substituting mashed sweet potatoes for the russet potatoes. I did and really enjoyed it.