Turkey Shepherd's Pie

One of my all time favorite meals growing up was Shepherd's Pie. My mother would make it on those cold Connecticut winter nights when we all needed a good warming through. 

She made hers the way my father liked to eat it. Ground beef, yellow corn, and my mother's homemade mashed potatoes, made with sour cream and butter. Once assembled, she would add a few spots of butter to the top so that it would get nice and browned in the oven.

Over the years, I have recreated this dish so many different ways. Initially, I would make it just the way my mother did. Then I started making it with ground turkey, as a healthier option. My last year of college, I went abroad to England for a class. While there I was given the opportunity to have a taste of real British shepherd's pie. This version used green peas and chunks of lamb in a thick gravy. It was delicious...except for the peas. Peas are the only vegetable I dislike greatly enough to avoid.

I did a little research once on traditional shepherd's pie recipes. There are so many "traditional" recipes out there, it's hard to tell which came first - the chicken or the egg. But they are all rather similar when it comes down to the bones. However, not a one of them contained corn as my mother's recipe does...

My younger sister had an obsession with mashed potatoes as a child. They were pretty much the only thing she would eat. But not just any mashed potatoes. Only my mother's mashed potatoes. I actually recall a Thanksgiving spent at my aunt's house where my sister refused to eat her potatoes because they didn't taste like my mom's.

Her secret ingredient is sour cream. She once used cream cheese in a pinch, but they just didn't turn out the same. The sour cream lends a creamy, tangy flavor that I've grown so used to, I too have a hard time enjoying other people's mashed potatoes.

This shepherd's pie is a bit different than my past variations. It uses leftover turkey (I typically toss my Thanksgiving turkey legs and wings into the freezer after dismembering my bird and figure out what to do with them later), but you could certainly use leftover chicken. You could even use beef or lamb and swap out the chicken broth for something more appropriate. I also use mixed vegetables (I prefer frozen but canned would certainly work in a pinch). The mashed potatoes, however, will always remain the same - sour cream and all!

Turkey Shepherd's Pie

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30-40 minutes
Yield: 6-8 servings
  • 2 tsp Olive Oil
  • 1 small Onion, diced
  • 4 fresh Sage leaves, minced
  • 3 1/2 cups cooked Turkey or Chicken, shredded/chopped
  • 8 oz low-sodium Chicken Broth
  • 1/3 cup Sherry or White Wine
  • 1 Tbsp Corn Starch
  • 1 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes, scrubbed and cut into like-size chunks
  • 1 Tbsp light stick Butter
  • 1/4 cup non-fat Milk
  • 1/2 cup light Sour Cream
  • 16 oz frozen Mixed Vegetables (corn, carrots, green beans & peas), rinsed and drained
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
Mashed Potatoes:
  1. Place potatoes in a medium pot; fill with cold water until potatoes are covered by 1-2 inches of water. Place on a burner and set to high heat, cover the pot. Watch carefully so potatoes do not boil over. Once the water starts to boil, remove the lid and lower the temp to medium-high. Boil potatoes until tender when poked with a fork, 10-15 minutes.
  2. Drain potatoes well and return to pot, set back on turned off burner. Add 1 Tbsp of butter to potatoes and allow to sit, uncovered, for a few minutes to allow some of the moisture to wick away.
  3. Add milk and mash potatoes with a masher or fork to desired consistency. Stir in sour cream, salt and pepper to taste. Put the lid back on and set aside.
  1. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add diced onions and cook until tender, 4-5 minutes. Add sage and sauté until fragrant, 30 seconds.
  2. Pour chicken broth into pan and bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Scrape bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to break up any bits of onion that might have cooked on. Add turkey and stir to combine.
  3. In a liquid measure, whisk together sherry and corn starch. Add slowly to broth and turkey mixture, whisking continually until well combined. Allow mixture to simmer and thicken for 1-2 minutes, remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
  1. Preheat an oven to 375°F.
  2. In a large casserole dish (I prefer a glass one so you can see the gravy bubbling when the casserole is done cooking), assemble dish as follows. Spoon turkey mixture into base of dish and even out with back of the spoon.
  3. Layer vegetables on top, they don't need to be cooked first, they will cook up in the oven. Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper on top of the vegetable layer.
  4. Spoon mashed potatoes on top of vegetables and even out with the back of a spoon, making sure to push them into all of the corners and nooks and crannies. The mashed potatoes will form a "seal" and allow the bottom layers to basically steam cook from the liquid in the meat mixture. If you wish, put a few spots of butter on top of the potatoes, it will help them form a nice brown crust in the oven. You can also sprinkle the top of the potatoes with 1/2 cup of shredded sharp white cheddar cheese!
  5. Place casserole in oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until you can see the gravy bubbling away on the bottom layer. I would also recommend putting the dish under a broiler for the last few minutes if you like your potatoes really nice and golden brown.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as my family and I do!

Happy gluten-free cooking!

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