Saturday lunch, which may include my nieces and nephews (aged from two to nine years old), calls for unfussy family cooking, and shepherd’s pie is a favourite.

I therefore tend not to include garlic or celery in this, just carrots and peas. My mother scattered the potato topping with grated cheese, which I think is delicious, and everybody usually asks for ketchup.

This recipe will serve six hungry adults, or four adults and four children. Castle lunches tend to be larger and Paul, our chef, may well double the quantities, preparing this in at least two separate dishes. Lunch is therefore served promptly with guests on each side of the Dining Room table helping themselves as the dishes are taken round.

  • PREPARATION TIME: 15 mins 
  • COOKING TIME: 1 hr 30 mins 
  • SERVES: 6


1 tbsp Highclere rapeseed oil

20g (¾oz) butter

1 large red onion, chopped

3 medium carrots, diced

800g (1¾lb) lamb mince

350ml (12fl oz) good lamb or beef stock (to which I usually add 2 tsp redcurrant jelly)

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

50g (2oz) tomato purée

2–3 sprigs of thyme

175g (6oz) frozen peas, thawed

10 mint leaves, finely chopped (optional)


1·5kg (3¼lb) potatoes (best floury or fluffy varieties such as Maris Piper or King Edward), peeled and chopped

100g (3½oz) butter

50–100ml (2–3½fl oz) milk

100g (3½oz) mature Cheddar, grated (optional)

Salt and pepper


§ Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6.

§ Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan over a low heat.

§ Add the onion and carrots and cook for 8–10 minutes until softened. Add the lamb mince and cook for 5–6 minutes, stirring often to make sure it all browns, then add the stock and Worcestershire sauce and cook for 5 minutes.

§ Add the tomato purée and the thyme and let the mixture simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

§ Meanwhile, put the potatoes into a pan of cold water and add a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and let them bubble until they are soft, which should take 15–20 minutes. Drain and mash the potatoes with the butter and grind in some pepper. Add milk, but not so much that they become too soft – they need to sit on top of the meat, not sink into it. Keep to one side until you are ready to use them.

§ Add the peas to the lamb, along with the mint leaves if you are using them. Stir well to combine before tipping the lamb mixture into a roasting dish.

§ Spoon the potato evenly over the dish, then take a fork and drag it around to make tramlines which will add crispiness to the topping.

§ Bake for 30 minutes in the oven until the top crisps.

§ If you are using the cheese, remove the dish from the oven after 30 minutes, then scatter over the grated cheese and return the pie to the oven for another 5 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and melted.

§ Serve with broccoli, roasted root vegetables and ketchup.