I know, I know: potatoes aren’t “Paleo™.” And neither is white rice, heavy cream, or butter.
Well, at least according to the version of Paleo that many of us eagerly adopted when we first discovered this way of eating. But as I’ve said before…
…there isn’t just one definitive, monolithic, one-size-fits-all “Paleo diet.” Some Paleo eaters choose to go super-low-carb, while others of us are happy to munch on a baked potato or a bowl of white rice every now and then. There are Paleo eaters who can’t imagine life without dairy, and more orthodox folks who refuse to touch even a pat of butter with a ten-foot pole. The Paleo tent is big enough to fit a host of different approaches, but the core tenets of ancestral eating remain the same:
- Prioritize whole, unprocessed, nutrient-rich, nourishing foods. Eat vegetables, grass-fed and pastured meats and eggs, wild-caught seafood, and some fruit, nuts, and seeds.
- Avoid foods that are likely to be more harmful than healthful. Especially when regularly consumed, certain foods can trigger inflammation, cause digestive problems, or derail our natural metabolic processes, including many grains, improperly cooked legumes, sugar, and highly-processed seed and vegetable oils.
- Once a baseline of health is established, we can reintroduce some of these foods (like dairy, white potatoes and rice—not processed junk foods) to see where each of us sits on the spectrum of food intolerance.
In the beginning, I was briefly Primal (remember my early cheesy phase?) before going strict Paleo. And then, for a couple of years, I pretty much ate according to Whole30® rules, except for some dark chocolate and an occasional restaurant meal. But these days, I find that a bit of white rice and potatoes, along with heavy raw cream in my coffee, agree with me just fine.
And I’m not alone. Some think this is absolute heresy, but others of us now see Paleo as a springboard that helps us thoughtfully figure out what works best for our own health—not as a set of inflexible commandments to apply unquestioned.
That’s why I appreciate Russ Crandall so much. On his blog (The Domestic Man) and in his book (The Ancestral Table), Russ shines a light on traditional recipes for a modern Paleo lifestyle—dishes that thoughtfully re-incorporate rice, potatoes, and full-fat dairy. Some purists may scoff that Russ’ delicious and healthy dishes aren’t really “Paleo™,” but I don’t care. After all, mine aren’t, either. Also, my take on Paleo puts the emphasis on the “Nom Nom” part, and dogma leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Since Russ’s The Ancestral Table was published, it’s been a go-to resource on my overflowing shelves. So the other morning, when Big-O asked me to make shepherd’s pie for dinner, I knew just where to turn.
I was eager to make an authentic shepherd’s pie with mashed potatoes crowning the top of a meaty stew. (If you’re a tater abstainer, feel free to substitute the topping with Garlic Cauliflower Mashed “Potatoes” or make Julie and Charles’s Farmer’s Pie.)
Russ’s pie was a breeze to assemble. Even though I was bleary-eyed after working a long nightshift, I managed to crank out all the steps without any trouble; before I hit the sheets, I simply covered the potato-topped meat pie and stuck it in the fridge. (Bonus: resistant starch formation!)
When I woke up in the evening, I popped the pie in the oven and threw together a quick salad to accompany the one-pan dish. Not surprisingly, the meaty casserole was a huge hit, and Big-O insisted on bringing leftovers to school the next day. Nothing makes this mommy happier than discovering crowd-pleasing recipes that can be made with stuff I already have in the kitchen—and it’s even better when my kiddos go bananas (in a good way) at dinnertime.
Afterwards, I emailed Russ to gush about his Shepherd’s Pie and to ask if I could share his recipe with my readers. Being the generous guy that he is, Russ obliged. You know how you can thank him? Get yourself a copy of his gorgeous cookbook—and once you cook your way through it, you can thank him again for writing it!
Here’s what to gather to make a casserole that will feed 6 peeps:
- 2 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- ½ cup grass fed heavy cream
- 1½ teaspoons sea salt, divided
- 2 tablespoons black pepper, divided
- 1½ pounds ground lamb, beef, or a mixture
- 1 small onion, finely chopped (I used a combination of red onion & leeks)
- 1 medium carrot, diced
- 1 small celery root, peeled and diced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup chicken broth or bone broth
- 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- ½ cup frozen green peas
Here’s how you make this savory pie:
Place the potatoes in a large stockpot and fill with enough water to cover the potatoes by at least one inch. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until fork-tender, about 15 minutes.
Drain well, then return to the pot and add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Mash until smooth and firm, adding cream as needed, up to ½ cup.
Season with salt and pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon of each), then set aside.
In a cast-iron skillet, brown the ground meat on medium heat until most of the pink is cooked out, about 6 minutes.
Drain and set aside the rendered fat, then set aside the cooked meat.
Return 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat to the pan, as well as the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and warm on medium heat until melted. Chop your veggies while you wait for the fat to heat up.
Add the onion, carrot, and celery root and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes. (I added about a cup of sliced cremini mushrooms, too. I’m crazy like that.)
Next, stir in the tomato paste and garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes. Pour in the chicken broth, Worcestershire sauce, herbs, and more salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and mix in the frozen peas.
You can cook the pie in the cast iron skillet or transfer the filling to a oven-proof dish. Spread the meat mixture evenly in the pan or dish and top it with gobs of mashed potatoes. Use a spatula to evenly distribute the mashed potatoes on top.
At this point, you can store the casserole in the fridge for up to 2 days or bake it immediately.
When you are ready to serve the pie, preheat the oven to 450°F and pop it in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are browned. Rest the pie for about 5 minutes before digging in.
Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPhone and iPad app, and in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2021).