Venison Shepherd’s Pie Credit: Sandy Oliver | Sandy Oliver

Maybe we should call it deer-herder’s pie. It’s one more good thing to do with ground venison besides burgers, chili, spaghetti sauce and tacos. Also, it should be noted that you can make it with deer or moose meat.

The traditional shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb with mashed potatoes spread over the top, though my recollection of it while growing up was that it had beef burger. In fact, the shepherd’s pie in my middle school cafeteria was upside down—a plop of mashed potato topped with ground beef gravy. I loved it.

It is time to get out your flexible-thinking cap because there are so many variations and tweaks for this recipe that you could make it for supper once a week for a couple months and not repeat yourself.

I used moose meat and cooked it with garlic and onions and thyme. Then I added beef gravy and put in a layer of corn (homegrown, straight from the freezer but frozen or canned from the store is just fine). I finished it off with mashed potatoes over the top.

So here come the variations. Besides moose or deer meat, or hamburger or ground lamb, you could use ground pork or turkey alone or in combination with the other meats. You can season the meat any way you like. I didn’t use Worcestershire sauce or A1, but those would work.

Oregano, paprika or some form of zippy flavoring with red pepper flake would be fine, too. I used one medium onion but lots more onion would be delicious unless you don’t like onions.

My favorite vegetable addition is corn alone, but a friend said he likes creamed corn, and another friend says she always uses mixed vegetables with peas, carrots and corn all together.

If you use creamed corn, you probably wouldn’t need gravy in the meat.

What about garlic mashed potatoes on top? Or mashing together sweet potatoes and white potatoes? Or adding a little sour cream to the potatoes instead of milk? One recipe I saw topped the mashed potatoes with grated cheese which turned all bubbly and brown. I’ll try that next time. How can you go wrong with cheese?

If you are taking it easy on the carbs, you’ll want a thinner layer of potato. If you have hungry teens, a thicker layer might be better. Life is too short to weigh potatoes or try to measure them out by cups full; I count potatoes. One medium-large one per person usually does the trick. Obviously, for little people, a small potato, and for hungry hard workers a large one. At my age, a medium one will do me just fine. By the way, evaporated milk is good in mashed potatoes which you can dilute or use straight out of the can.

To avoid more dishes than necessary, I baked the shepherd’s pie in the same skillet that I browned the onions and meat. That way, I had only a dirty pan from mashed potatoes and another from making the gravy.

Venison Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 4

4 medium-large potatoes peeled and quartered

1 pound ground moose or deer meat

1 medium or large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, or to taste

1 teaspoon thyme leaves, crushed, or to taste

1 cup beef gravy, homemade or prepared

2 cups corn kernels

3 tablespoons butter

Half cup milk or more as needed

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Put the potatoes on to boil.

2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a baking dish, or use a cast iron skillet.

3. Brown the meat together with onions and garlic. Add the thyme. Put in the baking dish, or if you use a skillet, remove from the heat.

4. Add gravy and spread corn over the meat.

5. Drain the boiled potatoes and mash, adding butter and milk. Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the meat mixture.

7. Bake for about 30 minutes until you see bubbling around edges and a light golden color on top.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...