What Is Fisherman's Pie And How Does It Differ From Shepherd's?

In the foggy, sea-strewn lands of the British Isles, delicious meat pies are practically regarded as a medical necessity. Shepherd's pie, in particular, is one of the most quintessential British comfort foods with its decadently rich flavor and widely available ingredients. Sheperd's pie aka cottage pie is a hearty, filling, and affordable meal for even the most rustic of folks. While minced lamb is what gets layered among the cheese and mashed potatoes of the inland-oriented shepherd's pie, fisherman's pie uses a medley of local seafoods.

Both dishes share the basic construction, and share the quirk of being called pies though neither has a typical flour-based crust. The origins of both recipes have been lost to time, so it's hard to say which came first, but it's safe to assume because of their starchy characters, both would have come after Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the potato to Ireland in 1589.

The fisherman's pie

Legend goes that sometime in the 16th or early 17th century, fisherman's pie was born. The pie is so baked into British culture that there's even a legend surrounding it, having to do with the heroic Tom Bawcock of the village of Mousehole.

As far as how to put a fisherman's pie together, it's typically made with cod, salmon, and prawns, but there are other common options like haddock or scallops — availability and affordability are the usual guidance here. The seafood is briefly poached in milk, which is then used to make a creamy béchamel sauce that's drizzled over the fish. Onions are often added to the filling, but you don't often see quite as many vegetables as you would in shepherd's pie nor are there as many spices used. Mashed potatoes are layered on top, and the whole thing is then covered in cheese. It's rich in flavor and very filling — perfect for a cold winter day. 

The shepherd's pie

Shepherd's pie is traditionally made with lamb, hence the shepherd, but these days you're likely to see ground beef instead. It makes for a great winter meal when the cold damp chills the bones and you just want a hearty meal (and is a crackling fire too much to ask?) to warm you back up.

The reason shepherd's pie became so popular is that it was a great way to use leftovers. By taking leftover meat from a large meal and grinding it up to put in shepherd's pie, rural peasants were able to make their money stretch a bit farther. Shepherd's pie uses ground red meat (lamb is traditional, but you can always use beef for a farmer's pie) and is often accompanied by vegetables such as green beans, carrots, stewed tomatoes, or corn. This is all cooked together with garlic, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, rosemary, and parsley so you get a lot of flavor on the herb end. Mashed potatoes are then layered on top along with cheese, and finished in the oven. Depending on how you incorporate the cheese, you can either broil it briefly at the finish or break out the torch to brûlée it before you use it to get working on that fire.