In Sheep’s Clothing: Shepherd’s Pie Revisited

LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 42. Follow us as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms.

We spend a lot of time on this blog talking about what we get and how we craft it into the delectable dishes that you’ve come to know and love at our restaurant. This post is a bit different; we’d love to take you behind the scenes of the genesis of one of our newest dishes – “Shepherd’s Croquettes.” It all started with a desire to find the perfect lamb dish…

The center of the lamb industry in the United States is in Colorado, because they can raise lamb at high altitudes (where they thrive and are not as susceptible to heat waves). Colorado lamb typically is finished on corn like beef, and correspondingly has a taste and texture reminiscent of beef, but it comes with a premium price tag. Most of the other lamb on the market is New Zealand or Australian grass-fed lamb, which is a breed that does well in warmer climates, so it has a significantly different flavor profile. They are leaner, and gamier in taste, and smaller animals in general. Most American diners prefer the taste of Colorado lamb and the price of Australian lamb. In the past, in our restaurants, we didn’t focus on lamb because we weren’t able to get the highest quality of lamb at a good value, and we didn’t have a story about lamb worth telling. Then we met Craig Rogers.

Border Springs Farm 

Craig Rogers with his sheep and lambs at his farm, Border Springs Farm, in Patrick Springs VA…Photos by Peter Taylor

Craig Rogers is the owner and shepherd of Border Springs Farm, in Patrick Springs,Virginia. The farm is a breathtaking sight, situated among 60 acres of the scenic rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The small family-run farm raises Kathadin and Texel sheep, herded by a vigilant pack of hard working border collies. The lambs they raise are healthy—free of hormones and antibiotics, and that care really shows in the amazing flavor of the lamb. Border Springs provide phenomenal lamb to some of the finest restaurants on the east coast, but , being only an hour and some change away from Greensboro, they feel like our neighbors, and we value their proximity.

The Evolution of Shepherd’s Pie

We’ve put chicken pot pie on our menu at Lucky’s in the recent years, and because it was so well received, we pondered doing variations on other pot pies. We hadn’t thought about doing Shepherd’s Pie until we started buying this incredible lamb from Border Springs Farm. Then we thought, what if we did real Shepherd’s Pie—not like the milquetoast 1950’s American version with ground beef and mashed potatoes. In America, we have a tradition of making things more convenient, and then they lose their symbolism. People who raise cows have never been called shepherds, so why make shepherd’s pie with beef? Instead, we wanted to use turnips, lamb stock and lamb, as an attempt to honor and recreate the Scottish heritage of the North Carolina Piedmont in a Shepherd’s Pie. So without actually having been to Scotland, that’s what we set out to do. We made a rich lamb stock and included ground lamb and turnips, since they’re abundant this time of year, and we topped it with mashed potatoes. It had a wonderful taste, but it was not a glamorous dish to look at, and an awkward one to serve, with the task of putting a solid over a liquid.

Last year we prepared a Shepherd’s Appreciation Dinner at Lucky’s. Naturally we served five courses of lamb. We wanted to make Shepherd’s Pie, but needed to do it family-style for 50 people, which presented a challenge. As a simpler alternative, we decided to mix the root vegetables and ground lamb in with the potato cakes, and breaded and fried them. We served them sitting in the gravy. We ended up crowning them “Shepherd Croquettes,” because croquettes are potato cakes and the word reminded me of the shepherd’s crook—a historic cane-like tool for catching sheep. Having shepherd’s pie in this kind of presentation delivers a textural element that traditional shepherd’s pie lacks. The croquettes provide that crispy, crunchy element so many folks crave and love. We like that we are presenting something familiar, but in a different form, and we think that’s become the hallmark of what we do at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen. The croquettes were an overwhelming success at that dinner, so we vowed to recreate these for the spring menu at Lucky’s the following year, and now they’re on our spring menu, for the month of March. One of the purposes of dining out is to eat the things you don’t cook. Some people may attempt this recipe at home, but others might not want to take the time for it. For me, the magic of dining in a restaurant is that you’re essentially dining in someone else’s home. This is our home. We spend more time in this restaurant than we do in our own homes, so we invite you to come into our home and try these croquettes for yourself this month.

Shepherd’s Croquettes

  • 2 pounds mashed potatoes
  • 2 cups Croquette Filling
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs
  • canola oil

Place mashed potatoes in a bowl and add Croquette Filling. Combine by hand until well mixed. Portion into 3 ounce cakes (should yield about 14 cakes). Place cakes on a pan and freeze. When ready to cook cakes, remove from freezer and allow to thaw in refrigerator. Set up a three pan breading station with flour, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs. Dip each cake into flour, then egg and then breadcrumbs (pressing the crumbs into the cake by hand). Place about 2 inches of oil in a skillet and heat. Fry cakes in hot oil until golden on both sides and then place on sheet tray in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Makes 14 cakes.

Croquette Filling

  • ½ pound ground lamb
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ½ cup diced carrot
  • ½ cup diced celery
  • ½ cup pearl onions
  • ½ cup chopped shittake mushrooms
  • ½ cup diced turnip (peeled)
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp dried parsley

Heat butter in a sauté pan. Add lamb and brown. Season with salt and pepper. Add remaining ingredients and sauté until vegetables are tender. Strain. Makes 3 ½ cups.

For more: See our current menu at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen and our Blog Recipe Index: 

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