Three cultures. one meal: Shepherd’s Pie à la Flamande

Two cultures, one meal... it's fusion to make the angels sing!

I love jamming two cultures together, combining flavors and textures of meals that I love, that I know for sure my husband will love, AND that I can easily turn into a vegetarian meal without compromising anything. Shepherd's pie - or parmentier - is such a dish. The city I was born - Ghent in Belgium - was historically a very important port in northern Europe, one where exotic spices were part of the trade. Add in the refined abbey brews and a need for cheaper cuts of meat among the working class and it should be no surprise these ingredients found their way into a stew that has kept its reputation as a delicacy throughout the centuries. Since the first published recordings in the 1800's, the recipe has not changed indeed, it probably hasn't since centuries before that.

The secret to a delicious Flemish beef stew is the complex spice mix, a dark beer that is little hopped, slightly acidic and spiced, and a good quality mustard. I have found these flavours work beautifully in an English shepherd's pie with mince meat, or in a shepherd's pie where the meat is replaced by a mixture of veg (I use green beans, carrots, courgette (zucchini), mushrooms, and endive in my vegetarian version) - and I really hope you will give this a try.

Ingredients and preparation - scampi / gamba/ prawn diabolique

Serves 4 to 6

  • Mashed potatoes for 4 to 6 people (I mash my potatoes with butter, milk, egg yolk, salt, pepper, a little of nutmeg until smooth and buttery)
  • 1 to 1.5 kg Brussels sprouts boiled in salted water until fork tender
    • OR the traditional peas and carrots
    • OR any veggies you prefer
  • 1 bottle of Leffe brun or Westmalle dark beer
  • About the same amount of  water as the beer bottle
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • Carbonade à la Flamande spices (Belgian recipe e.g. from Ducros)
    • 20gr per 500gr of meat = about 5 even teaspoons
  • 1 tablespoon of potent mustard (like Amaro brand or Maille Dijon)
    • in a pinch you can also use a teaspoon of red wine vinegar
  • 1 sprig of dried thyme
  • 500 grams of minced meat (I used 30% veal with 70% pork which I prefer; but you can use minced chicken or turkey, or beef, lamb, or pork)
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • butter

How to make your own carbonade spices:

  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed powder (or ginger powder)
  • 1 teaspoon of all-spice (= 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground cloves, 1/4 ground nutmeg) 
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon bayleaf powder


  • Prepare mashed potatoes as you would normally (keep warm)
  • Prepare veg to fork tender (keep warm)
  • Melt butter in a skillet (hot)
  • Sauté chopped onions to caramelized
  • Add minced meat and beef stew (carbonade) spices, salt and pepper to taste, and brown together.
    • Break up the meat with a wooden spoon
  • When meat is browned, add a couple of tablespoons of flour
    • incorporate well
    • sauté for a minute or two more
  • Use half beer/ half water to top the meat or a little more
    • of course you can also use all beer but the taste will be more intense
    • if you don't want to use beer, use beef broth
  • Pour the same amount of water into the skillet as the beer
  • Simmer until the sauce thickens (5 minutes or so)
  • Taste for salt and pepper


  • Preheat oven to 180c
  • Pour the meat and sauce mixture in the bottom of an oven dish
  • Arrange veggies on top of the meat
  • Spread the mashed potatoes as a top layer
  • Using the tines of a fork, make grooves in the mashed potatoes
  • Top with a few cubes of butter
  • Bake the shepherd's pie for about 25 minutes at 160c until bubbly and the potatoes are golden



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