HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Hot or not?

Were some dishes made to be spicy and others not?
Excluding ketchup, what condiment(s) would go well on a shepherd's pie? Granted, we can do whatever we want but, If a recipe doesn't call for a spicy ingredient, does using one ruin the dish?
For example, I bought a pre-made shepherd's pie at Costco the other day and although it was quite good, I thought about adding a little something to give it a little zip but couldn't decide what.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Perhaps an acid like vinegar of some sorts? Or a spicy infusion of herbs, red wine , and butter?

    4 Replies
    1. re: Raffles

      I try to avoid things to vinegary such as tabasco but your infusion idea sounds great. I was thinking more along the lines of srirachi, habanero or piquin sauces.

      1. re: mucho gordo

        I was thinking more of a malt vinegar or even a balsamic...

        1. re: mucho gordo

          Mucho, sometime you might try any of the El Yucateco or Melinda sauces, which do not have vinegar.

          1. re: Veggo

            I don't think I've seen that brand. I'm using Zaaschila brand piquin and habanero as well as Castillo brand habanero. Neither have vinegar. Also using a great habanero/roasted pineapple salsa.

      2. As I write this I'm braising some turkey tails. They cook in water, soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, bay leaves and black pepper. I've done them several times and they were great. Today I decided to add a couple of chopped chipotles in adobo. Does that answer your question :)

        8 Replies
        1. re: c oliver

          After you've tasted the "NEW; IMPROVED" concoction, let me know if hot is better than not

          1. re: mucho gordo

            Will do! It's about 2.5# of 'butts' and a cup of liquid so I'm not expecting a gigantic amount of heat. But I seem to have a pretty high tolerance, esp. for chipotles.

            1. re: c oliver

              I put the 'jus' in the fridge overnight, removed the HUGE amount of fat. Then heated just a few swallows. The two chipotles in two cups of liquid are undetectable. But with the vinegar and soy sauce I'm not really surprised.

          2. re: c oliver

            "Popes Nose" braise? Where do you get those tails?

            1. re: Gastronomos

              Here's the thread:


              I have a Latino market that seems to always have them.

            2. re: c oliver

              You and the turkey tails, cracks me up every time. I'm so glad you found them, it's a true love affair :)

              1. re: fldhkybnva

                Ya know, it kinda cracks us up also :) Who'd a thunk?!?!?

            3. From day one, I have overdosed the black pepper in my Shepherds Pie; after the initial accolades I never though to experiment further. That's all it needs, black pepper to taste. If you want my entire recipe, just let me know. It's that time of year!

              12 Replies
              1. re: coll

                coll, you're right. black pepper indeed!

                But, for us today, we either don't know or have forgotten that until recent modern times, black pepper was not readily available around the globe and if it was attainable it was very expensive.. perhaps a bit over the budget of a 'shepherd' .

                I add black pepper to crème brulee... and fruit salad...

                1. re: Gastronomos

                  I've not traveled to all of Latin America, but where we've been there's never been black pepper in restaurants. We travel with it or buy a small shaker of it.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    But we're talking about Ireland here, not South America. Are we not? What does Shepherds Pie have to do with Latin America?

                    I also don't consider it an ancient dish, before the time of common spices. It was more medieval, which is when they were into highly spiced dishes, actually.

                    1. re: coll

                      You may note that I was replying to Gastronomos:

                      "black pepper was not readily available around the globe and if it was attainable it was very expensive.."

                      1. re: c oliver

                        I thought this was a group discussion? However you were the one that is bringing Latin America into the mix, for some odd reason.

                        1. re: coll

                          Definitely. G is talking about global. That's what I replied to.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            I'm trying to stay on topic and respond to the OP.

                              1. re: coll

                                hi coll,

                                You've got me on the ropes! LOL I re-read the OP. It says:
                                <For example, I bought a pre-made shepherd's pie at Costco the other day and although it was quite good, I thought about adding a little something to give it a little zip but couldn't decide what.>

                                So my response about adding different types of pepper was not totally OT!!! I would, if I had to, add horseradish sauce. But I don't always have that in my house. OTH, I always have the three types of pepper. When in doubt, I add pepper!

                                1. re: MrsPatmore

                                  You're not OT MrsPatmore, you are just riffing and I love that in a poster ;-) I'm just sort of a traditionalist when it comes to Shepherds Pie myself.

                  2. re: coll

                    Coarse ground black pepper is a given. I don't eat without it.

                  3. I would try chutney, hot mustard, or horseradish with a shepherd's pie.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Tara57

                      Hot mustard or horseradish sauce sounds like it might be worth a try. I was also thinking of melting some pepper jack cheese on top.

                    2. I'm thinking horseradish sauce. But honestly, when preparing (homemade) shepherd's pie or similar, I like to use a trio of pepper: black, white and red.

                      < If a recipe doesn't call for a spicy ingredient, does using one ruin the dish? >

                      Absolutely not, IMHO. I routinely use black, white and red pepper in cooking - even if the *original* recipe doesn't include all three. As gastronomous mentioned, historically, lack of access to pepper was an issue. Thank goodness for Penzeys!

                      1. HP Sauce is delicious with Shepherd's Pie. A Jamaican favourite sauce with a similar taste profile and little more kick is Pick-a-Peppa sauce. Both are lovely with this dish.


                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Breadcrumbs

                          I try to stay away from vinegar based sauces.

                          1. re: mucho gordo

                            Interesting as would seem to exclude many condiments then...including horseradish and mustard.

                            1. re: Breadcrumbs

                              I try to stay away from condiments where the predominant taste is vinegar. This includes, but is not limited to, tabasco and yellow mustard. I don't notice it so much in horseradish sauce or spicy deli mustard.

                        2. ... If a recipe doesn't call for a spicy ingredient, does using one ruin the dish?


                          5 Replies
                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Please elaborate, ipse. I think you're right. I do know people who want to put spicy things in and on everything. I recently made pasta carbonara with very, very good ingredients. I was cooking in a friend's home and she immediately grabbed the red pepper flakes. I implored her to give it a taste first and she didn't go back to them. (I know that's a different thread, but I'm just talking about the spicy part.)

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              That's my thinking, too, Ipse. It's why I asked. can you give me an example? Again, we can do whatever we want but, if it doesn't turn out well, such as C. Oliver's turkey tails, then we'll know not to mess with the recipe or keep trying other ingredients.
                              OTOH, a recipe can be just a basic starting point that will allow for individual creativity; somewhat like a computer app using an open code so programmer can customize it.

                              1. re: mucho gordo

                                Well "ruin a dish" is a very personal thing, that's why the answer is "depends".

                                It just sort of depends.

                                Depends on what a person likes.

                                Depends on what a person is trying to do with the additional spice/sauce, etc.

                                So, for example, with someone like you , mucho gordo, who is trying to add a bit of je ne sais quoi to a dish, adding some hot sauce (or whatever other foreign accouterments you can think of) does not "ruin a dish" if doing so makes the dish more palatable, and more perhaps even more delectable.

                                This is sort of like what our military personnel overseas do with Tabasco sauce and MREs, right?

                                Others are just "spice whores" -- they want all their foods to be spicy hot -- like fuck my tongue is about to fall off hot -- so they'll put hot sauce on everything and no dish is ever "ruined" by doing so.

                                On the flip side will be the adventurously intrepid cook who is simply trying to add an additional dimension to a pedestrian dish such as myself who one time decided that crushed Sichuan peppercorns would go well on Tabbouleh. It wasn't bad so much as it was no longer Tabbouleh -- and that for *me* anyway "ruined" the dish.

                                So, like I said, it just depends.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Tolerance for spice levels vary considerably. What you might consider "my tongue is about to fall off hot" might be my "Is this supposed to be spicy?" level.

                                2. re: mucho gordo

                                  So far, the 'jus' doesn't seem to have taken up much if any heat. But I'll be reducing it tomorrow and will see what happens.

                              2. I think hot ingredients *can* ruin a dish, but it depends strongly on the dish.

                                Shepherd's pie is a fairly robust flavoured dish - zipping it up via pepper, or hot sauce, or horseradish will change the flavour, but the base is something that will stand up to to it. It's not a subtle dish.

                                Taking something that has delicate, subtle flavours and making it spicy could easily ruin the underlying dish, though - all you'd have left is the spice part.

                                1. There have been plenty of ideas for your shepards pie already.

                                  I think spice is very dependant on the person- i love black pepper, horseradish, and strong ginger, but jalapenos just make me want to cry.

                                  Can spice ruin a dish?
                                  I think so- if you splash habanero all over a raw oyster the delicate natural flavor of the oyster is obliterated. If the first flavor is "holy crap that's hot" when you taste a dish then the line between enhancing the dish and ruining it has been crossed IMO.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Ttrockwood

                                    You're right about the oysters and that, I will admit, is the only exception to my tabasco sauce rule; 1 or 2 drops only. Period. No splashing all over. Somehow it enhances the delicious oyster.

                                    1. re: mucho gordo

                                      I've also been told that Tabasco will kill any germs/bacteria that are in raw shellfish, so all the more reason. Don't really worry if it's true or not, it works for me!

                                      1. re: coll

                                        If I worried about ingesting germs/bacteria I would be positively skeletal. If it passes the look/smell/taste test, I'll eat it.

                                        1. re: mucho gordo

                                          Me too, I always figure what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And when in doubt, a shot or two of something strong can't hurt either (thanks Mom!)

                                  2. I love cayenne pepper. It lacks flavor but it does *bite back* :) I use it when I cook only for myself though because others do not share my delight with it.

                                    1. The problem with putting something "on" a shepherd's pie is that then it's just "on" the potatoes and not getting incorporated into the meat. I make it often and make sure the sauce is well-flavoured and long-cooked so it hopefully doesn't need enhancing by barbarians with more salt, sriracha or anything else. (Nothing against hot sauce but shepherds pie isn't the place imho.)

                                      If I bought one and felt it lacked flavour,, I'd probably get out horseradish or Worcestershire sauce, or maybe even black pepper, and put it on the side of my plate to scoop a little up with a forkful.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Chatsworth

                                        I put a copious amount of hot paprika on top, tempered by some grated cheddar. I wasn't even thinking about "on", thanks for the reminder.

                                        1. re: Chatsworth

                                          "...doesn't need enhancing by barbarians with more salt..."

                                          thanks. I agree. Nothing more barbaric than Needing to add salt *ON* food. as you say, "getting incorporated into" is the point of any good cook or chef...


                                          1. re: Gastronomos

                                            I have two layers of flavoring: one is IN the meat, and the other is ON the mashed potatoes.

                                        2. Franks RedHot...I put that (*&^ on everything. Lizano but harder to find, love it. Costa Rican

                                          1. Aleppo pepper is nice to ad some spice, but not too much.

                                            1. I think that many classic French dishes would be absolutely ruined by the addition of spice.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                Good idea. Here's a link where some, not all, of the recipes are "French."


                                              2. My go-to condiment for shepherd's pie would be Worcestershire sauce, the good ol' British way. It is a sauce that has everything, including the spiciness, without being too sweet (unlike HP sauce).

                                                To me, I would never hesitate to add spicy condiments to a dish (including chocolate ice-cream!), if I feel like it. Spiciness is also supposed to help the eater to better experience the other taste components of the food.

                                                Among many other condiments and spices at home, I have a growing collection just for spiciness (or heat), and I usually try to visualize which ones work better for a particular dish I want to spice up on. In addition to Tabasco, mustard and black pepper, I also have spicy paprika, smoked chipotle pepper, a variety of chili and pepper oils, and also am ready to complement the dish with grated horseradish, ginger or onion.

                                                1. Way I see it, if the dish is good, you won't be looking to add anything that might ruin it. If the dish is not good, add whatever the hell you please, it's already ruined. I mean, why not try to salvage whatever you can? The tricky thing is trying to be cool about adding a spoonful of Insanity Sauce while your host is watching you eat.

                                                  14 Replies
                                                  1. re: MGZ

                                                    The dish was good, as is, but I was thinking of 'kicking it up a notch' as ol' La Gassy would say, and add another level of flavor without overriding the original taste. I tried a dash of srirachi which really did nothing either way. Since the main ingredient is beef, I'm now thinking of mixing in my standard rub for steaks to see how that goes.

                                                    1. re: mucho gordo

                                                      Shepherd's Pie, try using the traditional lamb! It's got a lot more flavor on its own, much more than beef. Maybe why it usually doesn't call for too much extra flavoring?

                                                      1. re: coll

                                                        mucho got it at Costco where they mis-label it...as happens too often.

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          Odd. Never heard of such a thing, but then again I don't have a Costco membership. Thanks for the warning.

                                                          1. re: coll

                                                            Hi coll, I'm 50 yrs old and grew up in the Northeast US. "Shepherd's Pie" was on the school lunch menu every week. Always ground beef, canned vegetables, and weird mashed potatoes on top. Growing up, I never met anyone who ate lamb or mutton. All of that being said, I have to thank my mother for packing my lunch every day!

                                                            1. re: MrsPatmore

                                                              I'm on the verge of 60 so that's probably the difference. I grew up with an Irish mother so we got that cuisine (for better or worse) at home...oh how I despised the smell of boiled cabbage! But we always had lamb for all the big religious holidays, I love it to this day no matter how much the price goes up.

                                                              I rarely had cafeteria lunches, although I would usually have the 5 cents or whatever it cost for the ice cream sandwich, which was heavenly after it melted a little. I think the only time my Mom would give us money for lunch it was always pizza day. Otherwise, she would make us date nut bread with cream cheese, or peanut butter and jelly and that type of thing, odd but I don't remember feeling deprived. School wasn't where we got our main meals!

                                                          2. re: c oliver

                                                            Places like Costco aren't too concerned with the nuances or distinctions involved in naming the dish correctly based on the main ingredient.

                                                          3. re: coll

                                                            Good point, coll. Lamb does have more flavor. But, whats in a name? They could have called it anything they wanted; it was still a good, hearty comfort food.

                                                            1. re: mucho gordo

                                                              I don't know how strict the laws here in the US would be, but Shepherds Pie is understood to be lamb, while beef would be Cottage Pie. If you have no complaints, then you're ahead of the game!

                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                I'm positive there was a CH discussion on this subject and it was surprising how few knew the difference.

                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  I think it's mainly the Brits who make this distinction. So many Americans will not eat lamb in any form. When I was a kid, school cafeterias frequently served "Shepherds' Pie" made with ground beef.

                                                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                                                    Where I live, there is a sizable ex-pat Irish community (not to mention my own heritage) but if I ever move from the area it's good to know how the rest of the country feels about it. I have never equated Shepherds Pie with a school cafeteria, I have to say. Sloppy Joes, maybe.

                                                                  2. re: coll

                                                                    I have no complaints. In fact, I recently saw a recipe for "Shepherd's Pie" that sounds fantastic and has neither lamb nor beef. I haven't made it yet but plan to do so soon.

                                                          4. I like sweet and spicy chutneys with SP, especially tomato chutney. I would also try sweet chili sauce, spicy cocktail sauce or a homemade(preferable) Harissa.

                                                            1. Since I'm just going on instinct, I looked it up for fun.
                                                              I have a "gourmet" tuna casserole in the oven as we speak, so believe me I'm not a stickler. But I will say that lamb blows away beef any day, and if you have to it is worth spending the 15 to 20 minutes to put it together yourself. With lamb, you won't need all the extra additions, yum!

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                "We want equality for the classic shepherd's pie" (from the article). Now there's a cross to die on. ;-)

                                                                In terms of whether shepherd's pie is made with beef and cottage pie with lamb, I think at this point, on the whole, either meat is accepted with either name. Happy to let purists be purists though.

                                                                I know Harters posted on this one time but can't remember where he fell on the terminology. I do know that since he's from Lancashire in northern England and my family is from Yorkshire, one county over, we are mortal enemies. Therefore, whatever he thinks, he's wrong, even if he agrees with me.

                                                              2. If the dish is savory, I frequently, almost always, will add chilli pepper powder and/or black pepper, copious amounts. The husband and I (and, in fact, his entire family) prefer spicy, flavourful food and have a very high tolerance for spicy food. The husband lived in the US for a few years and didn't like American food - too bland and boring for his taste buds. So yes, I bastardize recipes regularly and make it more suitable for our palate.

                                                                When we do get outside food, like pizza, that isn't spicy, we usually add copious amounts of chilli peppers and hot sauce to it. It makes it better for us.

                                                                So, "If a recipe doesn't call for a spicy ingredient, does using one ruin the dish?" The answer for us is no. Other results may vary.

                                                                1. I would have made shepherd, or cottage, pie incorporating Worcestershire Sauce which would be a common ingredient here. If I was having anything extra then it would be ketchup or HP Brown Sauce. But it is one of the dishes almost inherently intended to be fairly bland and comforting.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                                    HP Brown sauce or, my fave, Daddies!

                                                                    But, on the side, not cooked into it. Well, maybe even cooked into it. Why not? It IS bloody good!

                                                                  2. I was making stuffing for green peppers the other day using "meatloaf mix" which is ground beef, pork & veal that my supermarket sells. I sauteed onions and garlic then added the meat to the pan with salt & pepper. It tasted lousy. I had a Middle Eastern spice blend, Ras El Hanout on hand so I added a generous amount along with some Indian Chili powder & that did the trick. Excellent stuffing.