Cottage pie is an iconic British classic, often confused with a similar dish and one that shares a familiar name, shepherd’s pie.
What is a Cottage Pie?
Cottage pie is a baked dish consisting of a meat filling, often confused with its cousin, shepherd’s pie. Cottage and Shepherd’s pie etymology isn’t clear, but it’s widely assumed that cottage pie refers to a pie made with beef. Typically, pies tend to be made with pastry. Still, the word pie in this recipe refers to the mashed potato topping encasing the meat filling.
Traditionally, pies were baked encased in a pastry to aid in cooking before the invention of modern ovens. These pastry casings were initially discarded before eating. However, modern pies are consumed with the topping. Usually, these toppings were cheap and readily available such as pastries made with as little as water and flour. In Britain, as with Ireland and much of Europe, the introduction of the potato saw the rise of potato-topped pies such as cottage pie, shepherds, and Lancashire hot pot.
Mashed Potato for Cottage Pie
The potatoes for mashed potatoes should be floury to achieve a fluffy consistency. This recipe calls for butter and milk, as they’re commonly found in everyone’s fridge. However, if you have some cream, you can replace the milk and make a richer mashed potato. Some recipes also call for cheese, which will help give the pie a nice golden crust; however, I’ve opted against this.
Draining the potatoes and allowing them to stand for a few minutes will help dry them before mashing. A basic masher can also be used, but a potato ricer will help give the mash a smoother consistency and guarantee a lump-free mash. Note: When cooking potatoes, don’t overcook them, as they will become watery and unpleasant.
Shepherd’s pie can be turned into vegetarian and vegan versions, which is known by the name of Shepherdess pie.
Beef & Ale Cottage Pie
For the Filling
- 2 Tbsp Sunflower Oil
- 500 g Minced Beef
- 1 Large Onion Diced
- 2 Carrots Diced
- 3 Celery Sticks Diced
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 3 Sprigs of Rosemary
- 3 Cloves of Garlic Crushed
- 2 Tbsp Plain Flour
- 2 Tbsp Tomato Puree
- 250 ml Ale
- 300 ml Beef Stock
- 2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- Salt / Pepper To Taste
For the Mash
- 1 kg Potatoes Peeled and Cut into Large but Equal Chunks
- 2 Tbsp Butter
- 100 ml milk
- Salt / Pepper to Taste
- Heat a large pan over high heat and add half of the oil. Brown the mince in batches so it browns evenly without letting out too much of its juices, thus boiling the meat. Drain the meat and set aside.
- Heat the remaining oil over medium heat. Slowly soften the onion, carrots, and celery with the bay leaves, garlic, and rosemary.
- Add the flour and tomato puree once the vegetables have softened and the onions are translucent. Cook for 1 minute more to cook out the flour, then add the beef mince back to the pan.
- Add the ale, followed by stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the gravy is thick and the vegetables are tender.
- Preheat the oven to 200C or 180C for a fan-assisted oven or gas mark 6.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, and cook the potatoes for 20-25 minutes until tender.
- Drain through a colander and leave to stand for 2-3 minutes so the residual heat allows the potatoes to dry.
- In a pan, melt the butter, warm the milk, and add the potatoes. If using a potato ricer, mash the potatoes before adding them to the pan. Mix until smooth. Add salt to taste
- Once the beef is done, add the Worcestershire sauce, season to taste, and spoon into a casserole dish.
- Cover with the mash and bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes until the topping is crisp and golden.