Cottage Pie

Wednesday September 1, 2004

I got a lot of requests for my Cottage Pie recipe from yesterday. Lacking much to say about today other than it’s been sunny, delightful in the shade, and a perfect early Autumn day, I’m happy to comply:

‘Recipe’ For Cottage Pie

Like a lot of old family dishes, this isn’t an iron-clad ‘recipe’, and can be varied to taste or whatever you have to hand in the cupboard. Basically, it’s a way of making a small amount of minced [ground] beef go a long way and still provide a tasty, nourishing meal for a hungry family. The quantities I use here are enough for four normal people, or two greedy ones. Once cool, the pie will freeze happily; defrost and reheat until hot all the way through. Or it can be reheated safely the next day if kept covered in the fridge.

This is the variant I cooked yesterday… if I’d had them I would have added some sliced parsnip, and it never hurts to throw in a couple of big juicy sliced tomatoes with a stewed beef recipe. Basically, anything that goes with a savoury beef mix but if you start adding things like chilli or other exotic spices and flavourings then you’re moving so far away from the English original you ought to call it something different


For the topping:

6 small potatoes, peeled or scrubbed, boiled in lightly salted water until soft, then ‘confused’ or ‘bashed’ with a dab of butter and a little cold milk. I don’t like the topping ‘mashed’ or ‘creamed’ until it’s all soft and textureless.

For the mix:

  • 1lb of lean minced [ground] beef
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 2 or 3 medium carrots, sliced very thin
  • Half pint of stock (you can use cubes if you wish, no shame at all)
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Beef gravy granules
  • Olive oil
  • Half teaspoon [two decent pinches] dried mixed herbs [that’s parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme]
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Salt for seasoning unless you’ve used cubes for the stock in which case there’s more than enough salt in the mix already


Heat a little olive oil in the frying pan until it’s good and hot, then add the onion and carrots. As soon as the mix is going, turn the heat down to medium and cook until the onions begin to go transparent.

Add the minced [ground] beef, and bash it around until it’s evenly distributed. Keep on cooking and stirring until all the pink is gone from the beef, turning the heat down a little if things get hasty. If the beef is fatter than it ought to be the excess should be tipped away or poured over some bread crumbs to make a fat ball for the wild birds.

Add the stock and two or three sploshes of Worcester Sauce, mixing all the while, bring to a gentle boil, and cook until the sauce begins to reduce.

Sprinkle the gravy granules over the top (I never measure the amount, simply aiming to produce a thick, rich sauce without going too mad) and follow immediately with the dried herbs. Continue cooking slowly, stirring occasionally, until the mix is good and dark, not too dry, not too wet. Taste, and add pepper if you think it needs it. It may be you’ll add a little extra salt at this stage but I have to tell ya I can’t remember the last time I added salt to this dish.

Empty the mix into an oval pie dish large enough to take the whole lot and leave half to one inch spare below the rim. You can also make the recipe up into as many small oval pie dishes as you wish for individual servings.

Spoon the bashed potato on top of the mix evenly, and spread it out with a large fork, trying to seal up all the holes and edges. Spend a couple of ticks forking a pretty pattern on top… does nothing for the flavour but appearance is important.

Put the dish (dishes) on a baking tray just large enough to catch any drippings, and pop into a preheated medium oven (180-190 deg. C) for about 30 minutes. The top should be nicely golden, with the ridges on the pattern just about to go dark (see, there is a purpose to the pretty pattern, after all).

Serve with the vegetable(s) of your choice or, if you want to retain some shred of posh, on a plate by itself, decorated with a couple of sprigs of parsley and accompanied by green salad.

A ‘Shepherd’s Pie’ is cooked almost identically, but ground mutton or lamb is used in place of beef; this makes a much greasier dish, and Graham will not eat it. It’s been suggested to me that minced [ground] turkey meat could be used, and I intend to try that, substituting thinly sliced leeks for the onion; if it works I shall name it ‘South Park Pie’.

Calories? Well, of course. Lots and lots of them.



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