Cottage Pie – comfort food central! This English classic has a deeply savoury beef mince filling smothered in gravy topped with creamy mashed potato, baked to golden perfection. This is the sort of food that feels like a warm hug in a bowl and one of the best cosy foods to make with ground beef.
If you’re wondering what’s the difference between Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie, they are the same recipe ex pet Cottage Pie is made with beef and Shepherd’s Pie is traditionally made with lamb (because Shepherd’s herd sheep!).
Cottage Pie is a fabulous English classic, one that us Aussies have adopted as one of our beloved winter favorites! Or in my case, all-year-round-favourite.
Easy to make, economical, every day ingredients and 100% freezer friendly, it’s the sort of food that has universal appeal (well, putting aside vegetarians
There’s two components to Cottage Pie – the beef filling and the creamy mashed potato topping. The filling is beefy and deeply savoury and it WILL take willpower not to shovel it in your mouth as you’re cooking it…..
….then you get on with that creamy mashed potato filling and it WILL take serious willpower not to shovel THAT into your mouth too…
But you’ll hold out because you know that it’s worth the patience because when you pull the bubbling beauty of of the oven and see that crusty golden top, your chest will puff up with pride, everybody at the table will clap their hands with glee, and no matter how dismal the day, it’s just been made a whole lot better with your Cottage Pie.
What’s the difference between Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie?
There is quite often confusion over the difference between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie. Both are made the same way – a ground beef (mince) filling in a gravy sauce that is topped with mashed potato, sprinkled with parmesan then baked. (That crusty top is everything!!)
The only difference is that Shepherd’s Pie is made with lamb instead of beef. So if you want, just swap the beef in this recipe with lamb and you’ll have a Shepherd’s Pie!
What goes in Cottage Pie
Here’s what you need for Cottage Pie.
Feel free to switch the beef with any protein – this is delicious made with lamb (which makes it Shepherd’s Pie), chicken, turkey, pork. Also don’t fret if you don’t have carrot and celery – skip it or add other diced vegetables, like peas.
And here’s what you need for the mashed potato topping.
I like to put parmesan cheese on my Cottage Pie because it makes the top extra crispy and golden. But any melting cheese will work great.
Cottage Pie from scratch
This Cottage Pie is made from scratch, and it’s very straightforward. If you can make Bolognese and mashed potato, you can make Cottage Pie because it essentially follows the same steps!
I just have 2 little tips to make your Cottage Pie a resounding success:
- To stop the potato from sinking into the filling, cool the filling first. But this isn’t a deal breaker; and
- Ensure the filling reduces down enough (see video) to ensure you don’t end up with a watery filling after baking. It’s so disappointing when you break through the potato to be greeted with a beef sitting in a watery sauce!
How to freeze Cottage Pie
Cottage Pie is one of those rare foods that is truly perfect to make in advance. It will keep in the fridge for 4 days – assembled and ready to heat, or once cooked.
You can also freeze Cottage Pie 100% perfectly. You can bake from frozen – though it does take around 1 hour (it’s a formidable block of ice!!) or thaw then bake. Cooked leftovers also freeze well.
What goes with Cottage Pie
This is a meat and carb heavy dish, so it goes really well with fresh side salads like a Rocket Salad with Balsamic Dressing, or a Garden Salad with French or Italian Dressing. I recently served it with this Carrot Salad with a Honey Dijon Dressing which was a hit!
For a cosy meal on a cold winter night, try it with a side of Glazed Roasted Carrots and Sautéed Garlic Spinach. The only other thing you need is a glass of red and a crackling fire…
Or in my case, squatting by an ancient electric heater!
Watch how to make it
- 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 onion , finely chopped
- 1 carrot , finely chopped*
- 1 celery , finely chopped*
- 750g / 1.5 lb beef mince (ground beef)
- 1/4 cup (40g) flour (plain / all purpose)
- 1/4 cup (55g) tomato paste
- 2 cups (500 ml) beef stock / broth , low sodium
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) red wine (or water)
- 1 beef bouillon cube , crumbled (stock cube, or 1 tsp stock powder)
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp dried thyme (or 3 sprigs fresh thyme)
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1.2 kg / 2.5 lb potatoes , peeled and cut into 2.5cm / 1″ cubes
- 2/3 cup (165 ml) milk , warmed
- 2 tbsp (30g) butter
Parmesan Crust (optional)
- 2 tbsp (30g) butter
- 2 tbsp (20g) parmesan, grated
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic, cook for 1 minute. Then add carrots and celery. Cook for 3 minutes or until softened and sweet.
Turn heat up to high. Add beef and cook, breaking it up as you go, until browned.
Add flour and mix in. Add tomato paste, broth, red wine, bouillon cube, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper.
Bring to simmer, then turn down heat so it is simmering rapidly – I have it on medium high. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it reduces down to a gravy consistency (Note 1) (see video). Taste then add more salt if desired.
Transfer to 6 cup pie dish (1.5 litre / quart). Cover, cool if you have time (even overnight). Cool filling = easier to top with mash (Note 2)
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.
Cook potatoes in boiling water for 15 minutes or until soft. Drain then return to pot on turned off stove. Shake briefly and allow to steam dry for 30 seconds or so (Note 3).
Add butter and mash until melted, then add milk and salt. Mash until smooth.
Spread onto pie, use a fork to rough up the surface (rougher surface = more golden bits). Sprinkle with paremsan, drizzle with butter (or skip this and just drizzle with olive oil)
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until golden on top and bubbling on the edges. Stick a knife into the middle to ensure it is piping hot.
Stand for 5 minutes before serving, garnished with fresh thyme leaves if desired.
1. Filling thickens – Whatever the thickness of the sauce when you pour it into the tin, that’s what it will be once baked – no steam escapes while baking to allow it to reduce any further. So keep cooking until it’s the consistency you want.
2. Cooling the filling ensures that the potato doesn’t sink into the filling and makes it much easier to spread. If you are in a rush – as I often am – pop it in the freezer while you make the potato. That works pretty well.
3. Watery potatoes drops excess liquid while baking into the filling which makes the sauce watery. So don’t skip the step of steam drying the potatoes!
Also, make sure the mash is hot when spreading onto the pie. Cold mash is hard and so it is harder to dollop / spread onto the pie.
4. Variations: If I’m making this for company or am on a calorie-blow-out mission, I add a big handful of cheese into the potato and also top with more cheese before baking. It doesn’t need it, it’s a bonus.
For the filling, sometimes I add peas, or I reduce the amount of beef and add chopped veggies like zucchini.
5. Make ahead instructions: Assemble pie but don’t bake it. Cool mashed potato topping then either refrigerate (4 days) or freeze (3 months).
Thaw if frozen (it will take way too long to bake from frozen) then bake as per recipe. Or bake from frozen – covered at 180°C/350°for 45 minutes, then 30 minutes uncovered.
Can also do individual servings in ramekins!
6. Nutrition per serving, assuming 5 generous servings.
Originally published October 2016. Updated 2020 with fresh new photos and video. No change to recipe – I wouldn’t dare!
MORE COSY PIES
- Chicken Pot Pie
- Shepherd’s Pie (lamb – because Shepherd’s herd sheep!)
- Chunky Beef and Mushroom Pie
- Fish Pie
- Leftover Turkey Pot Pie with Garlic Bread Topping
- Browse all cosy Winter Warmers
Life of Dozer
That’s what Dozer looks like when he’s peeved. He’s cranky because he squeezed himself under this tiny table, waited so patiently for me to finish taking photos and he didn’t get a taste test!
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