What’s the difference between Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie? Shepherds herd sheep so that eponymous dish is made with lamb. Cottage Pie refers to a humble dish made with the less expensive pieces of meat bulked out with potato. People who lived in cottages in the 18th Century were poorer folks who worked the land so the dish is named after them and centuries later it’s still a stalwart of family cooking. Traditional dishes from other countries are adored and celebrated. We mustn’t forget to shower our own traditional dishes with the same love.
My top tips for making great cottage pie is to properly brown the meat. Don’t move the meat in the hot pan because it won’t have a chance to turn the sugars and acids into flavour bombs. Don’t boil your potatoes too hard, it makes for a better mash and don’t scrimp on the butter.
Serves 2 Adults & 2 Kids (with leftovers)
500g lean or medium fat ground beef
1 large onion
2 tbsps port
2 tbsps worcestershire sauce
2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
1 large sprig of rosemary
2 garlic cloves
1 beef stock cube
salt, pepper and olive oil
1kg mashing potatoes
sharp cheddar or parmesan for grating on top
- Peel the potatoes and cut into similar sized pieces that aren’t too small. If they’re too small they get water-logged and the mash get thick. Put into a large pot of cold, salted water. Put the pan on a medium high heat (not your hottest setting) and bring to a gentle boil then cook for 15-20 minutes until you can easily put a knife through the potatoes.
- Drain the potatoes and put them back on a low heat to cook for 1 minute. Add the milk and chopped up butter then mash and season to taste. Leave until needed to top the pie.
- Get a large skillet or frying pan (something with shallow sides) and put it on a high heat, not the max setting but very hot ( I have mine on 8 of 10 settings). Once it’s hot add 1 tbsp of olive oil then immediately add the ground beef and break it up with a wooden spoon then grind over some salt. DO NOT MOVE THE MEAT FOR AT LEAST 2 MINTUES. We don’t let ground beef brown properly which makes the meat chewy and less flavourful. You want it to actually brown because the crispy brown bit have released the sugars and made it delicious.
- Use a large spatula to turn the meat so that it browns on the other side. Season the cooked side of the meat with salt and pepper. After browning for another 2 minutes, stir the meat to break it up then use a slotted spoon to remove the meat to a bowl while you cook the onions. This stops the meat over frying and lets you get colour on the onions. Turn the heat of the pan down to medium/high and drain off all but 1 tbsp of the fat. You’ll see that there are lots of yummy brown bits in the pan, leave them in.
- Peel and dice the onion then add to the pan and grind over with salt. Stir the onions and all the flavour left in the pan from the beef will pick up and flavour the onions. Add the port, Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar then cook the onions for 8 minutes until they are golden and soft. Stir regularly and turn the heat down if the onions are browning too quickly, you don’t want them to burn.
- Finely chop the garlic and add it to the pan then after 1 minutes add the beef back into the pan and stir to combine.
- Add the passata and the beef stock cube then pour in the water and stir. Pop the rosemary on top of the sauce then cover with a lid or a piece of greaseproof paper cut into a circle and leave on a medium heat to cook for 5 minutes.
- Pre-heat the oven to 220° (220° Fan). Remove the rosemary then divide the meat between two similar sized oven dishes then top with the mash. I love an excuse to pipe mash but you absolutely don’t need to do that! Grate over with cheese.
- Pop in the oven for 20 minutes until the top is golden then serve. I usually freeze the smaller one for a rainy day when I don’t want to cook. Make sure your oven dish is freezable.