“We recently returned from Ireland where I enjoyed the absolute best cottage pie in my life. I have just made your recipe and it was a hit with the family and me! Will definitely make it again, thank you!” ~Kimmie
If you’re a lover of casseroles and comfort food you’ve probably come across a proper cottage pie before, maybe in a restaurant or pub, or maybe you’ve made one yourself. Cottage pie made with ground meat, veggies, and gravy under a crust of golden potatoes has been a beloved comfort food for centuries. My version is the best I’ve ever had, I hope you try it!
There’s nothing fussy or difficult about this recipe (unless you decide to pipe your mashed potatoes on top which, admittedly, is a little fussy.) The ingredients are dead simple, but combined in such a way that makes this one of the coziest meals ever invented.
What’s the difference between cottage pie and shepherd’s pie?
- The key difference between cottage pie and shepherd’s pie is the type of meat used. Cottage pie is made with minced beef, while shepherd’s pie is made with minced lamb.
- In fact the name was interchangeable until sometime in the 20th century when the name shepherd’s pie became associated with lamb. The original cottage pies were made with any type of meat.
short ribs elevate my cottage pie recipe
I’ve ‘upgraded’ my cottage pie just a little bit by asking the butcher at my supermarket to grind short ribs for me instead of picking up the usual ground chuck or sirloin. That little luxury that paid off big time in flavor. In fact I’m now officially obsessed with ground short ribs, and I’m already planning an epic burger post, so stay tuned.
I like to make my cottage pie in a pie plate, but any type of casserole will work. I could have even baked it right in my cast iron skillet and brought that to the table.
the potato topping ~ fancy or rustic
The mashed potatoes on top are made with buttermilk and good sharp cheddar cheese (English cheddar would be appropriate, although I used good old American Tillamook).
If you’re a quick hand with a piping bag you can pipe your potatoes the way I did for company (it’s what I also did on my Classic New England Fish Pie.) But normally I’d suggest just spooning the mash onto the pie. Use the back of a large spoon to make pretty swoops if you like. The traditional way is to use the back of a fork to create a crosshatch pattern.
No matter which method you choose, be sure to give the topping a little texture, and brush it lightly with melted butter before popping it in the oven, that way it will brown nicely.
how to pipe a mashed potato crust
if you plan to try to pipe your mashed potato topping you’ll need:
- a heavy duty piping bag
- a large open piping tip
- Make double sure that your potatoes are lump free. Any errant lumps can clog your tip and give you a headache (been there, done that.)
- Let your potatoes cool just a bit before filling your bag and piping. Very hot potatoes can be difficult to handle.
- I used the Wilton open star piping tip for my mashed potato topping. The Wilton 8B open star tip (which is even larger) would be another good choice too.
- Start from the outside edge and pipe in concentric circles until you reach the center.
Make this with ground beef for the family, and maybe splurge on the ground short ribs for company. Put it in the oven when friends arrive, and it will be bubbling and delicious when you’re ready to sit down to dinner. There’s nothing better than bringing a fresh-out-of-the-oven and still bubbling cottage pie to the table.
What to serve with cottage pie
Cottage pie is a hearty and filling dish that can be served on its own as a complete meal, but if you want to add more, here are some suggestions
- A green veggie such as peas, Brussels sprouts, green beans or asparagus.
- A fresh green salad.
- Pickles or chutney: A side of pickles or chutney can add a tangy and sweet flavor to the dish.
- Red wine: A full-bodied red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, pairs well with the rich flavors of the cottage pie.
Why is it called cottage pie?
- The name “cottage” may have been used to indicate that the dish was a humble, rustic meal that could be made with inexpensive ingredients, as “cottage” was a term used to describe the homes of rural workers.
- Another theory is that the dish was first popularized in the cottages of rural England, where it was a common way to use up leftover meat and vegetables.
Can I make cottage pie ahead?
- Yes! Assemble the pie right up until the baking point. Refrigerate until needed, and then bring back to room temperature before baking, if possible.
Can I reheat cottage pie?
- Cover loosely with foil and heat in a 350F oven until bubbling again.
- For single servings I use use the microwave.
Can I freeze my cottage pie?
- Yes, it will freeze beautifully. Let it cool completely before double wrapping.
variations on cottage pie
- Simplify with instant mashed potatoes, they’re not bad, and they save time in a pinch.
- Add frozen peas to your filling, add them straight from the freezer just before baking.
- Other variations of cottage pie ~
- St. Stephen’s Day pie, made with turkey and ham
- Sweet potato cottage pie. This variation uses mashed sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes, giving the dish a slightly sweeter flavor.
- Cheese-topped cottage pie. Some recipes call for grated cheese to be sprinkled on top of the mashed potatoes before baking, creating a delicious cheesy crust.
- Irish cottage pie. This variation includes a layer of cooked cabbage or kale between the meat and the mashed potatoes.
- Curry cottage pie. Curry powder or a curry paste can be added to the minced meat to give the dish an Indian flavor.
- fish pie, one of my faves, made with seafood and sauce topped with mashed potatoes
- The shepherdess pie, a vegan or vegetarian version using vegetables such as mushrooms, carrots, and peas instead of meat. Lentils or beans can also be used as a meat substitute.
- Pate chinois, a French-Canadian dish made with ground beef, canned corn, and mashed potatoes
more British and Irish recipes
- How to Make Clotted Cream
- Scottish Shortbread
- Irish Brown Bread
- Dublin Coddle ~ a quick cooking Irish stew!
- Classic Cream Scones Recipe
- Queen Elizabeth’s Favorite Chocolate Biscuit Cake
- Authentic Irish Colcannon Recipe (Mashed Potatoes with Kale)
The Best Cottage Pie
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 leeks, trimmed, thinly sliced, and washed
- 1 bunch thin young carrots or 2 regular sized, trimmed, peeled and sliced
- 1.5 lbs ground beef short ribs, you can use regular ground beef as well
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste, I always keep a tube in the fridge
- 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup good beef stock or bone broth
- a sprinkle of Wondra flour, a quick dissolving flour optional
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350F
- Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the leeks and carrots for about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate.
- Brown the ground beef, breaking it up as it browns so it has a nice crumbly texture. If it’s excessively greasy, drain some off. I didn’t, I like to retain the fat for flavor unless there’s a ton of it.
- Stir in the tomato paste, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and broth to combine. Bring up to a simmer and let simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the broth to reduce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If your gravy is very thin you might want to stir in a sprinkling of Wondra flour, about a teaspoon to start, which will thicken it up instantly. Be sparing with it, a little will do.
- Add the vegetables back into the pan and mix well. Turn the mixture into a large pie plate or casserole dish. Spread out evenly.
- Meanwhile boil the potatoes until very tender. Drain and mash with the buttermilk and 3 tablespoons of the butter. Add more buttermilk if the potato mixture seems dry. Fold in the cheese and season with a little salt and pepper if needed.
- Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the pie. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and gently brush over the mashed potatoes.
- Put the baking dish on a baking sheet to catch any drips, and bake for about 50 minutes, or until browned and bubbling.