The Best Cottage Pie Recipe ~ ground meat with veggies and gravy under a crust of golden potatoes ~ Cottage Pie and its cousin Shepherd’s Pie are the crown jewels of Irish and British country cooking and everyone should know how to make one.
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. The cottage pie has been a beloved comfort food for centuries, and I think 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?
- Not much, actually. Both pies contain ground meat, veggies, and gravy, baked under a crust of mashed potatoes.
- 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.
Speaking of meat…
I elevated 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 mashed potatoes on top are made with buttermilk and good old English Cheddar (although I used good old American Tillamook).
If you’re a quick hand with a piping bag you might want to pipe your potatoes this way for company, but otherwise 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.
Why is it called cottage pie?
- Cottage pie is quite old, going back to the 18th century in England, making it even older than the earliest shepherd’s pies. It originated when the potato was being introduced as a cheap food for the poor, and the dish was popular among the people living in modest cottages.
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 ~
- Brussels sprouts
- a green salad
- broccoli, green beans, or asparagus.
- notice the green theme here?
And by the way, when it comes to serving cottage pie, Britain’s The Guardian has advice for shepherd’s pie that applies equally well here ~
“Of course, only a fool would serve shepherd’s pie mash-side down. And do not be too prim with it. Occasionally, you see rectilinear slices of shepherd’s pie that look like an exercise in geometric precision. That is in no way aesthetically enticing. This should be a fat, casual splat of food in your bowl. One that clearly says: “Relax. You’re home. Roll your sleeves up. Dig in.”
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.
TIP: if you plan to try to pipe your mashed potato topping, use the largest tip you can find, and 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.)
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 and 1/2 lb 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
mashed potato topping
- 1 and 1/2 lb russet potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- salt and 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.
Make this cottage pie your own ~
- Simplify with instant mashed potatoes, they’re not all that 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
- fish pie, one of my faves, made with seafood and sauce topped with mashed potatoes
- The shepherdess pie, a vegan or vegetarian version
- Pate chinois, a French-Canadian dish made with ground beef, canned corn, and mashed potatoes
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