A comforting and simple cottage pie recipe. Once you try Mum’s Traditional Cottage Pie you won’t have it any other way!
A good traditional cottage pie (not to be confused with a traditional shepherd’s pie) was, is and always will be one of my favourite dinners. Ugh, just the smell of it sends me back to being a young piglet, staring in the oven waiting to devour it.
Traditional Cottage Pie
Still to this day, the ingredients for cottage pie make it in my weekly shopping basket. It’s just one of those easy rotation dinners that you know is going to leave everyone hobbling away from the table because they’re so full. Which is usually my aim with anything I make, but cottage pie is the perfect dish to do that.
First things first, before we get into anything, let’s address the elephant in the room:
What is the difference between shepherds pie and cottage pie?
Traditional in Briton, a Cottage Pie referred to a beef layer topped with slices of potato (recreating the tiles of a cottage) and a shepherds pie referred to a lamb layer with mash on top. In recent times the difference has become slightly blurred, where cottage and shepherds just simply distinguishes whether the meat is beef or lamb, regardless of the type of potato on top. Now through personal experience, those in the US don’t use the term ‘cottage pie’ and refer to it as a shepherds pie.
And now you’re more confused than before right? 😂 Essentially Shepherd’s Pie = lamb and Cottage pie = Beef.
Cottage Pie Layers
- Beef layer – the heart and soul of a cottage pie is a rich and flavoursome ground beef layer.
- Potato layer – mashed potato plonked straight on top of the beef.
- Cheese layer – rules number 1 of cottage pie club – there must be cheese. Because cheesy mash > plain mash.
Tips for making the best Cottage Pie recipe in the world
Yes, you’re reading this right, this truly is the best cottage pie in the world. Accurately measured of course, not just me blowing my own trumpet 🤣
How do I stop the mash sinking into the beef?
Firstly ensure your potatoes dry out a little before you mash them. Let some of that moisture escape, otherwise it’ll sink into the beef whilst cooking. The other tip is to let the beef layer cool before you top it with mash. Because no steam can escape when it’s baking (as it’s hidden under the mash) whatever the thickness of the beef before the oven will be the same on the other end. So, to avoid a watery base and in turn a sloppy mess, let the mince thicken before you top it with mash.
How do you thicken cottage pie?
Here’s the secret weapon this this recipe – Gravy Granules. Not only will gravy granules help along with the thickening, but they’re going to turn the mince layer into a beautifully rich gravy as well. Win win! If you can’t get your hands on some quality beef gravy granules (I use Bisto), you can stir flour into the beef before you add the stock. This will help thicken the sauce, you just lose out on that extra layer of flavour.
‘So what makes your mum’s cottage pie so damn special ey!?’
Very valid question by this point 😂 Alongside the secret weapon of the gravy granules, here’s a couple more tips that were passed down from Mum:
- Depth of flavour – Alongside the gravy granules, a good helping of Worcestershire sauce and red wine gives this cottage pie a delicious depth of flavour, enhancing those gorgeous beefy flavours.
- Time – ‘Is it ready yet?’ ‘how much longer?’ ‘I’m hungry!’. Yep, you’re gonna hear a lot of that, but boy it’ll be worth it. Remember, there’s no such thing as a quick cottage pie! Allowing the beef to simmer will help marry the flavours together and tenderise the beef.
What do you serve with cottage pie?
Can I freeze cottage pie?
Absolutely! You can either freeze it before or after baking. I’ve added more on this in the recipe card.
For more similar recipes check out these beauties too:
Comfort Food Dinner Ideas
- One Pot Meatballs and Rice
- Spanish Chicken Tray Bake
- Chilli Con Carne
- Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Pie
Alrighty, let’s tuck into the recipe for this cottage pie shall we?!
How to make a Traditional Cottage Pie (Full Recipe & Video)
Mum's Traditional Cottage Pie
- Deep 12" Skillet or Large Pot with Wooden Spoon (for meat layer)
- Large Pot & Potato Masher (for mash)
- 8x12" Baking Dish (for combined)
- Tray (to place dish on)
- Chopping Board & Sharp Knife (for veg)
- Jug (for stock)
- Cheese Grater
Ingredients (check list):
- 2lbs / 1kg Ground Beef (10-12% fat works great)
- 1 large White Onion, finely diced
- 1 1/2 cups / 150g Mushrooms, finely diced
- 2 medium Carrots, peeled & finely diced
- 2 cloves Garlic, finely diced
- 1 small glass of Dry Red Wine (see notes)
- 4 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 2 cups / 500ml cups Beef Stock
- 2 tbsp Gravy Granules (see notes)
- 1 tsp Dried Thyme
- 1 tsp Dried Rosemary
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 1 tbsp Tomato Puree
- Salt & Black Pepper, to taste
- Olive Oil, as needed
Mashed Potato Layer:
- 4.4lbs / 2kg White Potatoes, peeled and diced into chunks
- 3-4 heaped tbsp Butter
- 1/4-1/2 tsp Ground Nutmeg
- 2 large handfuls Cheddar Cheese, grated
- generous helpings of Salt & Pepper, to taste
- Cream or Milk, as needed (approx 1/2cup / 125ml)
- In a suitably sized pot/pan, fry your onions, garlic, carrot and mushrooms in a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat until they begin to soften and brown. Add your beef, break it up with your wooden spoon and continue to frying until brown all the way through.
- Pour in your wine and leave to simmer for around 5 minutes to burn off the alcohol and allow the beef to soak up the flavour.
- After, add your beef stock, gravy granules, Worcestershire sauce, tomato puree, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, salt & pepper (to taste) and leave to simmer over low heat for a good 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this point it will look like you've got way too much liquid but it will naturally thicken, so fear not.
- Whilst your beef is simmering, get started on the mash. Whack your peeled potatoes in a pot of salted boiling water for around 15mins or until soft enough to comfortably slice. Drain (don't rinse) and place back in the pot. Mash with butter, half your cheese, nutmeg and generous helpings of salt & pepper until a smooth texture. Add cream/milk until desired texture. Leave to one side and preheat oven to 390F/200C.
- In a baking dish, firstly pour in your beef (removing bay leaf), top the beef with your mash and finish with a layer of cheese. Pop in the oven for around 30mins or until golden and crispy on top. Leave to sit for a few minutes to retain shape and then serve.
Quick 1 min demo!
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