Beef/ Hearty Dinners/ Potato

Mum’s Traditional Cottage Pie

October 9, 2017 (Last Updated: June 25, 2020) by Chris Collins

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.

cottage pit served on wooden board with gravy dripping out of corners

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

  1. Beef layer – the heart and soul of a cottage pie is a rich and flavoursome ground beef layer.
  2. Potato layer – mashed potato plonked straight on top of the beef.
  3. Cheese layer – rules number 1 of cottage pie club – there must be cheese. Because cheesy mash > plain mash.

How to make cottage pie - 3 step by step photos

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.

cottage pit served on wooden board with serving spoon dug in showing gravy

What do you serve with cottage pie?

A lot of the time I’ll actually serve it as it is. But more often than not, if I’m doing a side dish it will be Green Beans. Cauliflower and/or broccoli also works great.

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.

If you’re looking for sister recipe to this be sure to check out my Homemade Shepherd’s Pie!

For more similar recipes check out these beauties too:

Comfort Food Dinner Ideas

Alrighty, let’s tuck into the recipe for this cottage pie shall we?!

cottage pie served in white bowl on wooden board with gold fork on the side

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How to make a Traditional Cottage Pie (Full Recipe & Video)

cottage pie fresh out the oven with beef dripping down edges of white casserole dish

Mum's Traditional Cottage Pie

A comforting and simple cottage pie recipe. Once you try Mum's Traditional Cottage Pie you won't have it any other way! Refer to the notes section before you start the recipe 🙂
5 from 12 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Dinner / Main Course
Cuisine: English
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Servings (click & slide): 8
Calories: 693kcal
Cost per serving: £2 / £2.50

Equipment:

  • 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):

Beef Layer:

  • 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)

Instructions:

  • 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!

Notes:

a) Gravy granules - Whilst the gravy granules are a key part of this recipe for both flavour and thickening of the beef, make sure it's a reputable brand. Here in the UK we do gravy granules pretty well, but I have bought some very questionable gravy granules from around the world. If you can't find any decent gravy granules (I use Bisto) I recommend stirring in 2 tbsp flour into the mince before the liquid is added. Fry it off for a few mins to get rid of that floury taste, then gradually pour in the liquid to avoid lumps.
b) Red Wine - I highly recommend adding this. It adds a gorgeous depth of flavour and pairs beautifully with the beef. Most, if not all of the alcohol will burn off, but if you're adamant you don't want to add it, just sub with more beef stock.
c) Finely Diced Veg - ensure you dice the veg (namely the carrots) nice and small, just so you don't get any huge chunks running through the pie.
d) Seasoned Mash - Seasoning the mashed potato is absolutely key. There is nothing worse than bland mash taking away from the gorgeous flavours of the mince underneath it. Adding cream/milk is not in the recipe video, but is in the recipe. My bad!
e) 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.
f) Make Ahead - You can make this ahead of time, just allow to cool, tightly cover and pop in the fridge for a couple of days or freeze for up to a month. Thaw in the fridge if freezing and bake at 190C/375F for 30-40mins, or until bubbly in the centre and golden brown on top. If you bring it to room temp before baking just use the times/temp in the recipe.
g) Leftovers - Cool and tightly cover in the fridge (2-3days, longer at your discretion) or freezer (up to 1 month). Thaw in fridge if freezing then reheat in the microwave until piping hot. Leftovers will be dryer, but still delicious!
h) Calories - based on using 1 tsp of olive oil for frying, 90% lean ground beef and no added cream/milk.

Nutrition:

Nutrition Facts
Mum's Traditional Cottage Pie
Amount Per Serving
Calories 693 Calories from Fat 251
% Daily Value*
Fat 27.93g43%
Saturated Fat 13.239g66%
Trans Fat 0.799g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1.236g
Monounsaturated Fat 9.628g
Cholesterol 145mg48%
Sodium 410mg17%
Potassium 1992mg57%
Carbohydrates 59.46g20%
Fiber 6.3g25%
Sugar 6.82g8%
Protein 46.52g93%
Vitamin A 6450IU129%
Vitamin C 39.6mg48%
Calcium 260mg26%
Iron 6.1mg34%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Nutrition is based on the absence of salt unless stated as a measurement in the ingredients. Cost is worked out based on ingredients bought from UK supermarkets, then divided by the number of servings. In both instances these values are just for guidance. Please check out my FAQ Page for more info.
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42 Comments

  • Reply
    Mr L J SLOAN
    April 27, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    This is more of a Cumberland pie than a traditional Cottage pie, because of the cheese and shouldn’t have any tomato anywhere near it, as when this dish was invented England didn’t have tomatoes, but if you like it then fair play.

  • Reply
    Jill Shepherd
    April 20, 2020 at 7:14 pm

    5 stars
    This was fabulous. We were supposed to be leaving for a 3 week European trip in 3 days and of course that’s not happening. So wouldn’t you know I would be craving things I will miss, firstly fish and chips (we lived in the UK many years ago and nothing here in the US quite compares) and also food like this. I’ve never really had a great recipe for this and the one my very NOT British mom made was literally seasoned ground beef, layered with a bag of frozen mixed veg and then (at least) real mashed potatoes on top. HAHAHA.

    Your recipe was PERFECT! I hadn’t found it until after I bought my typical ingredients, so I was sadly missing mushrooms but just increased the carrots for volume. Otherwise followed everything just about to the letter except the following:
    1. Gravy granules are a not a thing here, we have gravy mix but yuck, so after a long simmer when I still felt it had a bit too much liquid, I mixed a few Tablespoons of corn starch with cold water and just stirred it into the simmering mince and viola, the perfect consistency!
    2. With grocery shopping here in the US being hit or miss and possibly currently dangerous LOL, I had 1 lb of lamb mince and 1 of beef. LOVED the mix!

    My husband could NOT STOP saying how good this was. For context, if I must say so, I am a very good cook and he has lots of favorite dishes that I make but he continued throughout dinner to thank the internet gods for you and your blog, and of course praising your mum for her culinary skills. Oh yeah and for me finding this recipe and making it for him HAHAHHA.

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      April 20, 2020 at 7:43 pm

      Wow, what an awesome comment! Thanks Jill! Love the tip of mixing in cornstarch and the mix of beef and lamb sounds divine. Glad to hear it’s husband approved too Thanks so much for popping back and leaving your feedback, really appreciate it! Chris.

      • Reply
        Jill Shepherd
        April 23, 2020 at 2:07 am

        You are very welcome. He moaned through the leftovers the next day too. BTW I did leave out the nutmeg from the mash but to be honest its one if only 3 flavors that I am currently aware of that I do not like (and i am a VERY adventurous eater)
        1. Nutmeg
        2. Black licorice/ anise/fennel (all the same)
        3. And wintergreen (not sure what the UK equivalent is but ick)
        Bring on the snails, oysters and frogs but i pass on nutmeg. Go figure. 🙂

  • Reply
    Melissa J
    March 15, 2020 at 5:03 pm

    5 stars
    We’re following the #socialdistancing mantra and have been home bound for a few days now with our kids. We’re trying to be creative and have fun with our meals/ movie nights, which has turned into the highlight of our day. We’ve been watching Lord of the Rings and just started The Hobbit trilogy and I wanted something worthy of the Shire. This recipe is outstanding. Hands down the best cottage pie I have ever tasted. I made a few modification- I didn’t have tomato paste or worcestershire, so subbed in pizza sauce and a soy sauce, sugar, hot sauce combo, but it turned out beautifully. I put a layer of cheddar cheese in between the mash and mince and it was perfection. I also baked them in individual Apilco Lion’s Head soup bowls so everyone had their own yummy portion. Thank you for the awesome tips and amazing recipe. This one will be on rotation at our house!!! Cheers!

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      March 16, 2020 at 9:42 am

      So glad this went down well, the cheese layer between the mash and mince is genius! I’ll have to try that next time. Thanks for popping back and leaving a review 🙂 Chris.

  • Reply
    NAOMI
    February 16, 2020 at 3:53 am

    5 stars
    I made this tonight. It was fabulous! My husband had THREE servings and said this recipe is a keeper. The perfect meal for a cold night.

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      February 16, 2020 at 11:11 am

      That’s awesome to hear! So glad it went down well 🙂

  • Reply
    Adrian
    January 6, 2020 at 9:45 am

    5 stars
    Hi Chris. Just wanted to say a huge thanks for this recipe. Definitely the best cottage pie recipe out there. I pre-made this, froze it and took it to Cornwall for our family Boxing Day meal (as my Mum was cooking on Christmas Day so I thought I’d let her put her feet up on Boxing Day!). It went down an absolute storm – not a morsel left on anyone’s plate! Love your recipes and I always tell friends and family about your blog! All the best mate 😀

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      January 6, 2020 at 2:08 pm

      Hey Adrian! That’s awesome to hear the cottage pie went down well! That’s also very kind about speaking well of my blog, thanks so much for following along 🙂 Chris.

      P.s. Cottage pie on Boxing Day in Cornwall sounds like one hell of a combo!!

  • Reply
    Seng, Matthias
    January 2, 2020 at 9:31 am

    5 stars
    Hi Chris. Made this for our new year party, we all love it!!
    I´ve changed two ingredients: no gravy granules – in my mind you don´t need that for a good sauce – but used a bit of patato starch. Also I did it without vine, instead I´ve used half a bottle of malty black beer as an good tasting alternative.

    Best regards for the new year and – please – excuse my bad english… I´ve learned it 45years ago..

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      January 2, 2020 at 11:39 am

      That’s so awesome to hear you loved it! Glad it went down well 🙂 Thanks for popping back and sharing your feedback! P.s your English is great 🙂

  • Reply
    Sylvia
    September 8, 2019 at 9:59 pm

    I find the Cosco gravy works well for thickening in Cottage Pie. Also Oxo low salt granules for beef stock.

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      September 9, 2019 at 11:47 am

      Yup, Oxo is great! Thanks for the Cosco recommendation, Sylvia 🙂

  • Reply
    Janna
    August 25, 2019 at 7:20 pm

    5 stars
    My family decided to have a “British night” for one of our family dinners. This was a hit! The pan was licked clean by the end of the night. What would be typical British sides to serve with this?

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      August 26, 2019 at 5:35 pm

      So glad it went down well, Janna! Any sort of simple veg is the usual, in my household it’s always been green beans 🙂

  • Reply
    Tina
    April 4, 2019 at 5:20 pm

    Hey Chris! Can you subsitute beef with lamb to have Shepherd’s pie instead, and the rest remains the same?

    • Reply
      Chris
      April 4, 2019 at 5:33 pm

      Hey Tina! Yep, that would totally work 🙂

      • Reply
        Tina
        April 5, 2019 at 5:33 am

        By the way, I have made this cottage pie twice already and it’s definitely the best! Really authentic and traditional. Thank you so much!

        • Reply
          Chris
          April 5, 2019 at 10:45 am

          Ah that’s so awesome to hear! It’s always my go-to comfort food. Never fails! 🙂

  • Reply
    Sherry Marie
    November 9, 2018 at 6:35 pm

    Hi! This looks delicious and I’m wanting to make it, but can’t for the life of me find gravy granules here in the US. If you didn’t have them, would you use cornstarch or flour to thicken? Thank you so much! Can’t wait to try this.

    • Reply
      Chris
      November 9, 2018 at 7:23 pm

      Hi Sherry! I would sub with 2 tbsp flour and mix it in after the mince is cooked, just before you add the liquids. Fry it off for a few mins to get rid of any floury taste and ensure you stir the liquids in slowly to avoid lumps 🙂

  • Reply
    Liz
    October 23, 2018 at 7:10 pm

    5 stars
    Just made it! Amazing. Cheese is definitely an added dimension. I now have a go to recipe for shepherds (cottage pie) looking forward to the leftovers

    • Reply
      Chris
      October 23, 2018 at 7:45 pm

      That’s awesome news, Liz! Thanks for coming back and sharing your feedback. Enjoy leftovers 🙂

    • Reply
      Lisa
      March 8, 2019 at 8:04 pm

      I always thought mine was the perfect cottage pie but since I never use a recipe and I needed to teach Huckleberry (my son) how to cook before he heads off to UNI. . . We used your mum’s recipe. Huck says they taste about the same. . . Only thing we changed was the wine. . . We added Guinness. And Huck followed a recipe. Great job to you both. You make your mums proud.

      • Reply
        Chris
        March 8, 2019 at 8:08 pm

        Lisa! That’s so fantastic to hear! I’ll have to try it with Guinness soon, I bet that gives such a gorgeous depth of flavour. Best of luck to Huck at uni 🙂

  • Reply
    Mary Ann Coy
    April 11, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    5 stars
    Hi Chris Mary Ann from Boston, MA -USA again — the largest ethnic groups here are Italian & Irish. I only recently discovered the Traditional Shepherds Pie we eat here ( traditionally supposed to be made with lamb) but most dumb Americans use hamburger, is actually Traditional English Cottage
    Pie. I do want a definition of Gravy Granules? ?Beef bouillon? Or what. Using beef broth & red wine, instead of the ubitquitos Guiness Stout, sounds really tasty, l have broth concentrates for, beef,mushrooms, & onions they are LS & Vegan. I was wondering about using a slow-cooked brown butter roux. It has scads of flavor, bakes low & slow in the oven for 2° @ 225°F. Because it is so luscious, I would batch cook it then freeze in ice cube trays & stash cubes in a zipper freezer bag. It is simple to make. Equal amounts unsalted butter & flour( I use whole wheat) you can Sub some bacon cooking grease for some of the butter + opt garlic powder, onion powder, I would use some mushroom & onion soup base & some dried herbs. I batch cook & freeze. Justifies using the oven for 2 °. Comes out gorgeous brown, & very tasty. Convenient to have cubes in the freezer. Grab what you need when you need it . Takes about the same amount of time as your wonderful carmelized onions, no tending needed. Just set a timer so you don’t forget about it. I like to add thyme since I use baby Bella mushrooms & garlic in everything. You could also add fresh garlic then spread on bread, sprinkle with cheese for that American Appetizer Cheesy Garlic Bread. I note carrots & onions in the pie base, American’s add corn, peas +carrots & sometimes red bell peppers, no Idea why. Like the nutmeg in your real mashed potatoes(yum-Yum- YUM!!!) I use Plain.Soy Yogurt, strained in mine. I like adding a 16ounce bag of frozen mixed vegetables to mine, always pushing as many vegetables as possible, cheese sounds incredible, the nutmeg makes me think Swiss. If I use garlic mashed, a Vermont Sharp Cheddar. Just found a typical American Shepherd’s Pie using
    Mashed Sweet Potatoes with brown sugar, or maple, or honey & Apple Pie or Pumpkin Pie or Allspice, or Gingerbread spice mix. With butter. On its own merits, I plan to try it, Nothing to lose.
    Your Mum’s Cottage pie sounds great, looks so yummy, ❤️❤️ that’s a high 5.

  • Reply
    Jeni @ Biscuits & Booze
    January 18, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    5 stars
    ohhhhh, this is drool worthy! It’s basically the perfect comfort food dish. I wish it were more common in the US. But then again, for the sake of my dress size, perhaps it is good that it is not lol!

    • Reply
      Chris
      January 18, 2018 at 5:46 pm

      Oooo I feel ya! It’s certainly not one for the light hearted, but damn it’s worth it sometimes!

  • Reply
    Alyssa
    January 18, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    5 stars
    The perfect comfort food recipe! I’ve never heard of “cottage pie” before, but now I need to make it.

    • Reply
      Chris
      January 18, 2018 at 5:43 pm

      The perfect comfort food, you’re so right 🙂

  • Reply
    Traci
    January 18, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    I have been so craving something like this for weeks, literally! I really need to slow down, print this recipe, hop in my kitchen, and make this beauty…YUMMMM! Thanks for sharing 🙂 Bookmarking and sharing as well!

    • Reply
      Chris
      January 18, 2018 at 5:42 pm

      Amazing!! Hope you enjoy, Traci 🙂

  • Reply
    Amanda Finks
    January 18, 2018 at 3:46 pm

    5 stars
    So savory and comforting! Love it 🙂

    • Reply
      Chris
      January 18, 2018 at 3:52 pm

      Thanks, Amanda! 🙂

  • Reply
    Sara
    January 18, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    5 stars
    This is some amazing looking comfort food, can’t wait to try it!

    • Reply
      Chris
      January 18, 2018 at 3:52 pm

      Enjoy, Sara!! 🙂

  • Reply
    Terre
    May 7, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Yum!

  • Reply
    Mark Muirhead
    January 11, 2017 at 3:48 am

    A “leftovers” version of this is great for the day after your friends didn’t turn up to the over catered dinner party!
    Mince every bit of cooked red meat you can find (secret ingredient is fresh corned beef, not tinned), the flavours combine well, add in your saute’d veges (to taste), and dig up that bottle of home-made tomato ketchup you pinched from grandma as your fluid mush it all together and top it as per above.
    You don’t need the herbs as the corned beef and the ketchup bring a sweet, tart, hot (lots of cayenne in the K) and pimento/mustard tomato profile. Sound boring but works a treat!

    Sorry for the waffle!

    • Reply
      Chris
      January 16, 2017 at 6:12 am

      mmmmm that really sounds delicious Mark! If I ever try the leftovers addition I’ll certainly let you know 🙂

  • Reply
    Brian Lageose
    January 9, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    This looks and sounds delicious.

    • Reply
      Chris
      January 9, 2017 at 10:47 pm

      Thanks Brian 🙂

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