A comforting and simple cottage pie recipe. Once you try Mum’s Traditional Cottage Pie you won’t have it any other way! – Hungry now? Jump to Recipe
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.
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? 😂
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.
A layer of rich and saucy minced beef, topped with some smooth and creamy mash finished with a layer of cheese? I don’t know who came up with this idea but wherever you are, whoever you are, I love you and everything you stand for.
And besides this dish being so freakin’ delish, the real selling point is how easy it is to make.
How to make Cottage Pie
- Beef layer – the heart and soul of a cottage pie is a rich and flavoursome ground beef layer. Fry up the veg, fry up the beef, add in the seasoning and liquids, then simmer away until thickened. Easy!
- Potato layer – yup, mashed potato plonked straight on top of the beef. I usually get going on this when the meat is simmering.
- Bake away – sprinkle on infinite amounts of cheese then chuck it in the oven until the top is golden and crispy. The smell at this point, I can’t even begin to tell you.
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.
Can I freeze cottage pie?
If there was an ambassador of freezing leftovers, it would be this. It’s the way I like to meal prep 😂
‘So what makes your mum’s cottage pie so damn special ey!?’
I mean it’s a valid question given you have no idea who my mother is. It’s also an interesting question which kinda got my brain ticking for a little while. Like, I know this cottage pie is damn special, but unfortunately the answer ‘because it’s mum’s homemade cottage pie, that’s why!’ doesn’t really cut the mustard. But here’s a few contributing factors that I think could be the reason.
Tips for the perfect Cottage Pie
- Gravy granules – I see so many recipes out there that thicken the mince layer with flour and it makes me want to cry. 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!
- 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!
Keep those 3 tips in mind and you won’t go wrong 🙂
The other perfect thing about cottage pie is that if there is any leftovers, it heats up perfectly the next day for lunch. Or even freeze them in portions for whenever the craving hits again (literally the only thing close to meal prepping I do is freezing leftovers).
Perfect if you’re a small family or aren’t big eaters. Heck, even if it’s just a one man show fear not, it won’t go to waste!
How to make a Traditional Cottage Pie (Full Recipe & Video)
'A comforting and simple cottage pie recipe. Once you try Mum's Traditional Cottage Pie you won't have it any other way!'
- 2lbs / 1kg Beef Mince
- 1 Large sized White Onion finely diced
- 1 1/2 cups / 150g Mushrooms, finely diced
- 2 medium sized Carrots peeled
- 2 cloves of Garlic minced
- 1 small glass of Red Wine
- 4 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 2 cups (500ml) Beef Stock
- 1-2 tbsp Gravy Granules
- 1 tsp dried Thyme
- 1 tsp dried Rosemary
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 1 tbsp Tomato Puree
- Salt & Black Pepper
- Olive Oil
- 4.4lbs / 2kg White Potatoes peeled
- 3-4 heaped tbsp Butter
- 1/4-1/2 tsp Ground Nutmeg
- 2 handfuls Cheddar Cheese, grated
- Generous helpings of Salt & Pepper
- Cream or Milk (optional)
In a suitably sized pot/pan, saute your Onions, Garlic, Carrot and Mushrooms in Olive Oil over medium heat until they begin to soften. Add your Mince, break it up and continue to fry over medium heat until brown all the way through.
Now it's Wine time. Pour in your Red Wine and leave to simmer for around 5 minutes to burn off the alcohol and allow the Mince 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 Mince 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 your Butter, Nutmeg and generous helpings of Salt & Pepper until a smooth but fluffy texture. Add cream/milk until desired texture if you are using it. Leave to one side and preheat oven to 220c (430f)
In a tin or baking dish, firstly pour in your Mince (removing Bay Leaf), top the Mince with your mash and finish with a layer of Cheese. Pop in the oven for around 20mins or until golden and crispy on top. Leave to sit for a few minutes to retain shape and then serve.
Watch how to make it!
a) Gravy granules - Whilst the gravy granules are a key part of this recipe for both flavour and thickening of the mince, 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 would consider leaving them out all together and allow the mince the thicken naturally. Whilst this may take a little more time, it's not worth your cottage pie tasting like perfume.
b) Seasoned Mash - Seasoning your mashed potato is absolutely key. There is nothing worse than bland mash taking away from the gorgeous flavours of the mince underneath it. For a creamier mash also add milk, cream or creme fraiche until desired texture.
c) 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.
d) Calories - based on using 1 tsp of olive oil for frying, 90% lean ground beef and no added cream/milk.