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

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 🙂
4.95 from 20 votes
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Servings (click & slide): 8
Course: Dinner / Main Course
Cuisine: English
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Calories per serving: 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:

  • 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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