Monday, 10 March 2014

Cottage Pie

This was standard fare when I was growing up and one of the meals that I used to most look forward to. It was filling, comforting to eat and so incredibly delicious. I just love food like this. When I think of my childhood and the wonderful meals that my grandmother used to cook, this is the one that I always remember.

It probably sounds completely uncouth, but I particularly love to eat it with a mound of simply cooked frozen peas and a splodge of ketchup on the side. Cottage pie represents, in food terms, all that family means to me.

There is often confusion about the difference between cottage pie and shepherd’s pie and often the two names are used interchangeably to mean the same thing. In my mind there is a clear distinction between the two; cottage pie includes beef and shepherd’s pie includes lamb – hence it is called shepherd’s pie.

Traditionally cottage pie was made with left-over cooked meat from the weekend family roast. This was minced up and cooked in a tasty gravy, before being topped with mashed potatoes and baked in the oven. These days, it is most often made with freshly minced beef.

Although homely fare, the principles behind cottage pie have been adopted and refined by many top chefs and included on their menus in fine dining restaurants. I have seen cottage pie made with slow-cooked oxtail and also beef-cheek which has been served as part of beef tasting plates. I have also come across cottage pie made with duck and other meats. For so long dining in high-end restaurants seemed to be all about the experience and how the food looked rather than the primary focus being on the flavour of the food presented.
In recent years, top-chefs have been re-visiting some of the basic recipes that we all grew up with and that provoke warm feelings of nostalgia within us and have been using them in updated and exciting ways. I am all for this, because it helps to remove some of the snobbery and affectation associated and focuses on the fantastic taste of simple food prepared in a sympathetic way with lots of love, care and attention thrown in.


3tblsp vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped,
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
900g lean minced beef
2tblsp plain flour
1tblsp tomato purée
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
400ml beef stock
3tblsp Worcestershire sauce
Sprig of thyme
2 bay leaves
For the mashed potatoes:
1.5kg Rooster potatoes, peeled and chopped into large even-sized chunks
150ml milk, warmed
50g butter
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper


1. Heat half the vegetable oil in a large saucepan and fry the onions, celery and garlic over a moderate heat until beginning to soften but not colour. Add the carrots and allow sweat over a gentle heat for about ten minutes, again without colouring.
2. Add the rest of the oil and turn up the heat, and add the minced beef, breaking it up as it fries. Stir the meat regularly until it is evenly browned. Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
3. Reduce the heat and sprinkle in the flour. Allow to cook out for about two minutes, stirring continuously. Add the tomato pure and allow this to cook out for a further minute, stirring continuously.
4. Add the chopped tomatoes followed by the stock and Worcestershire sauce and stir everything together. Add the sprig of thyme and the two bay leaves. Reduce heat and allow the mixture to blip away for about 1½ hours. The sauce will reduce during this time and become slightly thickened.
5. While the sauce is cooking, make the mashed potatoes.
Mashed potatoes:
6. Put the potatoes in large saucepan and cover with cold water and a teaspoon salt. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat and allow simmer until tender. Tip the potatoes into a colander and allow to drain well. Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer back into the saucepan in which they were cooked.
7. Add the butter, followed by the milk and mix well together to create a smooth mash. Taste and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
To finish:
8. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.
9. Spoon the meat sauce into a 40cm x 26cm x 6cm (approximately) oven-proof dish and spread out evenly over the base. Spoon the mashed potato on top of the meat sauce and spread out, or as I have done, pipe out evenly.
10. Place the dish on an baking tray and cook in the pre-heated oven for about 40 minutes until the potato is golden brown and the meat sauce is bubbling up around the edges.

Serves 6.