Wednesday 27 November 2013

Cottage Pie

I can hear some of you already, "Hey Bram, that looks an awful lot like a shepherd's pie. What is a cottage pie?". It is a common misconception. A true shepherd's pie is made with lamb or mutton (hence, "shepherd") where the version with beef is actually a cottage pie. Here in North America it doesn't really matter if you use beef or lamb, we tend to think of it all as shepherd's pie. I don't have a problem with that, but I thought I would explain the difference as not to offend any shepherd's pie purists.

A few things to note before we get on with the recipe... Firstly, Worcestershire sauce. It is an absolute key ingredient and I do not recommend trying this recipe without it. Even though there isn't much of it in the actual dish, it makes all the difference. Think of Worcestershire sauce as the soy sauce of British cuisine (only much harder to pronounce). It has a deep, fermented, complex and salty flavour. It is not very appetizing on its own but used sparingly as seasoning can transform a dish. It's pretty widely available in supermarkets so you shouldn't have much trouble finding it. If not, you can always order it online.

As for the mashed potatoes, the cheese is optional. Here I've used Parmigiano Reggiano, which is great in mashed potatoes. Shepherd's pie (and cottage pie) is a quintessential British/Irish dish and Parmigiano is quintessentially Italian, but believe me it works! An aged white cheddar will work just as well in its place. It's all optional though. It would still be fantastic without any cheese at all. Mashed potatoes are a favourite in many, if not most, households in the western world. I'll tell you what I did but if there is a certain way you like your mashies, far be it from me to lead you astray. I also had a little bit of low fat sour cream left over from the fajitas I made earlier this week so that went into the potatoes as well but, again, it's optional.


1/2 kg (a little over 1 lb) lean ground beef
3 large starchy potatoes, peeled and coarsely cubed
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 cup of sliced button mushrooms (about 6-7 mushrooms total)
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup beef broth
2 tbsp flour
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes
1 egg
2 tbsp milk
2-3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp low fat sour cream
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)
2 tbsp of oil for frying
Salt & Pepper

Preheat your oven to 375F/190C.

I recommend starting the potatoes first. The reason being is not only will they take a while to cook but you want them to cool a little bit before you add the egg or you'll end up with scrambled egg in your mashed potatoes... which won't be the end of the world but it's not what we're going for.

Peel your potatoes and coarsely cube them. Boil in water until fork tender. Strain and add the butter, Parmigiano Reggiano, sour cream, salt and pepper. Mash until smooth. Beat the egg with 2 tbsp milk and mix that into the mashed potatoes. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Set aside until the filling is ready.

(I thought I took a picture of the finished mashed potatoes but apparently I didn't. I trust that you already have a good idea of what mashed potatoes look like though)

Add 2 tbsp of oil to a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot and mushrooms and sautée for about 5 minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper.

Add the ground beef and break apart as much as possible. A little extra seasoning at this point is recommended. Stir frequently for a few minutes until the beef is just cooked through. 


Add the flour and stir to combine. Let the rawness cook out of the flour for a couple of minutes. The flour shouldn't be enough to make the mixture gummy. It will help to thicken the broth into a gravy in a few minutes. After the flour has cooked in the mixture for a couple of minutes, add the garlic, Worcestershire sauce and the spices. Stir to combine and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Add the frozen peas and the beef broth and stir frequently over the course of five minutes or until the liquid reduces and the mixture is quite thick. Then remove from the heat. 

Add some finely chopped fresh parsley and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Pour the beef mixture into a casserole dish and smooth the surface evenly with a rubber spatula.


Now it's time to top with the mashed potatoes. WARNING: Do NOT spread the potatoes over the top. That will move the beef mixture around and essentially mix some of the potatoes in with the stew. For two distinct layers of beef and potatoes, plop large amounts of the potatoes on top without spreading or stirring.

Then using a fork, carefully cover any exposed meat with excess mashed potatoes. Use the fork to create a design in the potatoes. Some people do a cross-hatch design, I prefer a random, chaotic display. This is not just for esthetics. By creating more nooks and crannies on top of the potatoes you are increasing the amount of surface area thus ensuring that the potatoes will brown nicely and you will end up with crispy bits.

Add a little cracked black pepper if you wish and place in the center of your preheated oven for about 30 minutes.

Your cottage pie is done when the top is golden brown and the gravy begins to bubble up from the sides. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before cutting into it. It will stay in place better and prevent you from burning your mouth (not a good scene). 

Plate as you wish and enjoy!

Toronto got hit with its first few douses of snow this winter over the passed few days. A warm and comforting dish like this was inevitable. Back to the shepherd vs cottage topic, you could absolutely turn this into a Shepherd's pie by using lamb instead of beef. I would recommend a little less seasoning and maybe a tsp or so of cinnamon if you're going the lamb route. 

Give this a try if it tickles your fancy. It turned out to be a great dinner for me and the leftovers will taste even better over the next couple of days. 

Until next time foodies,


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