Cottage Pie was my first true victory in the kitchen. More colloquially known as Shepard’s Pie, they are essentially the same dish, except technically Cottage Pie is made from beef, whereas the Shepard fills his with lamb or mutton. I originally got the recipe from my mother in law, who got it from a friend in the UK, so it’s a little old school and very simple to whip together. This is also a great meal for a crowd, since the prep work is short, and the time in the oven requires very little supervision. Enjoy by itself or with a simple vegetable prep, like glazed carrots or buttered frozen peas. I also like a salad with vinaigrette to cut the richness of the beef a little, if you’re feeling ambitious.
Shake says: Cottage pie is just about as quintessentially British as you can get. Boddington’s Pub Ale is a smooth, easy to drink accompaniment to this delicious, homey meal. It always makes me feel like I’m sitting in a delightfully named pub in the Cotswolds.
This recipe serves 4-6
Special Equipment: Dutch Oven
1 lb Lean ground beef
4-6 potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1” thick rounds
2 beef bouillon cubes, dissolved in two cups boiling water (Note: If you double this recipe, I usually find I only require one additional cup of liquid)
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, diced
½ tsp. Soy sauce
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. Salt
2tbsp. Olive oil
1 stick butter, cut into small pieces
2 tbsp butter, cubed
¼ cup chicken broth
2 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350° F
Place beef into large bowl. Season meat with salt, soy sauce, and Worcestershire (I don’t usually measure, I just toss stuff into the bowl until it seems right. With practice eventually you’ll get a feel for it too and save yourself some cleanup) Mix the beef and seasonings together with your hands or a spoon until evenly dispersed.
Fill a small saucepan with water and set stove at high heat. Add bouillon cubes when boiling.
Saucy Note: To cook the main part of this dish, I recommend a cast iron Dutch oven. It holds heat evenly on the stove and in the oven, and is great for browning and baking. My first one was from Target and cost less than $100, and I still use it when I need an extra pot.
Put the Dutch oven on the stove on medium high heat. Add 1tbsp. oil and heat until shimmering. Add beef, using a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula to evenly press the meat across the bottom of the pan. After 2-3 minutes, turn beef with spoon so browned side is visible, breaking it up into smaller pieces as you go (it gets easier as it cooks longer, you want to end up with mostly 1-2 inch chunks). Turn beef every couple minutes until browned all around. Dice the onion and garlic while meat is browning, keeping the onion separate from the garlic.
When meat is done browning, drain grease and put beef onto paper towel lined plate and return pot to stove.
Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil to Dutch oven and return heat to medium high. Add diced onions, stirring frequently until golden brown. Add garlic all at once, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds so garlic doesn’t burn (the garlic tastes yucky if it burns.)
Optional Step: Deglaze pot with splash of dry sherry. Pour a scant ¼ cup of dry sherry into the bottom of the pan. It will boil and steam immediately, so keep your face and hands away. Stir quickly while alcohol cooks off, scraping up the tasty brown stuff on the bottom of the pan, then turn off heat.
Return the meat and add the beef broth to the pot. Meat should just break the surface of the liquid. Put in 350° oven on middle rack and set timer for 1 hour.
While the beef is in the oven, make the mashed potatoes. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. While water is heating, peel and slice potatoes into 1” thick slices or cubes (it helps the potatoes cook more quickly and evenly.) Boil until tender when pierced with a fork or skewer. Drain.
Return empty potato pot to stove. With heat off, add cut up stick of butter to warm pan so it melts while you mash the taters. I mash my potatoes with an immersion blender because mine has a potato masher attachment (soooooo cool right?), but if you don’t have one, I recommend either a hand masher or a ricer. Stirring potatoes for too long will make them gummy, so treat them gently!
Mash potatoes in warm pan so the butter is incorporated. Add a pinch of salt.
When oven timer goes off, remove meat and set on stove. Spoon the potatoes across the top so it covers the beef with a thick layer. Sprinkle on a handful of shredded cheese (sometimes I want a lot of cheese, no judgment if you add a couple handfuls.) Return pot to oven for 20 more minutes, or until cheese is bubbling. Sometimes I also turn the broiler on for 2-3 minutes at the end so it gets brown and toasty looking.
While the cottage pie is finishing in the oven, make the vegetable and salad if desired.
For the carrots, peel and slice them into ¼” rounds. In a large skillet with a well fitting lid, add carrots, salt, 1tbsp. sugar, and chicken broth (The recipe calls for ¼ cup, but that is an approximate measure, depending on the size of your pan and carrots. The liquid needs to just barely cover the base of the pan, as in the picture below.) Cover and bring to a boil over medium high heat. After about four minutes, check carrots with a paring knife. They should feel just tender; if not, recover them for 1-2 more minutes. When tender, remove lid and turn heat to high. Reduce liquid to about 2 tbsp., stirring constantly. When liquid is reduced, add butter and sugar, continuing to stir until sauce turns golden and is thick enough to leave a bare streak on the bottom of the pan when you drag a spatula through it. Remove from heat.
Remove pie from oven when cheese is hot and spoon some beef, sauce, and potatoes into individual bowls. Serve carrots alongside, or spoon into bowls directly.