This easy cottage pie recipe is a very popular traditional British recipe loved by many families. It makes for an economical yet delicious family dinner.
With its delicious flavorful gravy and creamy mashed potatoes, this is comfort food at its finest.
A traditional cottage pie was always on the menu in my house growing up.
It was one of the first things I learned to cook, and continued to stay on the menu throughout my student days and beyond to now when I have my own family.
This simple recipe for cottage pie is definitely open for interpretation, and I am sure every family has their own "best cottage pie recipe".
So feel free to play around with ingredients and flavors until you have your own family recipe!
What is Cottage Pie?
Cottage pie is a traditional British dish comprising ground beef and vegetables cooked in a gravy, and topped with mashed potato.
It apparently got its name due to its origins among the 'poorer' people of Britain who lived in cottages in the countryside, who used the staple of potatoes with every meal.
Originally any 'pie' that used meat with a potato topping was called a cottage pie.
Nowadays, the recipe for cottage pie has evolved to this specific dish where you cook ground beef and vegetables, create a gravy and top with mashed potato.
Cottage Pie vs Shepherd's Pie
So you've probably heard of Shepherd's pie AND cottage pie... just what is the difference between the two?
A traditional shepherd's pie is made with lamb (because shepherd's watch sheep, right?!) and so the same pie made with a different meat - usually beef is called a cottage pie.
So strictly speaking, the difference between cottage pie and shepherd's pie is the meat used - beef for cottage pie, and lamb for shepherd's pie.
But often these days the terms cottage pie and shepherd's pie are used interchangeably. So if you want to make a sherpherd's pie - just follow this recipe and switch the ground beef for ground lamb - simple!
Homemade Cottage Pie ingredients
This beef cottage pie uses traditional ingredients for cottage pie. A few things to note:
- Ground beef - if you want to make a shepherd's pie, switch this out for ground lamb.
- Vegetables - this uses traditional mix of onion, carrot and celery (and garlic, probably not traditional in the olden days in Britain, but I can't imagine cooking without it) to start the sauce
- Frozen peas - these are tossed in at the end of cooking the meat sauce and cook while the pie is in the oven. Not all cottage pie recipes include them, but it was how I grew up eating it.
- Herbs - the recipe calls for fresh thyme and rosemary plus a couple of dried bay leaves. You can substitute for 1 tsp of dried herbs or any other fresh herbs you have.
- Stock - I use homemade chicken bone broth whenever I make this as it is full of amazing nutrients. You can use any stock you like - be it store bought, homemade or from a stock cube.
- Red wine - feel free to skip this, but we always seem to have an open bottle in our house, so it's easy to toss it in. It definitely adds to the richness of the sauce too.
- Cheese - I don't think we actually had cheese on top of our cottage pie growing up, but my kids LOVE cheesy mashed potato, so I always add it to mine. You choose!
How to make a Cottage Pie
There are three stages to making cottage pie:
- Make the meat sauce
- Make the mashed potato
- Assemble and cook the pie
1. Making the meat sauce
To make the sauce, firstly you fry up the vegetables until soft, add the garlic and herbs and then brown the beef.
Then add in the flour, tomato paste, red wine, Worcestershire sauce and stock and bring it to the boil and let it bubble away, so the beef absorbs all the flavors and the gravy thickens.
2. Making mashed potato
Meanwhile you make the mashed potatoes: Remember, when you cook potatoes, you cook them starting in cold, salted water.
Bring them to the boil and cook them until they are very tender - but not falling apart.
Drain and return the potatoes to the pan and let them dry off for a minute or two - this helps makes more fluffy mash potato.
Then use a potato masher to smash up the potatoes until there are no lumps. Make sure there are no lumps before you start adding the butter and milk.
Once it is lump-free, mash through the butter and then slowly add in the milk, mashing the whole time.
Ps. If you have a Thermomix - you can just add the potatoes, butter and milk into the Thermomix bowl, with the butterfly attachment in place and mix for 10-20 seconds on speed 4. And voila - mashed potatoes!
3. Assembling & cooking the pie
Once you have the meat sauce and the mashed potatoes prepared, it's time to assemble the pie:
Tip your meat sauce into a baking dish, add the mashed potato on top and smooth it down. I like to make a squiggly little pattern with my fork in the mashed potato, because that's what my mum always did...
Then sprinkle over the cheese and pop it in the oven for around 25-30 minutes, until it is nicely browned.
What to serve with Cottage Pie
The beauty of cottage pie is that it is really a meal in itself - it has everything in one dish: meat, potatoes and vegetables.
So really, you don't need any side dishes for cottage pie.
However, if you do want to add something to your plate, I would recommend some green vegetables - broccoli, beans, peas, cabbage, snow peas...
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- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 stick celery, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
- 1lb / 500g ground beef
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cups stock
- ¼ cup red wine
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup frozen peas
For the mashed potato:
- 4 large potatoes
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp butter
- ½ cup milk
For the pie
- ½ cup shredded cheese
- Heat oil in a large pan and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook over a medium heat until soft - approximately 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic, thyme and rosemary to the pan. Cook for a further 2 minutes.
- Add the beef to the pan and cook over a medium-high heat until well browned.
- Add the flour and tomato paste and stir to combine.
- Slowly add in the stock, stirring all the time.
- Add in the wine and Worcestershire sauce and mix well.
- Add bay leaves and season well with salt and pepper.
- Bring to the boil and allow to bubble away for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse and the sauce to thicken.
- Meanwhile cook the mashed potatoes (see below) and pre-heat the oven to 360F / 180C.
- Once the potatoes are ready and the sauce is nice and thick, add the peas to the pan and stir.
- Transfer the meat sauce to an ovenproof dish. Top with the mashed potato and smooth down. Use a fork to make a pattern on top of the mashed potato then sprinkle with the cheese.
- Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the pie is browning on top.
To make the mashed potato
- Peel and cut the potatoes into even sized pieces.
- Put potatoes into a large pot, cover with cold water and add the salt.
- Bring to the boil, reduce heat to medium-low and allow to bubble gently for around 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are very tender but not falling apart.
- Drain the potatoes and return to the pan and allow the potatoes to dry a little over a low heat for a minute or two.
- Mash with a potato masher until no lumps remain.
- Then add the butter and continue mashing, gradually adding the milk until you have a nice creamy consistency. Season with salt and pepper.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 901Total Fat: 38gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 18gCholesterol: 147mgSodium: 838mgCarbohydrates: 85gFiber: 10gSugar: 10gProtein: 52g