Cottage Pie

published Mar 14, 2022
Cottage Pie Recipe

The ultimate comfort food, cottage pie is made with ground beef and topped with fluffy mashed potatoes.

Serves6

Prep30 minutes

Cook1 hour 40 minutes

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a piece of meat and potato pie on a round black plate with the rest of the pie in a white baking dish
Credit: Tara Holland

Cottage pie is a British dish that’s been around since the 18th century, originally made with leftover cuts of beef. It has evolved into being made with ground beef (or mince, as we say in the U.K.!), along with vegetables and gravy. When topped with fluffy mashed potato and baked, it’s the ultimate comfort food. Although it’s admittedly not the quickest dish to make, it’s worth every ounce of effort. It’s something I crave regularly, especially when I’m homesick.

What’s the Difference Between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie?

The easy way to remember the difference is that shepherds look after sheep, so that pie is made with lamb. Cottage pie is made with beef. Although, they are both sometimes collectively called shepherd’s pie outside the U.K. 

What Is in a Traditional Cottage Pie Filling? 

The ground beef should be cooked in a hot pan (and not moved for 5 minutes), which creates a deep brown color and flavor. If you start moving the ground beef around too soon, you’ll be left with soggy, gray ground beef. The gravy base is onions, carrots, and celery, and beef stock cubes or bouillon. In the U.K., we often use OXO cubes, which are rich, salty beef stock cubes that are the base of many British stews. The closest I can find here in the U.S. is Better Than Roasted Beef Bouillon. As bouillon pastes, powders, and cubes here are different sizes and strengths, use whatever brand you can get, and add the amount of bouillon per 1 cup of water, that would make 1 cup of stock (usually 1 teaspoon or 1 stock cube per 1 cup water, but do check the package first as some brands do differ). 

Credit: Tara Holland

My Secrets for the Best Cottage Pie

I like to make a really saucy beef filling. However, if you have too much gravy in your baking dish, it will bubble over and create a burnt disaster. The mashed potatoes may also disappear into the filling and you can be left with a sloppy mess. Many years ago, I had an epiphany. If you drain the ground beef and veggie filling through a colander and reserve the gravy before adding to the baking dish, you can control the amount of liquid in the filling. You can then spoon over only a few extra tablespoons of gravy before topping with the mash. The bonus is you have at least a cup of gravy to serve on the side. It’s a win-win!

The secret ingredient in the gravy is a generous splash of Worcestershire sauce and a slug of red wine for richness. Everything is slowly simmered for 45 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. My mum used to add a can of Heinz baked beans and 1 1/2 cups of frozen peas at the end just before transferring the mixture to the baking dish. 

Although not traditional, I always add a couple of bay leaves with my potatoes while they are boiling, adding another flavor level. While optional, I also add cream to the boiling water and an extra splash when mashing with the warm milk and butter, which makes the mash extra creamy and velvety.  

What to Serve with Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie Recipe

The ultimate comfort food, cottage pie is made with ground beef and topped with fluffy mashed potatoes.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 40 minutes

Serves 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the beef filling:

  • 2

    medium carrots

  • 2 large stalks

    celery

  • 1

    large yellow onion

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil, divided

  • 1 to 1 1/3 pounds

    lean ground beef

  • 4 cups

    low-sodium beef broth, or 4 cups reconstituted beef bouillon paste or cubes and water (follow package directions)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 3 large sprigs

    fresh thyme

  • 2 tablespoons

    tomato paste

  • 1/4 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup

    dry red wine

  • 1/4 cup

    Worcestershire sauce

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground white pepper or freshly ground black pepper

For the mashed potatoes:

  • 2 1/2 pounds

    russet potatoes (4 to 5 medium)

  • 2

    bay leaves

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 1/2 cup

    heavy cream, divided (optional)

  • 3/4 cup

    whole milk

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground white pepper or freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 ounce

    aged cheddar or Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Peel 2 medium carrots and finely dice. Finely dice 2 large celery stalks and 1 large yellow onion. Finely grate or chop 2 garlic cloves.

  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add 1 to 1 1/3 pounds lean ground beef and break it up with a wooden spoon. Let cook undisturbed until the bottom is browned, about 5 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until cooked through and any liquid is evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes more.

  3. Transfer the beef with a slotted spoon to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping any browned bits from the bottom, until the onions start to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, bring 4 cups low-sodium beef broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the celery and 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the celery in a strainer set over a bowl; reserve the saucepan.

  4. Add the celery, carrot, garlic, and 3 large fresh thyme sprigs to the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots start to slightly soften at the edges, about 5 minutes. Return the beef and any accumulated juices to the pot. While stirring continously, add 2 tablespoons tomato paste and sprinkle with 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Cook, stirring often, until darkened in color, about 2 minutes.

  5. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add 1 cup dry red wine and cook for 2 minutes to let alcohol to burn off. Add the reserved broth and 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce, and bring to a simmer.

  6. Reduce the heat to low. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, peel 2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Transfer to the reserved medium saucepan and add 2 bay leaves and enough cold water to cover the potatoes. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of the kosher salt and 1/4 cup of the heavy cream if using. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce teh heat as needed and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

  7. Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the upper third of the oven and heat the oven to 375℉. When the potatoes are almost ready, place 3/4 cup whole milk and 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until the butter is melted and the milk is warm, 1 to 2 minutes. (Alternatively, heat in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.)

  8. Drain the potatoes and discard the bay leaves. Return the potatoes to the pot. Place over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring regularly (this dries out potatoes and yields a fluffier mash). Remove the pot from the heat. Pour in about half of the milk mixture and the remaining 1/4 cup heavy cream if using. Mash with a fork or potato masher until lightly mashed. Add the remaining milk mixture in 2 tablespoon increments, continuously beating with a fork, until smooth and creamy or the desired consistency is reached. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper or black pepper and stir to combine.

  9. When the beef is ready, add the remaining 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground white or black pepper, and stir to combine. Discard the thyme sprigs. Drain the ground beef mixture through a strainer set over a bowl (you should have about 2 cups gravy).

  10. Transfer the beef mixture to an 8x8-inch baking dish and spread into an even layer. Spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the beef, completely covering it and going all the way to the edges of the baking dish. Use a fork to make lines, swirls, or patterns in the potatoes to create a crispy texture. Hold a box grater over the potatoes and grate 1 ounce aged cheddar or Parmesan cheese on the smallest holes evenly over the potatoes.

  11. Bake until the cheese is melted and the topping is golden-brown in spots, 25 to 30 minutes. For an extra-crispy topping, turn the broiler on to high and broil until desired crispness, 3 to 5 minutes more. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

  12. Rewarm the reserved gravy in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes or in a small saucepan on the stovetop over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve the cottage pie with a small drizzle of gravy on top.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.