Irish Turkey and Ham Cottage Pie

published Mar 15, 2022
Irish Turkey & Ham Cottage Pie Recipe

This recipe combines two classic Irish dishes.

Serves6 to 8

Prep30 minutes

Cook1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 50 minutes

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
cottage pie in dutch oven
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

I grew up in London with an English mother and an Irish father, and every August I would excitedly wait to vacation in Ireland for two weeks with my dad and brother, traveling our way up the Emerald Isle.

We’d start by visiting our family in various Dublin neighborhoods, then head to the historical, mystical town of Kells in County Meath to stay with our great-uncle before moving along to our final stop: my Dad’s hometown of Monaghan. During our tour, we’d stop at pubs along the way so he could catch up with his cronies and get his Guinness fix. (“It’s not as creamy if it’s not served in Ireland,” he used to say.) These pub outings were where I developed a penchant for the vibrant Irish soda known as red lemonade and where I honed my pool and dart skills. (I can almost hear my brother — Anthony Eugene Declan O’Connell — laugh out loud at that comment!) 

During these trips, we would stay with various aunts, uncles, cousins, and second cousins. But no matter whose house I stayed in, we’d always be served the traditional Irish dish that I still crave to this day: boiled ham, floury potatoes (always boiled in their skins), cabbage, and a rich, thick parsley sauce that was always generously sprinkled with a flurry of ground white pepper — so much it would make your nose tickle. During each trip we might have this dish maybe five to seven times in a fortnight, but there were zero complaints from me! 

If we went for a fancy meal (usually at the local hotel), the ubiquitous “turkey and ham” were always on the menu and were always served with those delicious floury potatoes, gravy, and, dare I say it, overcooked veggies. 

These dishes evoke fond Irish childhood memories for me, so to honor those times I’ve pulled together elements from both dishes to create a turkey and ham cottage pie. The filling is made with turkey, smoked ham, scallions, and cabbage, all tossed in a rich parsley sauce. I pile creamy mashed potatoes on top and add some grated Irish cheddar to gild the lily. The cottage pie bakes in the oven until the filling is hot and bubbly, then goes under the broiler to brown the potatoes in spots. Serve with Guinness or red lemonade — and enjoy in the company of your favorite family and friends.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

If You Make My Turkey and Ham Cottage Pie, a Few Tips

  • Go easy on the sauce: You may be tempted to add more sauce to the filling when you assemble the cottage pie, but resist that urge. Too much sauce can cause the filling to bubble over, which not only makes a mess in your oven but can also cause the potatoes to dissolve into the filling. My fix? Use a minimal amount of sauce in the filling, then serve extra sauce on the side.
  • Add some cream to the potato cooking liquid: A dash of cream is added to the water that you boil the potatoes in, which infuses the potatoes with a rich, creamy flavor. This step is optional, but I would strongly encourage you to try it.
  • Use white or black pepper: White pepper is a common Irish seasoning, but not everyone is a fan. If you prefer black pepper, it’s fine to sub it in here.
  • You might want to make a salad: There are already vegetables in the dish, so you could just eat on its own, but some peas alongside would go perfectly, as would steamed broccoli, carrots, green beans, or a green salad with a zingy dressing. 

Irish Turkey & Ham Cottage Pie Recipe

This recipe combines two classic Irish dishes.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 50 minutes

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the parsley sauce:

  • 1

    large bunch fresh parsley

  • 3 1/4 cups

    whole milk, divided

  • 2

    bay leaves

  • 1

    small lemon

  • 1/2 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter, preferably Kerrygold

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground white pepper, plus more as needed

For the mashed potatoes:

  • 2 1/2 pounds

    russet potatoes (4 large or 7 medium)

  • 2

    medium scallions

  • 1/2 cup

    heavy cream, divided (optional)

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 3/4 cup

    whole milk

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, preferably Kerrygold

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground white pepper

  • 1 ounce

    aged cheddar, Dubliner, or Parmesan cheese

For the filling:

  • 1

    small or 1/2 medium green cabbage (about 2 pounds)

  • 1

    medium bunch scallions

  • 1

    large clove garlic

  • 12 ounces

    cooked smoked ham or ham steak

  • 1 pound

    uncooked boneless turkey breast or tenderloins

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground white pepper

  • Unsalted butter for the baking dish

Instructions

  1. Trim the bottom 2-inches from 1 large bunch parsley. Tie the trimmed stems together with kitchen twine, or wrap in cheesecloth and tie up into a bundle. Place the parsley stems, 3 cups of the whole milk, and 2 bay leaves in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat.

  2. Turn off the heat. Cover and let the flavors infuse. Meanwhile, finely chop the leaves and tender stems from the remaining parsley until you have about 1 cup. Juice 1 small lemon until you have 1 1/2 tablespoons.

  3. Peel 2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Transfer to a medium pot. Trim and halve 2 medium scallions and add to the saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover the potatoes, then add 1/4 cup of the heavy cream if using and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the kosher salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a lively simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, start the filling.

  4. Bring a large pot of water to the boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, halve, core, and cut 2 pounds green cabbage into 1/4-inch shreds until you have 7 packed cups (about 14 ounces). Cut 1 medium bunch scallions crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Finely grate 1 large garlic clove. Cut 12 ounces cooked ham into 1-inch chunks, removing any excess fat. Cut 1 pound turkey breast or tenderloin into 1-inch pieces.

  5. Add 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt to the boiling water. Add the cabbage and cook for 2 minutes. Drain. Once cool enough to handle, transfer the cabbage to a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, wrap it up, and squeeze out the excess liquid with your hands. Return the cabbage to the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly browned at edges and the moisture is evaporated, about 5 minutes. Transfer the cabbage to a plate; reserve the pot.

  6. Place 4 tablespoons unsalted butter and 3/4 cup milk in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until the butter is melted and the milk is warm, 1 to 2 minutes. (Alternatively, place in a small saucepan over medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes.)

  7. When the potatoes are ready, drain and discard the scallions. Return the potatoes to the pot over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring regularly (this dries out potatoes and yields a fluffier mash). Remove the pot from the heat. Pour half of the butter-milk mixture and the remaining 1/4 cup heavy cream if using over the potatoes and start mashing with a potato masher. Add the remaining butter-milk mixture in 2 tablespoon increments, using a fork to beat, until smooth and creamy. Season with the remaining 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper.

  8. Arrange a rack in the top third of the oven and heat the oven to 400℉.

  9. Remove, but reserve, the parsley stem bundle and bay leaves from the infused milk. Melt 1 stick unsalted butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and cook, stirring continuously for 2 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper.

  10. Increase the heat to medium-high. While whisking continuously, slowly pour in the infused milk and whisk until smooth. Add the parsley stem bundle and bay leaves. Reduce the heat to medium-low heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes.

  11. Discard the parsley bundle and bay leaves. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the chopped parsley for serving and stir the remaining parsley into the sauce. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until very thick, about 5 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice.

  12. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the pot the cabbage was cooked in (no need to wash) over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the turkey in a single layer and cook, stirring occasionally, until just cooked through and the edges are browned, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the scallions and garlic and cook, stirring continuously, until garlic is fragrant and the scallions have softened slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.

  13. Add the ham and cabbage, season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, and cook until all moisture has evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Add 2 cups of the parsley sauce (it may have thickened significantly) and stir to combine; reserve the remaining sauce for serving.

  14. Coat a 2 1/2-quart baking dish (or a deep 9-by-9-inch baking pan) with unsalted butter. Transfer the cabbage filling to the baking dish and spread into an even layer. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top and spread to cover the filling. Use either a spoon to make swirls or a fork to make striped patterns on the surface (this creates a crispy texture).

  15. Hold a box grater or Microplane over the potatoes and finely grate 1 ounce aged cheddar, Dubliner, or Parmesan cheese over the potatoes to cover the surface. Place the baking dish on a baking sheet.

  16. Bake until the cheese is melted and the topping is golden-brown, about 35 minutes. For an extra-crispy topping, broil on high heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

  17. Rewarm the remaining parsley sauce in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes. (Alternatively, simmer in a small saucepan over medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes.) If the sauce is too thick, thin it out with up to 1/4 cup of the remaining milk. Taste the sauce and season with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice, kosher salt, or ground white pepper as needed.

  18. Sprinkle the cottage pie with the remaining 2 tablespoons parsley. Serve with the parsley sauce.

Recipe Notes

Pepper: White pepper is traditional in Irish cooking, but you can substitute it with ground black pepper if desired.

Turkey: 12 ounces cooked turkey breast can be substituted for the uncooked, although the texture may be drier.

Make ahead: The mashed potatoes and filling can be made up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated in separate airtight containers. When ready to cook, make the parsley sauce and assemble the cottage pie. It will need 10 to 15 minutes additional bake time.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. Reheat in a 375ºF oven in a covered baking dish until warmed through, about 30 minutes if refrigerated and 60 minutes if frozen.