Now, you might think it a bit difficult to get excited about a humble cottage pie but I’m going to disagree. Sure, it’s hard if you have a memory of watery, thin, scratty beef mince, frozen vegetables and lumpy, under-seasoned mash – I think we’ve all tasted that pie. I am talking about a pie made with love – slow cooked, unctuous rich filling of beef shin, plenty of red wine and good stock, fresh vegetables, topped with mash and a good bubbling layer of cheese.
So I have re-vamped this classic school dinner staple somewhat. A few minor tweaks here and there and it’s an absolute pleasure to eat I promise. Not only that, but it’s cheap, does the job (of satisfying your belly) very well and is easy as, well – pie, to make. Of course, there’s no need to use la-dee-da rainbow carrots like I have – or any need to play around making pretty patterns with them either.
To me, the secret to improving this pie is the meat. There are some dishes (not all), traditionally made with minced beef, which can be improved by using a stewing cut. I’m not against mince, it’s just that I find the shin meat, cooked slowly until meltingly tender, a very welcome change – both for texture and flavour.
OK, so there are a few other changes here that a cottage pie purist might find offensive, such as garlic and leek but then that’s why I think my pie tastes a whole lot better than the bad memory described earlier. I mean, its hardly revolutionary is it?
(Fills 1 10 x 2″ pie dish)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 smallish carrots, diced
1 large stick celery, diced
1 medium leek, trimmed, washed and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 kg beef shin (weight before trimming), trimmed of any big pieces of fat and diced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme, leaves stripped
300ml good red wine
600ml good beef stock (home made or shop bought but not from a cube if you can help it)
4 large potatoes, diced roughly
1 medium parsnip, diced roughly
Cheddar cheese, for sprinkling
1 heaped teaspoon wholegrain mustard (optional)
Oil, for cooking
Salt and pepper
– Add a tablespoon of oil to a large pan and brown the meat on all sides. Remove to a plate and set aside.
– In the same pan, add a little more oil if needed and sweat the onion, carrots, leek and celery until the onions are translucent.
– Add the garlic for a minute (stirring) then add the meat back to the pan, turn up the heat and get everything cooking again, before adding the wine and allowing the alcohol to burn off. Add the stock, thyme and bay leaf and bring everything up to a simmer. Then turn down to the lowest heat, put the lid on and cook for 2 hours or until the meat is really tender. Adjust the seasoning.
– Meanwhile, cook the potatoes and parsnips in boiling salted water, drain and mash together with butter, salt and pepper to taste and the mustard, if using.
– If assembling the pie right away, preheat the grill. If making the pie with cold filling and topping, preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5.
– Spoon the beef mixture into the pie dish and top with the mash, followed by a good layer of the cheese. If grilling, stick it under and grill until golden brown and bubbling. If baking from cold, cook for 30 minutes or so until you have the same effect.