Revisiting the Classics: Cottage Pie.

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?

Cottage Pie
(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.

Category: Main Dishes, Meat, Pies, Vegetables 24 comments »

24 Responses to “Revisiting the Classics: Cottage Pie.”

  1. Christie @ fig&cherry

    LOL – ‘la-dee-da rainbow carrots’. Indeed. :)

  2. Peter

    Helen, luv the veriegated carrots…or are they carrots with tooth decay? lol

    Cottage pie and Shepherd’s Pie (don’t want to piss anyone off) are childhood faves of mine.

    Peters last blog post..Heads & Tales: Fish Tails (and a Recipe)!

  3. Bellini Valli

    What we call Shepherds Pie is one of my all time favourite comfort foods. Using stewing meat steps it up a notch. Well done!

    Bellini Vallis last blog post..Cooking Asian for Barbara

  4. Peter G

    Gorgeous! The shin meat is a wonderful choice here Helen! ‘La-de da”…no comment!

    Peter Gs last blog post..Summer Fruits

  5. Lizzie

    I love cottage pie; proper comfort food. I always add garlic to mine, as a meal without garlic seems strange to me. I will definitely try making it with shin of beef. It’s a great slow-cooked cut, lovely and almost gelatinous in texture.

    Lizzies last blog post..Orzo Pasta

  6. Jonathan Brown

    I love shin of beef. It is perfect for this dish. My local Halal butcher in Balham sells vast shins of beef and shoulder blade cuts for a pittance. Oxtail would work well too I imagine.


    Jonathan Browns last blog post..Franco Manca

  7. joey

    My husband gets excited about cottage pie! :) I have never made it before though, but thanks to you here is the recipe! :)

    joeys last blog post..A Strawberry & Pomegranate Yogurt Cake Hug

  8. Abi

    Amazing carrots! Where are they from?

    Abis last blog post..perfect roast potatoes – the goose fat versus olive oil debate

  9. Lethological Gourmet

    That looks wonderful! I’ve never made cottage pie (which I think is very similar to the shepherd’s pie we eat on this side of the pond), but I should try it at some point this winter.

    Lethological Gourmets last blog post..Monday Recipe – Cranberry-Orange Preserves

  10. Ginger

    Agree with Lizzie, I’d find it weird without garlic too. Shin of beef is next on my list of meat dishes to cook, I’m planning on casseroling it but this looks so good I think I’ll do double.

  11. nina

    Whenever I make a substantial soup that requires meat, I always use shin as it just has so much more flavor! I think in Cottage Pie it will make a huge difference!

  12. Helen

    Christie – Oh, you love them really ;)
    Peter – Ha ha! Well over here we call it cottage pie if its made with beef and shepherds pie if its made with lamb but I know that this is not true on your side of the pond. Wikipedia also seems to agree with you…
    Bellini Valli – Yep, it is totally comforting!
    Lizzie – It is rather gelatinous isn’t it – I love that! I also love the garlic in there so I’m pleased Im not the only one and I also agree about using garlic a lot – the rate I get through it is amazing.
    Jonathan – The shin is lovely isn’t it and very cheap, as you say. It was lovely to see you today, looking forward to your thoughts on the sandwich!
    Joey – Pleas do let me know if you try it :)
    Abi – Thanks! They are from Borough Market.
    Lethological Gourmet – Thank you. We call it Shepherds pie if it has lamb in it over here, and cottage pie if it has beef.
    Ginger – Aha! Another garlic lover, good to hear it. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you make it – suggestions for further improvement welcome! Ooh, how about mushrooms?
    Nina – You are onto the secret too! It makes such a difference in flavour and texture – I can’t go back.

  13. farida

    Looks so delicious! Love the rainbow carrots. Have never seen them in California.

    faridas last blog post..Chicken With Eggs – Toyug Chighirtmasi

  14. Jag

    Re Peter and Bellini’s comments: I thought that Cottage Pie was made with beef and Shepherds Pie made with lamb? Anyway, it doesn’t really matter; because the jist of your recipe is that cuts of beef (or lamb) suitable for stewing will be better/different than minced (ground) cuts. I would have to agree with this completely: I make chilli (con-carne) with stewing meat cut up fine rather than the minced/ground meat and it always turns out a better meal! Nice one!

  15. Helen

    Farida – Thank you. I love those carrots too an dits the 1st time I’ve used them. They don’t taste any different, just look pretty.
    Jag – yes, I thought that too but Wikipedia surprisingly did not agree with us! How odd. I also make my chilli with shin meat, which could be why it is a competition winner!

  16. David Hall

    Helen, you know me, I’m a traditionalist. As far as I’m concerned, this should be on the menu of every British restaurant!


    David Halls last blog post..Scone Mad

  17. urbanfoodie

    Oo cottage pie – a real fave, I like your advanced take on it. I went for a straight mince version when I made one back in August (it was freezing and I was in need of some comfort food) but yours sounds delicious, I’ll give it a go next time.

  18. Edd

    Great recipe – that just went down a treat with myself and two friends, even though I ended up skimping on the quality of the meat a touch. Thanks!

  19. Helen

    David – Yes I know you are and some fine examples you turn out too! We must campaign to get these classics on the map!
    Urbanfoodie – If you do, please let me know how you get on :)
    Edd- Hello! Thanks so much for letting me know how it went! I am very glad to hear you and friends enjoyed the pie and I expect skimping a little on the meat didn’t make much difference at all. Excellent stuff.

  20. We Are Never Full

    these pictures are gorgeous! and i think you did the humble cottage pie justice here -looks rustic and really good.

    We Are Never Fulls last blog post..Drink of the Month December: Mulled Wine – What Else?

  21. Kevin

    That cottage pie looks really tasty!

    Kevins last blog post..Pork Chops with Mushrooms, Dill, and Sour Cream Sauce

  22. Nate

    Nicely done. I like that you use parsnips to go along with the potatoes. Have you tried it with cauliflower?

    Nates last blog post..Merry Christmas from House of Annie

  23. Yogurt Maker

    Thanks for the recipe Im going to give this one a try :)

  24. ground beef shepherds pie recipe

    Nice info! Very cool post.I have looked over your blog a few times and I love it.I can`t understand how to add your site in my rss reader. Can you Help me, please

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