I don’t want to get mixed up in a political debate about the differences between Shepherds and Cottage pie but I just don’t get the cottage thing! Shepherds have sheep, sheep’s begin as lambs, Shepherds pie is made with lamb – I get it. But what is the hell have cottages and cows got to do with each other? Did cows ever reside in cottages? Does the word cow loosely translate to beef? Who knows!? Not me however, one link I can see for sure is the fact that cottages are homely and cottage pie is right up there as one of my top homely comfort foods!
I’ve tried many a variation in my cottage pie history and I still to this day mix it up a bit depending on what I have in the cupboards or what fresh herbs need using up. While my ingredients do vary, my method is always the same and I believe the key to a good cottage pie lies in taking your time with cooking the filling, allowing the beef to soak up as much gravy and flavour as possible until the mince and gravy almost become one. I also learnt that a little splash of milk in the filling gives it that wonderful pale colour and prevents the pie tasting too rich and beefy.
Another important lesson I have learnt along the way is to restrain yourself when adding the cheese, however tempting it may be, the cheese should just be a tantalising amount that melts in little strands along to the top rather than a bedspread to engulf any evidence of the potato topping – there are plenty of other recipies for that!
I feel one last thing remains before I can introduce you to my recipie for a good cottage pie and that is the elephant in the room which is brown sauce. I actually hate brown sauce, to me it’s just super gross, however for some reason when you pop a small dash of it in the pie filling, it brings a very slight sweetness which compliments the rosemary in a subtle way that cannot be achieved with sugar alone! If I’m honest I have no idea where I picked this little tip up from but I’m not alone,a quick google search brings up a whole host of other people who swear by it so if I can do it so can you, take my advice reach for the HP and just go with it!
750g Beef Mince
2 Celery Sticks
1 Small Carrot
1 Small Onion
2 Garlic Bulbs
1tbl Tomato Paste
2 sprigs of rosemary
1tsp dried thyme
Pinch of white pepper
250ml Beef Stock
1 tbl brown sauce
1 tbl Worcestershire Sauce
Knob of butter
6 medium potatoes
25g Mature Cheeder
Ground nutmeg (optional)
Extra 25g Mature Cheddar (optional)
1. Start by setting a pan of salted water on a medium heat, peel the potatoes and chop them into quarters then add them to the pan. Leave to simmer until cooked through, about 25 – 30 minutes.
1. Brown the mince and remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, drain the excess fat and return the pan to the heat lightly oiled.
2. Finely slice the carrots, onion and celery then add them to the pan and turn the heat down to low. Let the vegetables soften for at least 10 minutes before adding the garlic and cooking for another 10 minutes.
3. Finely slice the rosemary and add to the pan along with the thyme, cook for a couple of minutes before adding the tomato puree, increase to a medium heat and after another couple of minutes return the mince to the pan.
4. Add the beef stock to the pan along with the Worcestershire sauce, bring to the boil then reduce to a light simmer, cover and leave for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Preheat the oven to 180°.
6. When the potatoes are done, drain and leave them to dry out a little, then add the butter and 50ml of milk, mash and season to taste. (At this stage you can add a little cheese to the mash or a pinch of ground nutmeg to be fancy).
7. Taste the filling and add the remaining milk, white pepper and seasoning if required. If the gravy has properly soaked into the mince then transfer to an ovenproof pie dish, if not continue to cook uncovered until you achieve the right consistency.
8. Once the filling is in the pie dish, carefully top with the mashed potatoes and run a fork over the top, sprinkle sparingly with the cheese and pop in the oven to cook until the top is nice and crispy (about 30 minutes).