Family Meals: How to Make the Ultimate Cottage Pie

Family Meals: How to Make the Ultimate Cottage Pie

It’s been a while since I shared a recipe but I’ve been thinking for a while that I’d love to expand the resources I have on here for those of you wanting to cook crowd-pleasing family meals you can rely on time and time again. This week it’s been so grey and wet, even though it’s technically spring, I’ve been reaching for traditional comfort foods that I know will be welcomed by my family at the end of the day. One of those meals is cottage pie. If you haven’t made it before or always been a bit unimpressed by versions you have tried, this is my recipe for the Ultimate Cottage Pie.

Yield: 4-6

Ultimate Cottage Pie

Ultimate Cottage Pie

This Ultimate Cottage Pie recipe is rich and savoury topped with soft buttery mash and perfect for pairing with simple vegetable side dishes for a balanced family meal.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 500g good quality beef mince
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 1-2 tsp beef gravy granules
  • 100-200 ml water
  • 100g frozen peas (optional)
  • 6 chestnut mushrooms, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 700 g potatoes, peeled and cut into evenly sized pieces
  • Knob of butter
  • 50 ml milk
  • 50-100 g cheddar cheese or other similar hard cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180C.
  2. Heat oil in a large pan. To save on washing up, I use a cast iron casserole dish which can then go in the oven.
  3. Add onion and garlic and cook on a medium heat until softened and golden. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking/burning.
  4. While onion and garlic are cooking, add potatoes to a pan of cold water to just cover them. Bring to the boil and cook until very soft. Once soft, drain and leave to steam dry (no heat but with the lid off) for a minute or two. Add the knob of butter and the milk and mash until smooth. Season with freshly ground pepper if liked and set aside.
  5. Once the onions and garlic are soft, add the mince. You may need to turn the heat up as you want the mince to brown, not stew. It's important to break up the mince as it cooks to give the cottage pie a fine, rich texture. You can do this with a wooden spatula or spoon, breaking up the pieces while stirring the mix.
  6. When the mince is cooked through (not pink) and starting to brown, add the bay leaves, stock, and water and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, add the gravy granules. Add a tsp at a time until the mixture thickens - you shouldn't need more than a couple of teaspoons. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more water and granules to rethicken.
  7. If liked, you can add the frozen peas and/or sliced mushrooms and cook for five minutes.
  8. Remove the bay leaves and top with the mashed potatoes. Grate the cheese over the mashed potato topping, and bake uncovered in the oven for 40 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling.
  9. Serve with your favourite in-season vegetables such as carrots, broccoli. swede or cabbage. In the summer, it can be served alongside roasted aubergines, courgettes and peppers.

Notes

Reducing Salt

If you're making this meal for children or just looking to reduce your salt intake, you may be keen to keep the salt content low. You can buy low salt stock and gravy granules, or you could thicken the gravy with cornflour. The addition of the grated cheese means there is no need to season the mashed potato with salt.

Many recipes encourage you to cook potatoes and vegetable in salted water - I have never done this. Buying in-season good quality vegetables and steaming, roasting or sauteeing them, preserves their natural flavours and you shouldn't need to salt the water. For those who do enjoy salt, a light sprinkling of sea salt flakes, or some salted butter melted on the cooked vegetables means everyone's tastes can be catered to.

    How to Serve the Ultimate Cottage Pie

    This recipe is great served with a range of seasonal vegetables, from buttery mashed carrot and sweet, to lightly steamed broccoli and cabbage, or roasted summer vegetables such as peppers, aubergines, courgettes or cherry tomatoes. Traditionally it is often also served with buttered fresh bread, to mop up the delicious gravy!

    Equipment

    This recipe is really great for those with limited kitchen space or only basic kitchen utensils. However, there is a little gadget that can make mince dishes easier and tastier. I’m always pretty sceptical about kitchen gadgets, often solving a problem you don’t really have! However, the one thing that makes mince dishes less palatable for many people is when the mince is not fine enough and cooks into lumps or strings. It is definitely possible to break it up with a wooden spoon or spatula while you brown the mince, but this little meat mashing gadget is a game changer. If you are batch cooking mince this is so much more efficient than bashing at it with a spoon, and would also be great for anyone who struggles with strength or dexterity, and would be really fun for a child to use on raw mince while helping you prep meat for burgers or meatballs.

    I’d also really recommend getting a hob-to-oven dish if you don’t have one already, as it really saves on washing up and you’ll get so much use from it. This Denby cast iron lidded casserole is one of the ones I have and I love it. I have the cream version but it comes in a variety of sizes and colours to suit your family size and kitchen scheme.

    Variations

    I make this recipe as written so often and it’s always a winner, however, there are plenty of small tweaks you can make to mix it up. This recipe includes optional additions of mushrooms or peas, but you could add other vegetables such as sweetcorn or finely chopped carrot. Remember, the addition of peas, corn or carrots will make the final dish slightly sweeter.

    If liked you can add a tablespoon or two of tomato puree to the mince mixture: this adds flavour and cuts through the richness of the mince. You can also vary the herbs you use: instead of bay, try winter savoury, thyme or rosemary.

    You can also replace the beef mince with venison mince. Venison has a gamier flavour and is leaner than beef mince. Adding a glass of red wine or half a tin of tomatoes makes this a more complex dish, which really rings the changes. If using venison mince, a couple of lightly crushed juniper berries really complements the flavour of the meat.

    Make in Advance

    This recipe can be made in advance either in full, or in part, which makes it great for batch cooking. If making in full, you can refrigerate it and cook it the next day, or freeze it for a later date. Sometimes people worry about reheating frozen mashed potato, however, if defrosted thoroughly and then oven cooked, I’ve never found it affects the flavour. If you prefer, you can make and freeze the mince sauce and add the mashed potato topping fresh just before cooking in the oven.

    I’d love to hear how you get on with this recipe. Let me know in the comments or drop me a line!

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