Cottage Pie is a one-dish wonder that is the ultimate in comfort food. This traditional Irish dish can easily be made ahead of time and reheated. In fact, I generally have several Cottage Pies in my freezer for those evenings when I just want something easy and absolutely delicious.
Cottage Pie versus Shepherd’s Pie
It’s not unusual for the terms Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie to be used synonymously. Technically, however, they are different.
Both Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie are British dishes where meat and vegetables are cooked in a savory gravy and topped with mashed potatoes. However, the one difference between them is the meat that is used. Cottage Pie uses beef; Shepherd’s Pie uses lamb.
The name “Cottage Pie” was originally used for a pie made with any type of meat and mashed potatoes by peasants who lived in cottages. Over time, the “any type of meat” was replaced with beef.
Shepherd’s Pie is so named because shepherds take care of sheep!
I often use ground turkey for the meat and incorrectly call the pie either Cottage Pie or Shepherd’s Pie. Shame on me, but I couldn’t think of another name to use!
Ingredients That I Used For The Meat Mixture
Because it’s a Cottage Pie, the main ingredient is ground beef.
- Ground Beef: I like to use lean ground beef. For this particular dish, I used 90% ground beef. You could also use 85% ground beef.
- Gravy: For the gravy, I use low-sodium beef broth or chicken broth. Both work well – it depends on what I have on hand. To enhance the savory flavor, I add Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, and Dijon mustard to the broth.
- Olive Oil: Regardless of the type of beef that I use, I always drain it well after browning. Therefore, I add a bit of olive oil to sauté the onions and carrots.
- Vegetables: I use chopped onions, chopped carrots, and frozen green peas for the vegetables.
- Seasonings: The seasonings are minimal – just salt and pepper.
- Thickener: My preference for thickening the gravy is Bisto Original Gravy Powder. However, while Bisto is readily available in the UK, it’s sometimes hard to find in the US. Therefore all-purpose flour works just as well.
How I Made the Meat Mixture
Making the meat mixture for the Cottage Pie is relatively straightforward.
- First, I whisked together the beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, and Dijon mustard. Then, I set it aside for later use.
If I was using Bisto as the thickener rather than flour, I would have added it to the other liquid ingredients.
- Next, I added the ground beef to a large skillet. I browned the ground beef over medium heat, breaking it up into small pieces.
- Even though I used a relatively low-fat ground beef (90%), I drained the cooked ground beef in a colander and ran it under hot water until it ran clean.
Once the cooked beef had cooled a bit, I used my hands to break it up into even smaller pieces. I prefer not to have big chunks of cooked ground beef – a personal preference of mine.
- While the meat was draining, I wiped the skillet with a paper towel to remove any remaining fat in the pan. Then, I added a small amount of olive oil to the skillet over medium heat and added the onions and carrots.
I cooked the onions and carrots over medium heat for about 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, I returned the ground beef to the pan.
- Next, I added the salt and pepper and stirred to combine everything. Once the ingredients were well combined, I added the flour.
I stirred the combine the flour with the meat and vegetables. Then, I added the beef broth mixture. I stirred the Cottage Pie meat mixture and heated it, stirring constantly until it was bubbly and thickened.
I covered the pan and simmered the meat mixture for about 45 minutes until the meat was tender and the carrots were well-cooked.
- As a final step, I added the green peas. The reason that I wait until the end to add the green peas is that they don’t take nearly as long to cook as the other ingredients.
How I Made the Mashed Potatoes
Because this is a Cottage Pie, I needed mashed potatoes to put on top of the meat mixture. While the meat mixture was cooking, I made the mashed potatoes.
- For the mashed potatoes, I used russet potatoes, unsalted butter, milk, shredded cheddar cheese, Kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
- I cooked the potatoes in salted water for about 20 minutes until they were nice and soft.
When I cook potatoes, I always put a wooden fork into the pan to prevent the pan from boiling over. I’m not sure why this works, but it does!
- After the potatoes were nice and soft, I drained them well in a colander.
Then, I returned the potatoes to the pan and added the butter, milk, pepper and shredded cheese.
- I beat the potato mixture with my electric mixer until everything was well incorporated, and the mashed potatoes were smooth.
Since I was going to pipe the mashed potatoes on top of the meat mixture, I wanted to ensure that there were no lumps to clog the piping tip.
Finishing the Cottage Pie
Because it’s just the two of us, I consistently divide the mixture among three oven-safe dishes. That way, we have one Cottage Pie for dinner, and the other two are put into the freezer. You could certainly make one big Cottage Pie!
Next, I transferred the mashed potatoes to a piping bag fitted with a 1M star tip. I like to pipe the mashed potatoes onto the meat mixture. However, you could bypass this and just spread the mashed potatoes on top of the meat.
Then, I piped swirls of the mashed potatoes onto the meat mixture.
I ended up with three amazing Cottage Pies.
I popped one of the Cottage Pies into a 375° F oven for 30 minutes and froze the other two. After 30 minutes, the top of the potatoes was nicely browned, and the meat mixture was bubbly.
I served the Cottage Pie with steamed collard greens and steamed Brussels sprouts. What a tasty dinner we had. Yum!
What to Serve with Cottage Pie
In a way, Cottage Pie is a meal in and of itself. After all, it has meat, vegetables, and potatoes all in one dish! Therefore, the sides are really incidental to the meal.
Because the Master Taste Tester likes Brussels sprouts, I often serve them with the dish. In the wintertime, I like to serve collard greens on the side. At other times, a light salad or steamed broccoli goes well with the Cottage Pie.
Finally, I sometimes serve crusty French bread with it.
Frequently Asked Questions
It may seem that I’m rinsing away beef flavor along with the fat after it’s been cooked. However, I’ve consistently found that it’s what you add to the ground beef that really gives the dish its flavor. You could, however, skip this step.
The white dish is 1 ½ quarts. The two rectangular Pyrex dishes are also 1 ½ quarts and 8 x 6 inches.
85% ground beef works fine in this recipe, especially because the fat is rinsed away after the beef is cooked.
I often make this recipe with ground turkey. I really can’t tell a difference in the taste of the ground turkey. Also, ground turkey tends to be more tender.
I like to thaw the frozen Cottage Pies in the microwave before putting them in the oven. That way, the oven timing is the same.
The leftovers are just as good the next day. I generally heat the leftovers in the microwave.
Other British Recipes
In some quarters, the British have a reputation for less than inspiring cuisine. I think that’s totally wrong, as evidenced by the following:
- Beer Battered Fish & Chips and Mushy Peas: A pub classic that never goes out of style.
- Cheese and Onion Pie: The English are famous for their savory pies, and Cheese and Onion Pie is no exception.
- Bangers and Mash with Onion Gravy: Another pub classic featuring British sausage and mashed potatoes.
- Toad in the Hole: An English classic with sausage cooked in a Yorkshire pudding batter.
- Easy Peasy British Sausage Rolls: One of my most popular recipes.
- Savory British Beef Olives: “Olive” is a British term for wrapping meat around savory stuffing.
- Classic English Lemon Curd: Classic English Lemon Curd is smooth and silky with a tangy and tart flavor that overwhelms your senses.
- Chocolate Blancmange: An old English dessert that’s light and velvety smooth.
- Classic English Lemon Posset: A classic English dessert with a velvety smooth texture that magically congeals with only three ingredients.
- English Digestive Biscuits: To the English, a biscuit is what Americans refer to as a cookie.
Watch How I Made This Delicious Cottage Pie
If you liked the recipe for Make Ahead Cottage Pie, please consider rating it and leaving a comment. I’d love to know how you liked it!
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Make Ahead Cottage Pie
- 1 ½ cups low sodium beef broth (See Tip 1)
- 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 ¼ pounds lean ground beef (See Tip 2)
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil or unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cups chopped onion (1 large onion)
- 1 ½ cup carrots cut into ¼-inch pieces (3 large carrots)
- ¾ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups frozen green peas
- 3 pounds peeled and sliced Russet potatoes
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- 6 Tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
- ⅔ cup milk
- ¾ cup (3 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Combine beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, and Dijon mustard; whisk until well blended. Set aside.
- Brown ground beef in a large non-stick skillet. Drain in a colander and rinse well with hot water to remove as much fat as possible. Wipe the skillet with a paper towel and place over medium heat. (See Tip 3)
- Heat olive oil or butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and carrots; cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add ground beef, flour, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Cook for several minutes. Add beef broth mixture; cook, constantly stirring over medium heat, until bubbly and thickened. Cover and continue cooking over medium-low heat for 45 minutes or until the meat and vegetables are tender. (See Tip 4)
- Add the frozen peas and stir to combine all ingredients. (See Tip 5)
- Spoon into a buttered casserole dish(es). Pipe mashed potatoes over the meat mixture. May be prepared in advance up to this point. (See Tip 6)
- Bake at 375º F for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top of the potatoes is lightly browned, and the mixture is bubbly. Yield: 8 servings. (See Tip 7)
- Place potatoes and 1 Tablespoon salt in a large saucepan. Cover potatoes with water; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking until potatoes are very soft about 20 minutes; drain well in a colander. Return potatoes to pan and heat over medium heat for several minutes to dry out. Add butter and cheese. Mix well. Add milk; beat with an electric mixer until potatoes are smooth and creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow potatoes to cool slightly.
- Place potatoes in a piping bag fitted with a large (1M) star tip.
- May use chicken broth rather than beef broth.
- I used 90% ground beef, but you could also use 85% ground beef.
- I know rinsing the cooked ground beef removes some of the flavor. However, it also removes most of the grease. You could certainly skip this step.
- I like to cover the pan with paper towels before putting the lid on. The reason is that the paper towel traps the condensate and keeps it from falling back into the meat mixture. This keeps the meat mixture nice and thick.
- I like to wait until the end to add the frozen peas because I don’t like them overcooked.
- Refrigerate the Cottage Pie that you’re going to eat, and freeze the others. I thaw the frozen Cottage Pies in the microwave before putting them in the oven.
- The leftovers are just as good the next day. I generally heat the leftovers in the microwave.