My research into Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie found that the basic thread is the same whether the intended audience is in the U.S. or the U.K. A meat stew, likely with some vegetables and covered with mashed potatoes. A complete meal in a dish. However, off of this theme, some interesting differences are found. In the U.S. a quicker approach is usually taken and more vegetables are added. This doesn’t sound important, but it kind of is. I have found that this approach works better for Cottage Pies (beef-based, like this recipe) and the U.K. approach is generally better for the Shepherd’s Pie (lamb based). Let me explain.
For the majority of the recipes found for the U.S. audience, tomato paste is used. For the U.K. audience, tomato sauce or diced tomatoes is used. This may not seem like much of a difference, but the paste is a more intense taste and the overall simmer time is reduced.
The biggest difference is in the vegetables. Specifically, the addition of corn to the vegetable mix. I find this bit of sweetness a good addition to the Cottage pies, so I have included it here. Lastly, I have substituted fresh rosemary for the thyme. But either herb works, the rosemary is less common but I like it with the beef. Check out my complete research of the differences across the pond.
Make this in one large dish if you would like, or divide it into multiple dishes (shown below) and refrigerate or freeze some for later. Like a stew, it only improves overnight.
Notes on Ingredients
This recipe uses both Worcestershire Sauce and red wine. I think both add to the richness alongside the tomato paste.
With peas, carrots and corn, this is a one dish meal. The addition of corn is a bit of a American thing, it is not as common in the U.K.
The following note applies to all of my Cottage/Shepherd’s Pies.
Learning to salt, while so basic to cooking, is not as easy as one would think. It is not an accident that Samin Nosrat makes it one of her four pillars of cooking in her book Salt Fat Acid Heat. This pie is a classic example of the issue. If the salt is not right, the dish does not have the flavor desired. And it cannot just be added later. For each step salt needs to be considered. The meat stew should be tasted before the simmering is completed to make sure it is right. Same with the potatoes. The water for boiling the potatoes should be salted. Ms. Nosrat suggests it should taste like the sea. That is a good standard. Lastly, the mash should be tasted before assembly and the amount of salt adjusted if needed. Each has to be tasted before completion.
Notes on Technique
Basically foolproof with two exceptions
Cottage and Shepherd’s pies are incredibly easy to make and very forgiving. One technique that I have determined that is better is to caramelize your carrots in the onion mixture, then remove them from the pan for the step to brown the beef. This will ensure a little texture to your carrots instead of being overly mushy. You then add it back before topping with the potatoes. The carrots will continue cooking in the oven.
However, what is important is the choice of the size of the pan (or pans) to use in the oven. If your pan is too big, the stew and potatoes will be too spread out to bake properly, and this is true same if the pan is too small and the stack is too thick. You want the final product to be about 2 – 2½ inches (5 – 6 cm) thick. Spread about 1 – 1½ inches of stew on the bottom and top with about ¾ – 1 inches of potatoes. Remember you can use multiple small pans to save some for later in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Olive Oil
- 1 Large Onion, chopped
- 1 lb (500g) Ground Beef
- 2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
- 1 or 2 sprigs fresh rosemary or dried (about ½ teaspoon)
- 1.25 cup (300 ml) beef or chicken stock
- 2 - 3 medium carrots, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons Flour
- ½ cup frozen peas
- ½ cup corn
- 5 ounces (150 ml) red wine
- 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce, or to taste
- Salt and Pepper
- 2 lb (900g) Russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped.
- 6 Tablespoon Butter
- ½ cup milk
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Preheat oven to 375°.
- Place the potatoes into a pot of cold salted water. Set aside.
- In a large pan over medium heat add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Add the onion, garlic, and carrots, and saute until the onions are golden and the carrots are softened. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set them aside.
- Add the beef to the pan, salt as desired, and brown thoroughly (8-10 minutes). Drain off excess fat.
- Start the potatoes to boil. Boil for about 12- 15 minutes till soft. (This should time well; finishing after the following step. You can start the potatoes after that step if you do not want to feel rushed.)
- Add the flour to the beef, mix in and cook for about a minute. Add the wine and cook down until almost all of the liquid is reduced.
- Add the stock, the tomato paste, and the rosemary. Simmer until the juices thicken. When almost finished stir in the cooked onions and carrots. Lastly, when ready, remove from heat and stir in the frozen peas and corn. Add the Worchestershire sauce to taste. Salt and pepper the mixture to taste.
- Pour the mixture into a baking dish. The size should be such that the mixture should be about 1 ½ inches to an inch deep (4 to 5 cm). You may use multiple baking dishes if you would like to bake some for now and freeze some for later.
- When the potatoes are soft drain water well and mash potatoes mixing in butter and milk.
- Spread the potatoes over the meat mixture.
- Bake in the oven until golden and bubbly. About 30 to 35 minutes.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 573Total Fat: 30gSaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 113mgSodium: 295mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 4.1gSugar: 5.4gProtein: 30g