How to Make a Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie on plate, gray backgroud. Horizontal image
Copyright: freeskyline

Cottage Pie is similar to Shepherd’s Pie save that the meat is minced beef which is cooked in a gravy with a topping of mashed potato and breadcrumbs sprinkled on top. Toasted parsley breadcrumbs just give it that extra crispy finish. The beef is best simmered in a full bodied red wine for great flavour if you want to recreate Tesco’s Finest version.

Looking through the great raft of recipes on-line I hit on the one that comes from a hand written version of my mother’s. It is one of the British classics and especially good on a winter’s day. Angela Harnett in The Daily Telegraph adds a spoonful of creme fraiche to the potato topping during mashing to make it even richer.

Serves 4; Preparation time: 15 minutes; Cooking time: 1 hour


  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil for frying and spraying You can use olive oil but it isn’t a traditional oil to use with this dish.
  • 400g lean minced beef. Extra-lean is ideal for those trying to cut calories.
  • 1 small glass of red wine
  • 1 medium-large onion, chopped and diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 really small red chilli, finely chopped (optional if you think this is not traditional!)
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 or 3 tbsps tomato puree
  • 1 – 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves otherwise 2-3 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 beefstock cubes or 450ml/16fl. oz. of hot beef stock which could be the dissolved beefstock cubes.
  • 100g frozen peas
  • 1kg/2lb 4oz potatoes which are floury – King Edwards and Pentland Javelin are good. Peel.
  • 4-5 tbsp milk – not semi-skimmed
  • knob of butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • breadcrumbs and chopped parsley to sprinkle on top – a handful if you would like.


  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F
  2. Heat the oil in a large, deep frying pan or skillet
  3. Add the onions, celery and carrots and cook until softened – usually takes under 5 minutes
  4. Add the chilli if needed and cook for a further couple of minutes
  5. Add the beef with the red wine, stir well, ensure the meat is broken up and starts browning with the vegetables
  6. Stir in flour in small amounts and mix well so that it effectively gets dispersed throughout. Add the hot stock with tomato puree and bring to boil but then reduce to a simmer
  7. Add the peas and Worcestershire sauce.
  8. Season with pepper and salt.
  9. Cover the pan and simmer for 15 minutes to thicken up the juices.
  10. In the meantime, cook the potatoes in a large pan of salted boiling water until these are soft – takes 20 minutes on average.
  11. Drain and mix in butter. Mash to a smooth paste and then season.
  12. Add the meat mix to a large ovenproof dish.
  13. Cover with mashed potato. Use a fork to create a ploughed field effect. You can top with breadcrumbs and chopped up parsley if desired.
  14. Cook in the oven for 25 minutes – take out when the top is golden brown.
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