I don’t know how you’re going to take this, but I used to work at a pub… And when on day shift, I was in charge of microwaving the cottage pies. You heard that right. Microwaved cottage pies. In all fairness, the filling WAS made from scratch, but then frozen and microwaved before being topped with Smash and thrown under the grill.
No worries though, this cottage pie recipe I’m sharing now is decidedly NOT my former pub version. Au contraire – it’s actually quite laboursome compared to most of my other recipes, made with a scrumptious filling with mushrooms, bacon, minced beef and plenty of red wine gravy.
But don’t let the extra work deter you from making it, it is quite possibly the most glorious meal to make on a cold and snowy night!
But first, let’s get some music going…
I chose Adele’s Hometown Glory to go alongside this recipe, because eh, I may joke about my time at said pub… But quite truthfully, it was a wonderful time and I felt so at home, this song feels exactly right.
Now let’s make that filling!
I always start with the filling when I make cottage pie, because you want it to get cold before you add the topping for best results (we didn’t honour this at the pub, in case you were wondering 😉).
First, I slowly sweat the bacon and vegetables with the lid on until they’re completely soft and release their natural sweetness. Then I take them out of the pot and add the beef mince. I cook it until it seem irresponsibly browned, almost to the point of crisping it up.
No color, no flavour. That’s what Gordon Ramsay was taught by his mum, so you know it has to be true. I just hope it won’t cause you any 4-letter-word attacks…
Finally, the vegetables go back in, the red wine goes in. Scrape all those browned bits off the bottom of the pot, all the flavor is in there.
Simmer until the mix almost looks dry again. Then, and only then, I add the broth, mushrooms, herbs. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to the lowest. Pop the lid on. Cook for 45 minutes (yes, forty-five, sorry but that’s what a former boyfriend from the Midlands taught me, and while it’s about the only truthful thing I remember coming out of his mouth, at least it’s a good one).
Then, transfer the filling to a dish and set aside to get cold.
And now we’re on to the mash
Last but not least, the mash! I always cook potatoes for mash in a pressure cooker. It’s just so fast and easy, and the mash comes out much fluffier when the potatoes are steamed vs when they’re boiled in water.
A splash of milk. A knob of butter. Salt, pepper, nutmeg. And an arm workout. That’s all it takes.
Make it ahead or bake it right away now
I suppose you could refrigerate the pie at this point to reheat up to three days later. In case you’re into making things ahead and such.
Otherwise, you just put it on a baking tray in the oven and watch it gleefully until it bubbles up, bubbles to the surface, bubbles ever so slightly over… Good thing you lined that baking tray with a piece of parchment, right?
Serve ‘er up
I know it would be common sense to let the pie sit for 5-10 minutes after baking, but honestly now. Those smells are way too good to resist a tiny taste, and not even the prospect of burning the roof of my mouth keeps me away.
There’s so much veg in there, you hardly need another side, but if you feel like you do, my cottage pie works exceptionally well alongside some sturdy seasonal greens – think braised kale or cabbage.
And that’s it. Now go print the recipe. Throw on Adele and… Accio Cottage Pie ⚡️
My Favourite Cottage Pie
For the filling:
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 large onion (finely chopped)
- 1 stick celery (finely cubed)
- 1 large carrot (peeled and finely cubed)
- 1 leek (finely sliced)
- 1 thick slab smoked streaky bacon (cubed)
- 500 g minced beef (1 pound)
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- 150 ml red wine (2/3 cup)
- 300 ml beef stock (1 1/4 cup)
- 250 g brown mushrooms (sliced; 1/2 pound)
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon redcurrant jelly (or blackcurrant, blackberry…)
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (chopped)
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary needles (chopped)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the topping:
- 1 kg floury potatoes (peeled and cut into chunks; 2 pounds)
- knob of butter
- a little milk
- ground nutmeg
Make the filling:
- Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, carrot, leek and bacon and cook around 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low, close pot with a lid and let cook for 15 minutes.
- Open pot, remove veg and bacon to a plate and set the pot back on the hob over medium-high heat. Add a little oil if necessary, then cook the mince until well browned.
- Stir the veg/bacon mix back in, then sprinkle the flour on top and stir in well. Pour the red wine into the pot and stir, scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pot.
- Stir in 250ml (1 cup) of the beef stock, the mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, redcurrant jelly, thyme and rosemary. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer, close with the lid and simmer for 45 minutes. Check from time to time and add a little more stock if it seems dry.
- Once done cooking, open and check for salt and pepper. Season if needed. If the gravy needs any thickening at this point, what the heat up to medium-high and simmer for a few minutes until reduced to your liking. Pour filling into an about 2l (2 quart) deep baking dish and set aside to cool for about 30 minutes.
Make the topping:
- Once ready, cook the potatoes your preferred way (I always steam them in the pressure cooker for mash). Mash with a few splashes of milk and a knob of butter, and season with salt, pepper and a few pinches of ground nutmeg.
Finish the pie:
- Heat the oven to 200°C (Gas 6 / 400°F).
- Carefully spread the mash over the cooled filling. Use a fork to create a pattern on top of the mash to make sure the heat catches it a little to crisp it up in some places.
- Bake (on a parchment lined baking tray to catch any accidental overspill) on the middle rack for around 20 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly. Let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes, then serve right away.
- Do make sure to cool the filling down to around room temperature before spreading the mash on top, or the layers mix more easily.
- If you want to turn this into a Shepherd’s Pie, feel free to substitute minced lamb for the beef.
- The vegetables are absolutely a guidance and not set in stone. If you don’t like the taste of leek, an extra onion works just as well. I’ve also used parsnip and celeriac in this pie before, and they are wonderful if you enjoy their flavour.