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Hearty and comforting classic Cottage Pie
What is Cottage Pie?
Cottage Pie is a delicious meaty casserole made with ground (or minced) meat and vegetables simmered in a rich, flavorful sauce. Next the casserole is topped with mashed potatoes and baked to golden brown perfection. This is the ultimate comfort food!
Savory Cottage Pie is one of the most satisfying, comforting and deliciously hearty meals you can make at home. Tender beef, rich flavorful gravy and fluffy mashed potatoes come together in this age-old favorite.
We’ve been making cottage pie for years and never seem to tire of this amazing dish. Once a month we host a family dinner with our adult children and their families. This is the kind of Sunday supper they all love.
What’s the difference between Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie?
Shepherd’s Pie is made with ground lamb in place of the beef found in cottage pie. Other than that small change, the ingredients are typically the same.
As with many popular dishes known worldwide there are a million variations to the recipes depending on where you live. However most all recipes include ground meat, onions and potatoes.
Some recipes include corn and peas, while others add celery and mushrooms, too. Sometimes we include all those vegetables in our cottage pie; it’s all good! For this recipe we’ve used the basics: onions, potatoes, peas and carrots.
Shepherd’s Pie or Cottage Pie, which is better?
We’ve tried a lot of great lamb recipes while traveling in Ireland, Iceland, Europe and Australia. For a real Scottish treat, try this recipe for Lamb Pasties, oh so good! My husband and I love lamb and never hesitate to use it in recipes like our kebabs, meatballs and Souvlaki when cooking at home.
Ground lamb has become more popular in the US in recent years, and is much easier to find in grocery stores. If you haven’t tried ground lamb, I wholeheartedly recommend you give it a go! I guess it’s hard to pick a favorite; we love them both!
Where does Cottage Pie come from?
The term cottage pie first appeared in Europe in the late 1700’s. The name shepherd’s pie became popular in Britain and Ireland in the mid-1800’s but only when referring to a savory pie made with lamb.
This casserole was first created as a way to use leftover meat and potatoes. However, the dish has evolved into a favorite main course worldwide. Cottage pie is often referred to as pub grub.
For the beef mixture:
- lean ground beef
- baking soda
- salt and pepper
For the mashed potatoes:
- potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- salt and pepper
- unsalted butter
- egg yolk
For the filling:
- unsalted butter and olive oil
- carrots and onion
- salt and pepper
- crushed red pepper flakes to add a little zing
- tomato paste
- all-purpose flour
- Worcestershire sauce
- low-sodium beef broth
- fresh thyme
- frozen green peas
Overview: How to make Cottage Pie:
1. Prepare the beef
2. Prepare the potatoes
Place the potatoes and salt in a pot of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until tender.
Drain the potatoes and mash with butter, salt and pepper. Add milk and the egg yolk. Cover and set aside until needed.
3. Make the filling
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Heat an oven/broiler proof large skillet or baking dish on the stovetop and add the butter and olive oil. Add the onions, carrots, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes.
Next add the garlic and tomato paste. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook while stirring constantly for 2 minutes.
Pour in the beef broth, Worcestershire and thyme. Reduce the heat and add the ground beef in small chunks on top of the vegetables (don’t stir). Bring the mixture to a simmer, cover and cook until the beef is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Stir halfway through to break up any large clumps.
Whisk the cornstarch with water and add to the beef. Stir in the frozen peas and remove from the heat.
4. Assembling the casserole
Spoon the mashed potatoes into a large ziplock bag or piping bag. Cut a 1-inch opening in the corner and pipe the potatoes over the beef mixture. Carefully smooth to cover the beef. Drag the tines of a fork across the top to make decorative ridges.
Bake on a rimmed baking sheet until bubbling, about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the broiler on high, prop the oven door open slightly and broil the casserole until the potatoes are golden brown and crusty, about 5 minutes. Allow the casserole to cool 15 minutes before serving.
Tips for making the best Cottage Pie:
- Don’t skip the first step! Sprinkling a little baking soda over the ground beef helps it stay tender instead of chewy and tough. Thanks to America’s Test Kitchen for that amazing tip!
- Some cottage pies can be watery, and almost soup-like. To prevent this we start by using lean ground beef. As fatty beef cooks, it creates more juice that can water down your gravy. Make sure to use beef that is at least 90% lean.
- We recommend using a hand potato masher when making the mashed potatoes. An electric mixer makes mashed potatoes gummy.
- Our recipe calls for 2 cups of beef broth. If you prefer less gravy, reduce that amount to 1 or 1-1/2 cups broth instead.
- Cottage pie can be baked in the skillet used to cook the meat, or transferred to a casserole dish before baking. If you use a casserole dish, make sure it’s broiler friendly, or skip broiling the top and just bake until bubbly. The potatoes will brown a little without being broiled.
- For a simple shortcut use good quality, pre-made, store-bought mashed potatoes. Stir in an egg yolk before piping on top of the beef. Adding an egg yolk to the potatoes helps it turn a nice golden brown. I gleaned that terrific tip from my other go-to source for all things cooking and baking: Cook’s Country.
- Piping the mashed potatoes on top of the casserole is highly recommended. If spooned or dolloped, the potatoes tend to clump and sink into the meat and not spread as well.
- I’ve also has great success adding white cheddar cheese to the mashed potatoes and/or topping the casserole with shredded cheese at the end. Cheesy potatoes… yum!
Can this Cottage Pie recipe be made ahead or frozen?
- The meat mixture may be made ahead of time and refrigerated. Allow the beef to come to room temperature while preparing the mashed potatoes. Bake and broil as directed.
- Leftover cottage pie can be gently re-warmed in the microwave.
- We often freeze leftover cottage pie in individual servings to use as a quick weeknight dinner, or for a hearty lunch. Thaw the frozen cottage pie overnight in the refrigerator and rewarm in the microwave.
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For the beef mixture:
- 2 pounds lean ground beef (not less than 90%)
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
For the mashed potatoes:
- 3 pounds potatoes peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into small chunks (3-ounces or 85g)
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- ⅔ cup milk
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion chopped
- 3 medium carrots diced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 14.5 ounce can low-sodium beef broth (use less broth if you prefer for a drier casserole)
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
- 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen green peas
To prepare the beef:
- Place the ground beef in a medium mixing bowl. In a small cup combine the baking soda with 2 tablespoons water, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Stir to dissolve. Pour the baking soda mixture over the ground beef and toss to combine. Set aside for 20 minutes at room temperature while preparing the potatoes.
To prepare the potatoes:
- Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover completely with cold water. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring the potatoes to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are soft, about 10-12 minutes.
- Drain the potatoes completely until very dry. Return the potatoes to the pot and mash until no lumps remain. Add the butter, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Stir until the butter is melted. Whisk together the milk and egg yolk. Add to the potatoes and stir to combine. Cover and set aside.
To prepare the filling:
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- In an oven/broiler-proof large skillet (at least 12-inches wide) add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Heat on medium until butter is melted. Add the onions, carrots, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and crushed red pepper flakes, if using. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots start to soften. Add the garlic and tomato paste and stir constantly until the mixture darkens and the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes, scraping up the browned fond on the bottom of the skillet. Add the beef broth, Worcestershire and thyme. Scrape the bottom of the pan to release any browned bits and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the beef in small chunks on top of the vegetables (don't stir). Bring the mixture to a simmer, cover and cook until the beef is cooked through, about 12-15 minutes, stirring halfway through breaking up any large clumps.
- Whisk together the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water and add to the beef. Cook for 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Stir in the peas and remove from the heat. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.
- Place the mashed potatoes in a large zipper or pipping bag. Cut a 1-inch opening in one corner of the bag and pipe the potatoes over the beef mixture. Smooth the potatoes to cover the beef. Drag the tines of a fork across the top to make decorative ridges in the potatoes.
- Place the skillet on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the filling is bubbling, about 15 - 20 minutes. Turn the broiler on HIGH, prop the oven door open slightly and broil the casserole until the potatoes are golden brown and crusty, about 5 minutes. (Watch carefully so they don't burn!)
- Cool 10 - 15 minutes before serving.
- Inspired by recipes on Food Network and Cook’s Country
- The beef mixture may be made ahead of time and refrigerated. Allow the beef to come to room temperature while preparing the mashed potatoes Bake and broil as directed.
- We recommend using a potato masher for the mashed potatoes. An electric mixer will make the mashed potatoes gummy.
- We use 2 cups of beef broth in this recipe. If you prefer a drier casserole with less gravy, use 1 to 1 1/2 cups broth instead.
- Fattier beef will create more juice, affecting the amount of gravy in this casserole. If using ground beef with a high fat content, decrease the amount of beef broth to 1 cup.
- This dish can be baked in the skillet used to make the meat, or transferred to a casserole dish before baking. Make sure your casserole dish is broiler friendly. If you don't have a broiler-friendly pan, skip that step and just bake until bubbly and browned on top.
- For a shortcut, use pre-made, store-bought mashed potatoes mixed with 1 egg yolk.
- Piping mashed potatoes on top is recommended. If spooned on top, the potatoes tend to clump and sink, and not spread as well when covering the meat mixture.
If you love this beefy Cottage Pie, we know you’ll love our luscious Beef Stroganoff recipe, too.
For another hearty dish that feeds a crowd, make this homey and comforting Chicken Noodle Casserole. Your family will LOVE it!
Finally, try our classic Salisbury Steak Recipe with a rich and meaty mushroom gravy. So good!
Originally published in January 2012, updated January 2021