The term ‘Cottage Pie’ refers to a meat pie made with beef mince, and with a ‘crust’ made from mashed potato, rather than traditional pastry. The term ‘cottage pie’ is known to have been in use since 1791, at the same time the potato was becoming popular as an edible and an affordable crop for the poor, and as an alternative basic foodstuff to bread. A Cottage Pie (and the variation on it using lamb mince, known as a Shepherd’s Pie) was primarily a means of using leftover roasted meat, of any kind, from the Sunday roast.
In this recipe the pie dish for the Cottage Pie is also lined with mashed potato, as well as having a mashed potato crust on top, as the Victorian Cook Lizzie Heritage observes below, “this prevents the boiling out of the gravy when the meat begins to cook” – this technique is rarely followed any-more in modern recipes, but in this recipe we shall follow her advice.
Cottage Pie or Shepherd’s Pie are humble dishes, with humble origins … but this Cottage Pie recipe tastes wonderful, a great Autumn to Winter dish, comforting, filling and warming. If you would like to make a modern version of this dish, with a step up in terms of deep mature flavours, then try this Cottage Pie With Guinness Recipe.
The Original 1894 Cottage Pie Recipe
From the ‘New Universal Cookery Book’, by Lizzie Heritage, Published 1894
Required: a pound and a half of cooked potatoes, half a pound to three-quarters of cold meat, seasoning and gravy as below. Cost, about 9d. The potatoes must be nicely cooked and mashed while hot…They should be seasoned, and beaten until light with a wooden spoon. A pie dish should then be greased, and the potatoes put at the bottom, to form a layer from half to an inch in thickness. The meat should be made into a thick mince of the usual kind with stock or gravy…or it may be mixed with Onion Sauce, or any other which may be sent to table with meat. The nicer the mince, the nice, of course, will be the pie. The meat goes next, and should be put in the centre of the bottom layer, leaving a little space all around. Then drop the remainder of the potatoes on the top, beginning at the sides–this prevents the boiling out of the gravy when the meat begins to cook–go on until all the used, making the pie highest in the middle. Take a fork, and rough the surface all over, because it will brown better than if left smooth. For a plain dish, bake it for fifteen to twenty minutes.
Or it may be just sprinkled with melted dripping (a brush is used for this), or it may be coated with beaten egg, part of which may then be used in the mashed potatoes. As soon as the pie is hot through and brown, it should be served. There are many recipes for this pie, or variation of it, and in some, directions are given for putting the meat in the dish first, and all the potatoes on the top. The plan above detailed will be found the better, because the meat being enveloped entirely in potatoes runs no risk of becoming hard, as it would do if exposed to the direct heat of the oven. Any other cooked vegetables may be added to the above, but they should be placed between the meat and potatoes, both top and bottom. If a very savoury pie is desired, make the mince very moist, and allow longer time for baking. The potatoes will absorb some of the gravy, and found tasty. In this case, the heat must not be fierce at starting, only at the end for the pie to brown well. For a richer pie, allow a larger proportion of meat. For a very cheap one, half a pound of meat will do for two pounds of potatoes.”
Victorian Cottage Pie Recipe
Use a deep casserole dish for this pie, as we are putting a layer of mash both top and bottom, sandwiching the beef and vegetables of the Cottage Pie – and we are following Lizzie’s recommendations by making a richer pie with more meat of good quality.
For the potato topping
- 2kg white potatoes (peeled and roughly cut)
- 100g butter
- 3 egg yolks (beaten)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the beef filling
- 3 onions (chopped small)
- 1kg of lean minced beef
- 1tsp sea salt
- 1tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 300ml fresh beef stock
- vegetable oil for frying
For The Vegetables
- 2 carrots (diced small)
- 4 brown chestnut mushrooms (sliced thin)
- 150g garden peas (frozen or fresh)
- a few fresh thyme sprigs (leaves only)
- 20g butter
- salt and pepper to season
In a large saucepan add some vegetable oil, bring up to a hot temperature, and fry the minced beef in small batches, so as not to lose the heat in the pan by adding in all the meat in one go (season the meat just before frying with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper). Tip the browned meat into a colander to drain, (as you do each batch). When all the meat has been browned add some more vegetable oil to the saucepan, bring up to a medium temperature, and fry the chopped onions for seven minutes, until golden brown and soft.
Then add all the browned minced beef back into the saucepan and then add in the fresh beef stock. Bring this up to the boil and stir frequently, once at the boil turn down the heat to a simmer and simmer until the liquid is reduced by two-thirds, thickening the sauce which will become glossy – after about twenty to thirty minutes. Once thickened turn the heat off from under the saucepan. Leave to cool. Note: the best Cottage Pies do not have a thin and watery gravy, by reducing the stock / gravy down to a thick consistency we are also intensifying the flavours.
As the meat and stock is simmering peel and roughly chop the potatoes and then simmer them in salted water until tender – about fifteen to twenty minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander and then return them to the empty dry pan, so the residual heat can dry them a little bit. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher, stirring in the butter and two egg yolks, taste and add in some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to season. Leave to cool.
In a saucepan of salted water simmer the carrots until soft and tender, add the garden peas (frozen or fresh) for the last few minutes. Drain the carrots and peas. In a frying pan melt the butter and fry the sliced mushrooms, once soft and tender add a little more butter and to the frying pan add the carrots, peas, salt and pepper to season and the leaves from the fresh thyme sprigs, fry gently and toss everything in the butter, herbs and seasoning.
Preheat the oven to 180C. (Lizzie in 1894 recommends “… In this case, the heat must not be fierce at starting, only at the end for the pie to brown well.”) Follow this advice by turning up the heat for the last five minutes of cooking in the oven.
Into a deep casserole dish, pie dish, or other oven proof dish, spoon a thin layer of the mashed potato, about 2cm thick, covering the bottom and up the sides a little way. Into the centre of this mash base spoon in a layer of vegetables, then spoon in all of the minced beef and onion gravy, finish with a layer of remaining vegetables. Over this carefully spoon the remaining mashed potatoes to enclose everything.
“Take a fork, and rough the surface all over, because it will brown better than if left smooth”. Then brush the potato top with the remaining beaten egg yolk. Place the casserole dish on an oven tray to catch any gravy which might bubble out over the sides. Bake for about thirty minutes until the topping is golden brown. Once cooked and golden remove from the oven and let the Cottage Pie rest for twenty minutes before serving.