This British-American Life in the Kitchen – Cottage Pie

What is not to love about ground beef (beef mince) in a flavorful savory sauce topped with mashed potato, baked in the oven until the top is nicely browned and crusty? Actually, if you are vegetarian/vegan, lots. I understand. But to the omnivores out there, it’s hard to argue how this dish would not hit all sorts of happy places in your brain, if it is done right.

Now, to the Americans, you are looking at what I am describing and going, “Oh, shepherd’s pie!” And I am going to tell you to stop calling it that right now. Cease immediately. Shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb and only ground lamb. This label makes sense, since, excuse me while I shout, SHEPHERDS DO NOT HERD COWS. This is the kind of thing that makes the Britons think we only learned to walk upright last week.

My late cat, Pandora, would be giving you the Smug Look of Derision, if you keep this up.
My late cat, Pandora, would be giving you the Smug Look of Derision, if you keep this kind of stupidity up.

For those who are new to making cottage pie, this is my American modification of the BBC Good Food recipe.  (And if you want some gastroporn, feel free to explore the rest of the site too)

Cottage Pie – The American Modification


For the beef and veg

3 tbsp olive oil

2 lbs ground beef

2 small onions, finely diced

3 large carrots, diced

2 celery sticks, diced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tbsp plain flour or 1 tbsp of corn starch or potato starch

1 tbsp tomato paste

Large glass of red wine (optional)

Several glasses of red wine for the cook (optional or mandatory.  I won’t argue.)

24 oz. (3 cups) of beef stock

1 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce

Few thyme sprigs

2 bay leaves

For the mashed potatoes

2 lbs potatoes, peeled and sliced

8 oz (1 cup) of milk

2 tbsp of butter

8 oz grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

Freshly grated nutmeg

  1. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large saucepan and fry the ground beef until browned. Remove beef from the pan.  Put the rest of the oil into the pan, add the vegetables and cook on a gentle heat until soft, about 20 mins. Add the garlic, flour/starch and tomato paste, increase the heat and cook for a few mins, then return the beef to the pan. Pour over the wine, if using, and boil to reduce it slightly before adding the stock, Worcestershire sauce and herbs. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 45 mins. By this time the gravy should be thick and coating the meat. Check after about 30 mins – if a lot of liquid remains, increase the heat slightly to reduce the gravy a little. Season well, then discard the bay leaves and thyme stalks.
  2. Meanwhile, make the mashed potatoes. In a large saucepan, cover the potatoes in salted cold water, bring to the boil and simmer until tender. Drain well, then allow to steam-dry for a few mins. Mash well with the milk, butter, and three-quarters of the cheese, then season with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper.
  3. Spoon meat into a 9″ x 13″ dish. Pipe or spoon on the mash to cover. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese. Heat oven to a 400°F and cook 30-35 mins, or until the topping is golden.  If the topping is not browning adequately, you can set your oven on to “broil” for a few minutes to finish off the dish.  Just keep a close eye on your oven.

Do I use this recipe to the letter? Honestly? No. It’s at a point where the Boffin and I use the “Throw Whatever We Have Around the House into It” Method of making cottage pie. I can give you some hints that can help.


  • Whenever we make mashed potatoes, we always make extra and freeze them for this occasion.
  • Keep bags of your frozen pea and carrot mix or your favorite mixed vegetables on hand.
  • Don’t be afraid to add other herbs or seasonings in.  We like to add ketchup, oregano, and HP sauce to ours.  We also make up our own herb blends and throw them in.  It’s your dish.  Have fun with it.
  • To make the cottage pie kosher, omit the milk, butter, and cheese from the mash and add parve margarine, kosher salt, pepper, and beef stock to give the potatoes flavor.
  • Place a cookie sheet underneath when baking the pie.  Sometimes the dish has a tendency to drip, and this saves on the messes.

In summary, I think this dish is the closest to American meatloaf in the sense that every household seems to have its own recipe; it evokes comfort and wholesomeness when it is made well; and the leftovers are better than the fresh meal.  It’s affordable.  It freezes well.  It’s a kid pleaser, especially by working the vegetables into the meat mixture, as the Sprog would attest.  It’s very simple to make.  So give it a go, and maybe you can start to see the loveliness that is British cuisine.

11 thoughts on “This British-American Life in the Kitchen – Cottage Pie

  1. No garlic, no garlic, no garlic. Why does EVERYTHING have to contain garlic – that’s FRENCH cuisine NOT BRITISH. (Also can’t see the reason for the celery)


  2. “Apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?” They brought garlic…. sorry it wasn’t the French instead you can blame those guys from the Tiber valley. I am aware that the current election climate is blurring the lines a bit too much,so I thought I would provide clarification.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you again, Ellen. Being part of the Reform community, we know people who do keep kosher, even though we don’t. I will admit that a proper deli was one of the things I missed most when I lived across the Pond. I definitely have more Jewish recipes in my arsenal that I can throw onto the blog.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll be glad to see them. It’s funny–I didn’t grow up in a family that focused on Jewish food at all, but since we lived in New York, it was just there, all around us. I left New York decades ago, but I still miss it.

        Liked by 1 person

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