Cottage pie celebrates comfort food with creamy mashed potatoes, tender beef and vegetables in a simple sauce. Make it with lamb and it’s shepherd’s pie but no matter what you call it, it’s delicious.
Make Ahead | Freezer Friendly | Gluten Free OptionJump to Recipe
School cafeteria food is hardly craveable. These days kids get the iconic square pizza in a plastic bag and there are no giant Reese’s cup knock off peanut butter bars floating around.
I’m convinced this is part of the downfall of society.
But my son ate Shepherd’s Pie–where else but in the school cafeteria– and never stopped talking about it so I knew it was time to make the best one he’d ever had.
He declared this version “exactly right” and though this has a longer list of ingredients than I like, they are all necessary and the process itself isn’t hard to do. And believe it or not this really is a simplified version compared to many I found during the research process.
What’s the difference between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie?
Shepherds herd sheep, not cows– so even though we tend to use the term Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie interchangeably, a Shepherd’s Pie is made with ground lamb and a Cottage version with beef.
100 ways Cottage Pie can make your life easier
Okay so there aren’t 100 ways but there are still a lot.
- It’s make ahead wonderful. You can either assemble it and chill it for baking later in the day or refrigerate the separate parts (potatoes and beef filling) and assemble them in a dish up to three days later.
- It would freeze just fine. I’d freeze it all assembled after it cools and bake from frozen, covered for about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes.
- It adjusts easily to dairy free or gluten free diets. Use ghee instead of butter and leave the cheese out of the potatoes. It won’t be as rich but it works. If they need to be thinned, use a bit of chicken stock or beef broth.
- Not doing potatoes? Try cauliflower mash on top. Not doing beef? Try ground turkey.
- You could also make several of these and freeze the potato and beef layers separately in a zip lock bag for freezer meals later.
Let’s solve potato issues before they arise
I hear people say they can’t make mashed potatoes. Usually they complain they are soupy and wet. That’s because they weren’t drained thoroughly. Use a colander to drain them and dump them completely out, let them sit a few seconds, give them a shake and return them to the hot pot (make sure no water is in the bottom).
If your potatoes are too thin and want to sink into your cottage pie beef filling, give your filling more time to cool before adding the potatoes. Don’t sweat it too much though–you’ll get the hang of it–who cares if your potatoes are a little thin?
If your potatoes turn gluey and thick it’s because you over mashed them and the starches all released. Just be gentle, mash just enough but leave a few lumps and avoid over working things.
How to assemble Cottage Pie
Simple Cottage Pie
For the mashed potatoes
- 2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes peeled and diced in to 1" cubes
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup milk
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon is for salting the cooking water *see note 1
- 1/4 teaspoons pepper
- 1/2 cup cheddar cheese for topping
For the beef filling
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 teaspoon salt *see note 2
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 3/4 cup onion diced in to 1/2" pieces, about 1 small to medium onion
- 1 cup carrots diced in to 1/2" pieces
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup flour gluten free works great
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 1/2 cups beef broth
- 1 teaspoon thyme 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme works too
- 1 teaspoon rosemary 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary works too
- 1/2 cup corn kernels I used frozen
- 1/2 cup peas I used frozen
Make the mashed potatoes
- Add the diced potatoes to a pot and cover with cold water 2 inches above the potatoes. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat; add a teaspoon of salt to the water and simmer until the potatoes break apart when poked with a fork; 12 to 15 mintues or so.
- Drain the potatoes thoroughly and return them to the pot. Place the pot back on the hot burner (now turned off) and cover the pot with a lid. Let the potatoes steam 5 to 7 minutes before proceeding.
- After steaming, add the sour cream, milk, butter, parmesan, salt and pepper. And use a mixer or hand masher to mash the potatoes until smooth. Don't beat them for a super long time or they will turn gluey and sticky. Just beat/mix them until the majority of the lumps are gone but a few small ones are fine. Taste for seasoning, add more salt if needed.
- Set potatoes aside while you make the beef mixture. The potatoes can be cooled and refrigerated up to 3 days before assembling your cottage pie if needed.
Make the beef layer
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Heat a 12" skillet over medium heat and add the ground beef, salt, pepper, carrots and onion breaking up the beef as it cooks until no pink remains. Drain almost all the fat except 1/4 cup.
- Return the heat to medium, and add the garlic, tomato paste, worchestershire sauce, and the flour. Stir to combine (the mixture will be slightly pasty) and cook 1 minute until no raw flour is seen.
- Add the beef broth, thyme and rosemary and turn the heat down to medium low. Simmer gently until the sauce begins to thicken, about 8 minutes or so.
- Add the corn and peas and stir to combine. At this point you can cool the beef layer for assembly later, transfer it to an oven-safe dish if your skillet isn't oven safe, or simply add the potatoes and bake if it is oven safe.
- Spread the potatoes over the beef and sprinkle with cheddar cheese and a grind of pepper.
- Bake until the potatoes begin to brown on the edges and the dish is bubbling, about 35 minutes.