Ok so cottage pie might sound a bit bland and boring and it certainly can be but when it’s well made it’s really obvious why this traditional dish has stood the test of time. There are so many versions of cottage pie and I think most families in Britain have their own idea of how this should be made. To me good cottage pie shouldn’t be just mince and mash it should be a rich meaty stew dolloped with blanket of creamy mash with that definitive fluffy crisp topping, humble yes but absolutely heavenly comfort food. So in order to achieve this I have a few key ingredients: crème fraiche, tomato puree and ever mother’s saviour Bisto. I only put carrots in mine, not because there’s anything wrong with adding onions or peas but I just don’t think it’s necessary and I prefer to have peas on the side, like I say everyone has their own preferences.
My other key strategy for cottage pie is to do it in individual portions as one of the joys of cottage pie is the way the crispy mash sticks to the side of the tin and this way nobody needs to fight over it. I also recommend using disposable tin foil trays not only because it saves on washing up (and having to scrub oven dishes can really undo the comfort of any good meal) but also because these can easily be frozen and simply left to defrost for the day when you know you have a stressful day ahead. It’s always nice to know that no matter how stressful the day is, this heavenly little pie is patiently awaiting your return home. Ingredients: 600g minced beef 6 medium sized carrots, peeled and chopped small by hand or in a food processor 1 heaped tablespoon of tomato puree 500ml beef stock 2 tablespoons Bisto gravy granules 1 kg of potatoes (any ones that suit mashing), peeled and cut into a similar size 25g butter 2 tablespoons crème fraiche good grating of nutmeg salt and pepper a drizzle of oil 1) Start by putting the mince into a hot pan and break up gently with a wooden spoon. Brown for a good 10 minutes until you’re pretty convinced it’s completely burned on the bottom and will need to be thrown out (as my gran taught me, the key to good flavoursome mince is to brown it very well). Then pour in the carrots, tomato puree and stock and then stir and lower the heat with a lid half on. Leave for about 30-45 minutes until the carrots are really tender. Then add the bisto and stir together until the mince is swathed a gravy. 2) In the meantime put the potatoes in a pan of cold water and put on a high heat. Once they’re boiling it’s usually about 15- 20 minutes until they are soft enough to mash so test with a fork. Once cooked, drain the potatoes and return to the pan with butter, crème fraiche, nutmeg and seasoning. Using an electric hand whisk whip the potatoes together into a light creamy mash (Delia’s excellent method).
3) Now divide the mince between 5 trays and dollop the mash on top. Spread the mash out and fluff up with a fork. If you are cooking straight away, drizzle with oil and put in a preheated 200C oven and cook for 25 minutes. If you are cooking after defrosting then fluff up the mash with a fork again and then drizzle with oil and cook for the same time. Allow the pie to cool for about 5 minutes before attempting to eat otherwise you may take off the roof of your mouth (which would catastrophically disappointing before eating this).