This classic cottage pie recipe makes the traditional Irish comfort food dish synonymous with hearty Irish farmhouse cooking. Endearingly old fashioned, this Irish comfort food favourite consists of layers of savoury beef mince and vegetables, and cheesy mashed potatoes, which are baked, and served with buttery green peas. Wash it all down with red wine or Guinness.
We’re using the Irish holiday, St Patrick’s Day, which is on Thursday, as an excuse to cook Irish food this week. Though who really needs an excuse? Yesterday we published our incredibly moreish Irish stew recipe, which will make you a rich, deeply flavoured Irish stew, with a heavenly gravy thanks to an easy roux – and half a bottle of Shiraz!
Last Friday for our weekly Weekend Eggs breakfast eggs series, Terence shared his scrummy breakfast colcannon with bacon and eggs, which I highly recommend you make for breakfast on St Paddy’s Day. Or breakfast the day after if you’re planning on dressing in green and downing beers with your Irish mates. It’s a fantastic hangover cure.
And if you’re a colcannon lover, check out Terence’s sublime crispy salmon fillet with Irish colcannon and prawns. Based on a dish by Irish chef Liam Tomlin, which he used to cook at his Sydney restaurant Banc, one of our favourite restaurants back in the day, this prawn colcannon with salmon remains one of our favourite dishes, which Terence has been making for many years.
And today I’m sharing this comforting classic cottage pie recipe, which will make you another quintessentially Irish dish that, like its cousin, shepherd’s pie, remains as popular as ever in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Irish diaspora, and countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the USA.
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Cottage Pie Recipe for an Old Fashioned Irish Farmhouse Favourite
This classic cottage pie recipe makes the traditional Irish comfort food dish that’s synonymous with hearty, rustic, Irish farmhouse cooking, which has become a much-loved culinary genre of Irish cooking in recent decades, embracing some of the most quintessential Irish dishes, such as a traditional Irish stew.
Of course, it must be said – before someone leaves a comment about how cottage pie is not only Irish and also is made in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and so on – that, yes, it’s true, cottage pie is not confined to Ireland, we also grew up eating both cottage pie and shepherd’s pie in Australia. Which is why we’re sharing this recipe. (Insert smiling emoji.)
However, there is no denying the long history of cottage pie in Irish cooking that includes some of the oldest documented cottage pie recipes – as well as shepherd’s pie recipes – that are evidence that these savoury minced meat pies without pastry, topped with mashed potatoes, weren’t only made in England and its colonies.
So what is the difference between cottage pie and shepherd’s pie? Because, bewilderingly, there’s a fair bit of confusion about this out there on food sites and food blogs, even though the distinction is very clear: cottage pie is made with beef mince and shepherd’s pie made with lamb mince, which should be evident because shepherds herd sheep not cows. (Insert another smiling emoji; the one with gritted teeth.)
I’ve noticed that some food blog and food magazine site cottage pie recipe introductions claim that shepherd’s pie is Irish and cottage pie is British, because the Irish were poor potato-eating peasants dressed in rags who couldn’t afford to eat beef and the British were their wealthy land-owning masters who could. That’s rubbish. Research shows otherwise.
As I mentioned in the introduction to my Irish beef stew recipe yesterday, there’s a great deal of historical evidence and archaeological findings that confirm that the Irish were very much beef-eating peoples. It’s just beef was predominantly a ‘winter food’, as was stew.
I’ll share more about the fascinating culinary history of Ireland. For now, I have just a few tips to making this traditional cottage pie recipe.
Tips to Making this Cottage Pie Recipe
I only have a few tips to making this traditional Irish cottage pie recipe, starting with the mashed potatoes. Put on the potatoes before you begin to make the savoury minced beef and vegetable mixture, as the timings work out really well, so that the potatoes should finish boiling while the filling is still simmering.
Most Irish cottage pie recipes call for rapeseed oil, which we can’t source, but by all means use it if you can. Irish chefs reckon the next best thing is virgin olive oil.
Most recipes recommend frying the onions, carrots, celery, and beef mince together, whereas I think it’s best to do the onions, carrots and celery separately, and to save time, fry the beef mince in a separate pan, and then combine then. This definitely speeds up the cooking time and will save you about 15 minutes.
While the ground beef and veggie mixture is still simmering away, you can return to deal with the potatoes, and peel off the skins, press them in a potato ricer, and mash them with butter and salt until creamy and smooth. Terence is the expert potato masher in our household and helps with this cottage pie recipe, but if he wasn’t taking on mashing duties, the timing works perfectly to complete the mash right about now.
While the beef and vegetable mixture are reducing you can preheat the oven to 180ºC – or heat it earlier if your oven takes a while. Whatever you do, leave the last mashed potato step, of adding the grated cheddar cheese, until just before you’re about to assemble the dish and slide it into the oven.
We use a baking dish of around 24 cm x 18 cm in size, which is perfect for the ingredient amounts above. There was just a teensy bit of mixture leftover, which I guarantee you won’t go to waste. It works out to six pieces, which is plenty if accompanied by buttery green peas and bread for cleaning your plate!
If you’re feeding more people or big eaters, just double the amounts and use a bigger baking pan. I assure you that nothing will go to waste! Enjoy!
Cottage Pie Recipe
- 700 g potatoes
- 3 tbsp rapeseed oil or virgin olive oil
- 200 g brown onion finely chopped
- 250 g carrots peeled and finely diced
- 150 g celery sticks finely chopped
- 400 g beef mince
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 100 ml red wine
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 240 g tinned tomatoes
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp thyme fresh, finely chopped
- 1 tsp rosemary fresh, finely chopped
- 30 g butter
- 100 ml milk
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 100 g cheddar cheese grated
- To a large pot of cold salted water, add the whole potatoes, cover, and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a low rolling boil for 30 minutes or so, until the potatoes are tender.
- While the potatoes are boiling, in a big round flat-bottomed wok or large skillet or frying pan, heat the rapeseed oil or virgin olive oil over medium, then add the onions, carrots and celery and fry for around 15-20 minutes until soft and just starting to brown.
- At the same time, in a separate wok/pan over medium heat, fry the beef mince until cooked, then transfer to the fried vegetables, combine well, sprinkle the flour over the mixture, and stir again to combine well, and turn the heat down to low to simmer.
- The potatoes should be ready by now, so drain them, return them to the pot to reduce the moisture. When they’re cool enough to touch, peel off the skins, press them in a potato ricer, and mash them with butter and salt until creamy and smooth.
- To the vegetable and ground beef mixture, add the red wine and stir in to combine well, then add the Worcestershire sauce, tomato purée, tinned tomatoes, seasoning, and fresh herbs, and combine well. Cover with a lid, turn the heat down to low, and allow to simmer for around 30 minutes or so until densely textured, stirring occasionally so the mixture doesn’t stick.
- While the beef and vegetable mixture are reducing, preheat the oven to 180ºC, and finish the mashed potatoes by adding the grated cheddar cheese and nutmeg, and mashing to combine well.
- Transfer the ground beef and vegetable mixture to a baking dish (around 24 cm x 18 cm in size is perfect for the ingredient amounts above; you may have a little mixture left over), then pipe the mash on top, ensuring the mixture is completely covered – or simply spread the mashed potatoes on with a spoon – and bake for 20-30 minutes until the peaks brown.
- Serve immediately with buttered green peas – and bread for cleaning your plate!
Please do let us know if you make our Irish cottage pie recipe in the comments below as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.