I was the chef at an English Pub for two years. I cooked thousands of orders of Savory Pies, Pasties, Bangers and Fish 'n' Chips. When I was hired, the pub had a bad food reputation and they only served 7 customers a night. When I left that English Pub two years later, the pub had over 200 customers per night! Thats not bad, for a small kitchen that only had enough room for one cook.
Originally, Cottage Pies were a casserole style pie that was covered with sliced potatoes. The sliced potato topping resembled the wood shingle roofs of cottages that workers lived in. That is how Cottage Pie got its name! In modern times, Cottage Pie are usually topped with whipped potato instead of sliced potato.
The definition of Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie can be confusing. Cottage Pies are made with bits and pieces of beef, not ground beef. A Cottage Pie that is topped with whipped potato, is also topped with one or more slices of tomato.
English Shepherds pie is always made with ground lamb. To complicate the matter even further, Irish Shepherds pie is always made with bits of beef or ground beef. A poor folks Shepherd's Pie version is also made with any leftover scraps of food from a previous meal.
I prepared both the whipped potato topping and shingled potato topping for photo examples of today's Cottage Pie recipe. The choice of presentation styles is up to the readers.
For a great Cottage Pie gravy, use rich beef stock. The beef in the Cottage Pie is always a cheaper cut of beef with some fat marbling in the grain of the meat, to keep the meat tender. Beef Chuck (shoulder) is a good choice. Top Round and Bottom Round are also good thrifty priced choices.
*The choice of Cottage Pie topping is yours to make. Both potato topping styles are described in the presentations.
English Cottage Pie Meat Filling:
This recipe yield 2 hearty portions. (About 3 1/4 cups.)
Step 1: Heat a wide sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
Add 2 tablespoons of small chopped salt pork.
Add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
Render the grease from the salt pork. Sauté till the lardon bits are are golden brown.
Step 2: Add 14 ounces of bite size diced beef.
*A piece of chuck roast, top round or a sirloin cut is best.
Sauté till the beef is browned on all sides.
Step 3: Add 1/2 cup of small chopped onion.
Add 1/3 cup chopped white part of a leek.
Add 1/2 cup of diced carrot.
Add 1/3 cup of small chopped Button Cave Mushroom.
Add sea salt and black pepper to taste. The Salt Pork will release plenty of salt, so taste before adding salt.)
Saute till the vegetables start to become tender.
Step 4: Add just enough flour, while stirring, to absorb the excess grease and to make a roux. About 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons.
Stir till the roux starts to cook.
Step 5: Add 2 1/2 cups of beef stock while stirring.
Bring the liquid to a gentle boil. Stir occasionally as the gravy thickens to a thin sauce consistency.
Step 6: Reduce the temperature to low heat.
Add 2 pinches of marjoram.
Simmer and reduce the gravy it is a medium thin consistency that easily clings to the meat and vegetables.
Step 7: Add 1/2 cup of frozen peas.
Briefly simmer till the peas are hot.
Step 8: Remove the pan from the heat.
Keep the Cottage Pie Meat Filling warm on a stove top or in a 135ºF bain marie.
Original "Potato Shingle" Cottage Pie:
This recipe yields 1 entrée.
Step 1: Par boil 1 peeled large russet potato, till it is almost halfway cooked. The potato should still be firm.
Cool the par boiled potato under cold running water.
Step 2: Select oven proof single portion casserole dish.
Spoon the Cottage Pie Meat Filling into the casserole dish till it is almost full.
Step 3: Cut the par boiled potato into 3/16" thick slices.
Place the slices on the cottage pie filling, so they are an overlapping shingle pattern.
Step 4: Lightly brush the potato slices with melted unsalted butter.
Sprinkle 1 pinch of sea salt over the sliced potato topping.
Bake in a 350ºF oven till the potatoes are fully cooked and golden brown highlights appear.
Place the cottage pie on a doily lined serving platter.
Whipped Potato Topping:
This recipe yields enough for 1 entrée.
Step 1: Place an 8 ounce peeled russet potato in a sauce pot.
Cover the potato with water.
Boil till the potato is fully cooked and soft.
Step 2: Completely drain the water off of the potato.
Keep the sauce pot on a warm stove top.
Add 2 tablespoons of milk.
Add 1 tablespoon of melted unsalted butter.
Add 2 pinches of sea salt and white pepper.
Thoroughly mash and whip the potato mixture till it is smooth.
Step 3: Add 1 tablespoon of whisked egg.
Whisk till the mixture is blended.
Step 4: Load the whipped potato topping into a star tipped pastry bag and keep it warm on a stove top.
Step 5: Select an oven proof single portion ceramic crock.
Spoon the Cottage Pie Meat Filling into the crock till it is almost full.
Step 6: Use the star tipped pastry bag to pipe the whipped potato on top of the cottage pie filling.
Step 7: Press 1 slice of plum tomato onto the center of the whipped potato topping.
Place 1/2 teaspoon of unsalted butter on the tomato.
Bake in a 350ºF oven till golden brown highlights appear on the whipped potato topping.
Step 8: Place the Cottage Pie on a doily lined serving platter.
When serving, allow the Cottage Pie to cool for a couple minutes, so the filling reaches a safe serving temperature. The aroma and flavor of a good Cottage pie spells comfort!