The Sunday Recipe: Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie

I don’t remember having this dish when I was growing up but my daughter saw it online and wanted to give it a try. We’ve made it half a dozen times since then and customized it to fit our tastes, cobbling together a couple recipes into something we really enjoy. It is the ultimate comfort food.

This version is not vegetarian but I could easily see making it vegetarian by using mushroom gravy and either tofu or seitan in place of the meat.

One thing that makes a huge difference, I have found, is the quality of the Worcestershire sauce. We were using the standard grocery store sauce, and it was good, but then I ran out and grabbed a bottle of organic at our local farm store. It was amazing – the flavor was so much more complex and rich.

The other thing that makes a big difference to me is how finely minced the ground beef is, the trick is to keep the meat moving with a wood spoon or spatula as it browns. This produces a finer mince than you would get if you just turn it a few times during this step. It allows the sauce to fully incorporate and makes it so much better.

We have tried adding no peas, a cup of frozen peas, or a whole package before putting it in the pan and putting the mashed potatoes on top. Personally, I prefer to either leave the peas out or put a cup in and just serve the rest on the side. I think it dilutes the flavor of the casserole just a bit.

We’ve also added a cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese to the mashed potatoes, but it really isn’t necessary, this is so rich and flavorful on its own. 

One of the hardest bits to me is getting the consistency right of the beef and gravy so that the mashed potatoes don’t sink in, and also spooning the potatoes on evenly so they don’t sink in. Last time I used a cookie scoop to drop them on and that worked pretty well.

This time I was impatient and didn’t simmer the gravy for five minutes, so it was a bit soupy. It was still delicious. This serves our family of three for two meals.


  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large carrots or two handfuls of baby carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 pound of ground beef
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoon ketchup
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 1/2 pounds potatoes
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Salt/pepper to taste
  • 1 cup frozen green peas (optional)


  1. Chop vegetables.
  2. Peel potatoes and cut into half-inch pieces. Rinse, if needed, then place in a pot and cover with water.
  3. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. While the potatoes boil, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and cook the meat filling, directions as follows.
  5. Mix together the starch with a couple tablespoons of cold water, set aside.
  6. Heat a large pan over medium heat.
  7. Add olive oil and chopped carrots and onions, and minced garlic if using.
  8. Saute a few minutes.
  9. Add the ground beef and keep it moving until it is thoroughly browned and broken up into a fine mince.
  10. Add the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic powder if using.
  11. Salt and pepper as desired.
  12. Stir in the broth and bring it to a gentle bubble. Let it go for 5 minutes to reduce.
  13. Stir in the starch slurry.
  14. Allow to cook for a minute then remove from heat.
  15. Stir in a cup of frozen peas if using.
  16. When the potatoes have simmered for 20 minutes, drain and mash with butter, milk, as well as salt and pepper to taste.
  17. Pour the meat and vegetable filling into a prepared 9 by 13 casserole dish.
  18. Dip the mashed potatoes over onto the filling.
  19. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
  20. Allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. (This comes out piping hot!)
  21. Serve with additional vegetable, peas are particularly good with it.