When the leaves begin to turn brown and the evenings get darker, simple, hearty casseroles like cottage pie start to grace supper tables. Originally a way to use up scraps of meat leftover from a previous meal, cottage pie is now more commonly made with ground meat, but sometimes made with braised. The most distinguishable feature of cottage pie is the mashed potato crust, baked until golden and crisp.
The terms "cottage pie" and "shepherd's pie" were once used interchangeably, whether or not the meat used was beef or lamb. Now cottage pie refers specifically to beef, whereas shepherd's pie refers to the use of ground lamb. This version of cottage pie uses shallots and sherry to add a slightly sweeter, savory note to the dish. It's a personal preference to use the peas as a layer between the meat and potatoes, but feel free to fold them into the meat—or use whatever technique your Mum used when you were a kid.
- Yield:serves 4
- Active time: 25 minutes
- Total time:1 hour 10 minutes
- 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 3 large) peeled and cut into rough 1-inch cubes
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3 tablespoons butter
- Kosher salt
- 3 medium shallots, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons picked fresh thyme leaves
- 2 ribs celery, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 medium carrots, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 tablespoon tomato poaste
- 1/2 cup sherry
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 1 cup low sodium homemade or store-bought chicken or beef broth
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 375°F. Cover potatoes with cold water and bring to a simmer; cook until potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes and place back in the pot. Add milk and butter and mash with a potato masher. Season to taste with salt and reserve.
Melt butter in a large stainless steel skillet over medium high heat. Add shallots, bay leaves, and thyme, and cook, stirring, until shallots begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add celery and carrots and continue to cook, stirring, until carrots begin to soften, about 4 minutes longer.
Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until vegetables are evenly coated with paste, then add sherry and cook until sherry is reduced by half, about 6 minutes. Add beef and mix with a wooden spoon until vegetables and meat are evenly incorporated and beef has begun to brown, about 5 minutes. Add broth and bring to a simmer, stirring often to break up the meat. Simmer meat mixture until liquid has thickened and reduced by half and meat has cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Transfer meat mixture to bottom of 8- by 11-inch baking dish. Spread peas over meat mixture, then spread mashed potatoes over top of peas and meat. Smooth potatoes and decorate with the tines of a fork. Bake until top of potatoes begins to brown, about 35 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes, then serve.