Everything-From-Scratch Cottage Pie

I got introduced to cottage pie through school dinners, or more correctly, school lunches. Being from the north of England, I don’t really recall the word “lunch” being used. You’d have dinner (i.e. meal around noon, or otherwise known as lunch), tea (i.e meal in the evening, or otherwise known as dinner) and sometimes supper. Anyhow… school dinners were the warm meal you’d get around noon at schools, and were typically disgusting. The only redeeming feature of school dinners were the puddings (desserts), which usually consisted of steamed sponge and custard, cornflake/treacle tarts, ice cream, rice pudding etc.

As an adult and now a food snob, it now feels me with dread to wonder what the ingredients of those meals consisted of. With all the tainted beef and other meats going on around in that era, it is probably why I cannot donate blood within the US.  Ok, rant aside. Cottage pie is too often mislabeled as shepherd’s pie. Despite what you read out there, cottage pie should be made out of beef and shepherd’s pie made out of lamb. I think the term “shepherd” kinda gives it away!!

After my wonderful experience with cottage pie as a child, I went on to buy ready-made cottage pies from the shops. It was deemed a treat, as we always ate traditional Chinese food at home. I then went on further to make my own cottage pie, but using instant mashed potatoes and instant gravy mix. Oh gawd… just typing this is making me cringe!!!!

In today’s version of cottage pie, everything is made from scratch. There is no instant mash or gravy mix to be seen. The bottom of the pie is meaty, juicy and succulent, whilst the top consists of a creamy mash made with potatoes and parsnips. It’s a fantastic meal in one dish! I even splat it on the plate just like a “dinner”-lady, haa!


Serves 3-4


For the mash

  • 400 g (14 oz) potatoes, skin left on, cut into 2.5 cm (1 inch) chunks
  • 600 g (1 ⅓ lb) or parsnips, skin left on, cut into 2.5 cm (1 inch) chunks
  • 200 ml (¾ c and 4 teaspoons) milk/milk alternative
  • 10 g (2 teaspoons) unsalted butter/buttery spread
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the beef and gravy

  • 1 teaspoon groundnut (peanut) or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 225 g (½ lb or 8 oz) lean minced (ground) beef
  • 30 g (3 ¼ tablespoons) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • warm water, as needed
  • 6 g (¾ teaspoons) “Better than Bouillon”* chicken/vegetable stock base, or stock cube, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • 125 g (4.4 oz) frozen peas
  • 200 g (7 oz, or 2 small) carrots, finely diced
  • salt and pepper to taste

* Better than bouillon is a concentrated paste, which you add water to, to make a stock. If this is not available, use stock cubes or ready-made stock instead of water in step 6.


1. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil.

2. Add the potatoes and parsnips. Return to the boil and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes and parsnips are tender.

3. Drain off the water, then mash the potatoes and parsnips until smooth. Blend in the milk and butter and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

4. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Once hot, fry the onions and garlic until aromatic, about 2-3 minutes.

5. Add the beef. Stir until evenly browned, season with salt and pepper, then add the flour and stir.

6. Add a splash of warm water and stir. The mixture should thicken considerably on heating. Continue to add more water until the correct consistency is reached. The gravy should be thick, but not too thick.

7. Add the stock paste and soy sauce. Stir well to evenly distribute.

8. Add the frozen peas and carrots and simmer for 35 minutes.

9. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

10. Check the beef and gravy for seasoning, and thin if required with additional water/ready made stock. Pour mixture in to a 25 x 20 cm (10 x 8 inch) or similar sized deep baking dish. Use the back of a spatula or spoon to even out the mixture.

11. Spoon dollops of the mash over the beef and gravy, and then spread gently to even  out the top layer. Use the prongs of a fork to fluff up the surface of the mash to make grooves^. This will make the mash look pretty once it’s grilled (broiled).

12. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until piping hot, then grill (broil) over high heat until lightly browned on top. Scoop and
serve hot, enjoy!

^ The cottage pie can be made up to this point and kept in the refrigerator for 2 days. Once you’re ready to bake, remove from the fridge, and sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before continuing with step 12.

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