Some will tell you that a Shepherd pie is made with lamb or mutton, and a Cottage pie is the same thing made with beef. I have no argument with that. What some recipe sites don’t tell you is that a shepherd or cottage pie must be made with previously cooked meat. This is absolutely essential in order to get that distinctive and unique flavour. If you are using fresh minced lamb or beef you can make an excellent and delicious potato topped pie. But it will NOT be a shepherd pie or a cottage pie, because it will not have the right flavour.
I have spoken.
Trust me, there is a particular flavour that comes of putting leftover roast beef or lamb through a mincer along with a couple of onions and carrots. I believe it is partly the flavour of the previously cooked meat, and partly the effect of enzymes and juices from the vegetables. You cannot reproduce it with fresh mince. Some may prefer the latter, I like both.
I remember very clearly as a child one of my favourite cooking tasks was mincing. My Grandmother let me turn the handle of the old mincer bolted to the side of the kitchen table. She would hand me pieces of meat carved from the remainder of a roast and I would wind it through the mincer, accompanied intermittently by another quarter of an onion or a piece of carrot. I was fascinated by the way the wormscrew carried the food into the barrel of the mincer, compressing it and forcing it past the rotating cutters. A pungently fragrant orange-flecked mix dropped from the mincer into the old crock standing by beside it. We used to grab a pinch of it and eat it.
I do believe that Shepherd’s Pie was the first recipe I learned. And I learned it by watching her. I am considerably older now than she was when she taught me.
I have an identical mincer to the one Nanna had when I was a wee tad. I don’t recall how or when I acquired it. I seem to have had it forever. I left it in NZ, and until I get it sent over, or buy a mincer attachment for my Kenwood Chef, I have to improvise. It is not quite the same, but I found that pulsing in the food processor does an acceptable job. One has to be careful not to overdo it though. My first effort was more like sausage meat. Much more suitable for a Cornish Pasty than a Cottage pie.
It just so happens that Saturday’s barbecue, though a great success, resulted in a considerable amount of left-over food which was duly doggy-bagged and shared out with departing guests. Part of my score was a small pile of 4 generous-sized Porterhouse steaks. They had been perfectly cooked – not burnt – but I decided that rather than just reheating them to have with salad, I would make a cottage pie.
Gert’s recipe was just minced meat, onion and carrot mixed with peas and an Oxo cube, Bisto, herbs, pepper and water, cooked in a pot then covered with mashed potato and baked until the potato was crisp on top. She used plenty of butter and milk or cream in the mash.
I have not strayed far with my recipe:
Cottage Pie (if using beef )
Or Shepherds Pie (if using lamb, hogget or mutton!)
- 400-500g cold leftover meat cut into pieces with most, but not all, fat removed
- two onions cut into quarters
- two carrots peeled and cut into chunks
- a teaspoon of mixed herbs
- a few shakes of ground white pepper
- a few grinds of black pepper
- Bay leaves
- two tablespoons cornflour and 1 beef bouillon cube in a cup of water
- a few dashes of mushroom soy
- 1 cup peas
- 6-8 potatoes
- chopped parsley
- nob of butter
- splash of milk
- Grated cheese
- put the meat, carrots and onions through a mincer or pulse in a food processor until shredded.
- add to a saucepan with the rest of the ingredients except the peas and bring to a simmer, stirring until the gravy is thick.
- mix in the peas and transfer the mixture to a baking dish
- peel and quarter the potatoes, bring to the boil in salted water, simmer for ten minutes
- drain and stand ten minutes more
- add butter, milk and chopped parsley and mash well
- mix in half the cheese
- Top the meat in the baking dish with a layer of mashed potato, raking the surface with a fork to get ridges that will go crisp when baked
- sprinkle the other half of the cheese on top.
- Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour at about 160 C until browned.
Easily enough for four meals!