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How to Make Shepherd's Pie or Cottage Pie

I used to work in my family's restaurant and helped run it. I love good food, and I've cooked family meals for over 60 years.

A lovely dish of shepherd's pie

A lovely dish of shepherd's pie

Shepherd's Pie Is One of My Family's Favorite Meals

People have different ideas about how to make shepherd's pie. This recipe is the way I have been making it for half a century, refined to perfection over the years and passed on to me by my mother, who was an excellent cook. It contains lots of vegetables and meat—and children and old people love it because it is easy to eat, as it's soft and delicious. (And "why would old people like soft food?" I hear you ask. That is a subject for further conjecture, and I put it to you that you can work out for yourself why chewy food is not always practical for them.)

It's Easier to Make Than It Looks

Shepherd's pie may be a bit fiddly to make, but it is very cheap and nutritious. Most of the seasoning I have mentioned below is optional, so if you prefer a bland flavor, or haven't got some of the ingredients, all is not lost, as long as you have the main ingredients, minced meat, and potato.

If your family is not keen on vegetables, this is an ideal meal for disguising them, for instance by adding a grated carrot, or finely chopped celery or greens to the minced meat. I've been there, read the comic and got the T-shirt, and have become a bit of a tricky Dicky in that respect. You don't become a grandmother of five without picking up a few techniques along the way.

Another point I would like to make about the ingredients is that I like to cook with minimal salt, for health reasons. And I always use olive oil for frying, as it is healthier than most other cooking oils. You could even spread a little olive oil on top of the potato instead of using butter, if you are really virtuous, but butter does give it a better flavor.

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Cook Time For Shepherds Pie

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

30 min

40 min

1 hour 10 min

Serves three people

But don't try putting the lid in the oven - I ruined one doing that

But don't try putting the lid in the oven - I ruined one doing that

Ingredients For Shepherds Pie or Cottage Pie

  • 13 oz. (350 g) Minced meat, Best beef mince, which is lower in fat or minced lamb
  • 1 medium size Onion
  • 3 medium size Potatoes
  • 4 leaves Cabbage
  • 1 tin Chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons Olive oil, or other cooking oil
  • 2 tablespoons Milk
  • 1 blob Butter
  • 2 tablespoons Sage and Onion stuffing
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Mixed herbs
  • 1 Clove
  • 1 Bay leaf, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • A few drops Worcester Sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Bisto or other gravy thickener
  • Salt, to taste

Instructions For Cooking Shepherds Pie or Cottage Pie

  1. Fry the onion gently in a saucepan on a low heat in the olive oil, until golden brown. Then add the minced meat, breaking it up and squashing it with a wooden spoon. Keep turning the meat and squashing it down, so that it cooks and browns evenly. If the meat isn't broken up and squashed, it tends to form into chewy lumps.
  2. Add the garlic, spices and herbs and mix in so they are spread through the meat. Add the tomatoes and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, stir well, and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop the mixture sticking to the pan. If it starts to dry out, add a little water.
  3. Whilst the meat is cooking, peel and cut the potatoes into fairly small pieces, cover them with water in a saucepan and boil until soft, adding a small amount of salt if desired. The potatoes should be done in about 15 minutes. Drain off most of the water, leaving about 1 tablespoon of the water in the pan with the potatoes. Add the milk, and then mash the potatoes into the liquid, ending up with a fairly soft consistency.
  4. Wash the cabbage leaves and then boil for 5-10 minutes maximum. I usually cook them in with the potatoes, and then fish them out and save separately before the potatoes are mashed. This saves dirtying another pan. The cabbage does not need to cook for long, as it will be cooked further in the Shepherds pie.
  5. Add the Bisto or other gravy thickening to the minced meat and stir until the gravy has thickened. Then spoon the meat into a medium-sized oven-proof dish. Sprinkle the sage and onion stuffing mixture evenly over the meat. Then cover the meat evenly with the cabbage leaves. This will stop the gravy seeping into the mashed potatoes. Then spread the mashed potatoes evenly on top of the cabbage, using a fork. Use the fork to make a light pattern in the potato, and then put some small blobs of butter on the top. It will melt in the oven and run into the ridges formed by the fork.
  6. Cook on the top shelf in a medium-hot oven until golden brown for about 30 minutes, depending on the oven and heat. Check whether it is done—it should be golden brown and slightly burnt like the photograph. If necessary, give it another 5-10 minutes.

Questions & Answers

Question: What oven degree should you use to cook the shepherd's pie?

Answer: Medium heat is 300 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, equivalent to 149 to 204 degrees Celsius.