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Comfort Food: Cottage Pie

Back in April, I posted a recipe for a traditional Shepherd’s Pie using some lovely minced lamb leftover from a Sunday Roast. These days, what most people call Shepherd’s Pie is usually made using ground beef but, to be strictly accurate, this sort of preparation is more properly called ‘Cottage Pie’.  As with the more traditional shepherd’s dish, a Cottage Pie is essentially ground meat baked casserole style with a topping of mashed potatoes but, again like the lamb variety, there are countless variations.

Onions are a fairly standard addition but, beyond that, carrots, peas and tomatoes are often included, and some even add cheese to the topping (although this is a variation I really don’t care for). Years ago, my mother came up with a modification that I have long since adopted and which uses the unusual addition applesauce to enrich the mix with a lovely tangy sweetness. This is how I will be preparing the dish for this post… 

The Ingredients

  • 5 cups of cooked ground Beef
  • 1 ½ cups of chopped Onion
  • 1 cup frozen Corn
  • ½ cup Flour
  • 8 leaves of fresh Sage
  • 1 tsp. dried Thyme
  • 1 cup Apple sauce
  • 4 Medium potatoes
  • 2 – 4 tbsp. Butter (not shown)
  • Salt and Pepper

The Method

Add the beef, corn, onion, sage, thyme and flour to a large bowl along with a tablespoon of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Now, mix everything together so that all the solids are evenly coated with the flour.

Now add the apple sauce and turn the mixture out into a suitable baking dish. Press down well, smoothing it all out to an even depth.

Next, peel the potatoes and boil until tender in salted water. Mash them with butter (and a little cream if you have any) and spread the mix evenly over the meat mixture in the baking dish. Smooth it out and then use a fork to make furrows or an attractive crosshatch pattern over the top. If you like, you can also brush the potato topping with a little cream or full-fat milk as this will help it brown nicely.

Now heat your oven to 375 degrees and cook the pie for about 45 minutes or so. If the top starts to brown a little too quickly then cover the dish with foil. When it is done, remove from the oven and let it rest for a good ten minutes before serving.

The Verdict

Well, I have made this dish so many times now I can almost make it in my sleep so there were no surprises here. Indeed, as always, I ate a bit more than I really should have. The only thing that was a bit different with this attempt was that I used fresh sage, which is not often available to me. Dried sage is fine, usually, but I really like the fresh and I suggest you use it yourselves if possible. If you have neither, a little thyme is nice by itself but sage really works well with apple

Anyway, I should probably confess, here, that we did not eat this exactly as you see it on the serving plate pictured above. When I was a kid, my mother always put HP sauce on the table when she served this dish because my father liked a little on top. She also put out ketchup, because my brother and sisters liked that particular condiment as an addition. As for me… well, I discovered that *both* go really well with either Shepherd’s Pie or Cottage Pie and now I can’t eat them without the two of them as an added touch. I know that sounds like a horrible Philistine practice but, although I hang my head in shame, I have tell you… it’s REALLY, REALLY good! Heck… I even have my wife eating it that way now…

32 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love cottage pie. So interesting about the apple sauce! I am going to have to give that a try.

    And no Philistine accusations here about the condiments 🙂 Comfort food should give comfort, and when making comfort food, one shouldn’t be fussy about locavore-ish concerns!

    June 21, 2012
    • It’s likely not to everyone’s taste but now the pie just seems wrong without them to me!

      June 21, 2012
  2. I bet the applesauce is a nice contrast to the salty, savory aspect of the pie. These photos are making me want to make a cottage pie right now, except that it’s a million degrees out there. Do you deliver? 🙂

    June 21, 2012
    • Be interesting trying to get a dish of it through airport security 🙂

      June 21, 2012
  3. Phill #

    Gotta have me some HP with Cottage Pie!!

    June 21, 2012
  4. Ketchup with mine, please. Looks delicious, saving for a cooler day, currently it is 95 degrees and humid.

    June 21, 2012
    • 16 degrees Celsius here today… lovely and warm and sunny. Thankfully, it never really gets humid here!

      June 21, 2012
  5. Hi,
    That does look very nice, and here in Oz most people would have tomato sauce with that dish, just delicious. 🙂

    June 21, 2012
  6. I love cottage pie and it’s a favorite at my dinner table! loved your presentation with the fork across the potatoes, I am going to steal it 🙂

    June 21, 2012
    • My mother always did that… not sure if she thought of it or got it from her mother.

      June 21, 2012
  7. I’ve never made it with applesauce before, sounds good. The perfect comfort food!! Nom Nom!

    June 21, 2012
    • I’ll pass your comment on to my mom 🙂

      June 21, 2012
      • Moms love to hear stuff like that. Tell her Tahmina all the way from Bangladesh thinks her cottage pie is the bomb and will be making it soon!

        June 21, 2012
  8. comfort food at it’s finest!

    June 22, 2012
  9. I will now properly call it a cottage pie! Thanks for the lesson. 🙂 When it’s colder and I’m craving comfort food again, I will try your version. I’m curious about the applesauce. Did you use sweetened or unsweetened?

    June 22, 2012
    • It was sweetened … but that wasn’t a particular choice, it was all they had at the store. Either will work though, it just depends on your taste (and I would say dietary preferences too, but this is not an especially diet conscious meal to begin with).

      June 22, 2012
  10. I still have my aircon on as the humidity and heat factor are beyond control, so sure I will give this a try and of course with a little HP sauce on the side.

    June 22, 2012
    • I would say 60 percent of the population here have never seen an air conditioner. Yesterday was lovely and sunny and nobody wore jackets outside… just 5 degrees this morning and really grimly overcast. My wife is off to Prague today and it is supposed to be sweltering and humid… she is sort of dreading it.

      June 22, 2012
  11. loking good! Jammie

    June 22, 2012
  12. This looks delicious!! This is definitely going to the top of my recipe list! It’s simple and full of healthy ingredients…, I am not a huge meat eater and being a runner I need the iron from it, so I am always looking for yummy ways to change it up! Thank you!

    June 22, 2012
  13. I love cottage pie and the addition of apple sauce and corn sounds heavenly!!!
    🙂 Mandy

    June 22, 2012
  14. Looking forward to trying this recipe and thanks for the explanation of both – we always do refer to it as Shepherds pie but now I know to say Cottage pie! Looks good ~Patty

    June 22, 2012
  15. Hi!

    This recipe is simple! Would like to try it. Just wondering if the apple sauce you used is homemade or ready made :p


    June 23, 2012
    • Ready made … to be honest, I never made apple sauce that ever turned out better than any of the commercial varieties… but I am thinking that a puree of uncooked apples with just a little lemon juice added might be interesting.

      June 23, 2012
  16. Prince Charming loves a good shepherd’s — I mean, ahem, cottage pie. I can’t wait to try this. Thanks for sharing and making it look and sound so simple and delicious! :>

    June 23, 2012
  17. A Budding Chef #

    I absolutely adore making a good cottage pie. Before this spring, I didn’t know there was a difference between shepherd’s pie and cottage pie, but now that I do, I’m dying to try shepherd’s pie, when it cools down a bit outside of course! I’ve never made cottage pie with applesauce, however! That sounds like an interesting combination and I’m curious as to if you can taste the apple or not? Regardless, it looks delicious and I think I’ll make it that way next time as for the longest time, I’ve made it with gravy and it comes out soupy and my potatoes never brown no matter how long I bake it/let it sit.

    June 23, 2012
  18. The applesauce sort of blends in to the background so there is a mellow, very faintly fruity sweetness… you’d be hard pressed to identify the taste as apple unless you know it’s in there. Made this way, with the flour, it doesn’t come out soupy at all… and try the cream trick on the potatoes for a nice browning but keep a good eye on it as it bakes and cover with foil if it starts to get too dark!

    June 23, 2012
  19. Interesting twist with the extra vegetables and apple sacue.

    October 20, 2012
  20. Now I know the difference between cottage and shepherd’s pie (blushing). Thank you! And I will definitely have to give the addition of applesauce a try. Also, love the fork furrows in the topping!

    December 1, 2012
    • Just about everybody calls it Shepherd’s Pie these days … and the applesauce is really good. I don’t know if my mother invented it herself or read it somewhere.

      December 1, 2012
  21. tanaseaurica #

    hhhmmm, interesting and gorgeous recipe of cottage pie, look’s so delicious and fresh out from the oven, let’s dip in fast untill get cold 😀

    February 21, 2014

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