Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Wits' End Cookery: English Cottage Pie

Mmmmmm, cottage pie, another English dish that is now one of our family favorites. When I asked Redheaded Snippet what she wanted me to make for dinner before she left for college, this was the first thing she mentioned.

I make this often in the autumn and winter; rarely in the spring or summer. It's one of those hearty, cozy, stick-to-your-ribs kind of meals. Pub grub. What I call Peasant Food.

And I almost always make it as a planned leftover. Whenever beef roasts are on sale, I buy one big enough for two meals (4-5 lbs). I braise it one night with carrots and potatoes (sometimes with glazed carrots and mashed potatoes but sometimes just thrown into the pot with the roast at the end) for a typical roast beef dinner. Then, later in the week, I use the leftover beef, carrots, and potatoes (if there are any) to make the cottage pie. It's delicious and always makes me feel like a rock star.

Incidentally, cottage pie is what most of us think of as shepherd's pie. But, strictly speaking, shepherd's pie is made with lamb while cottage pie is made with beef.

Also, incidentally, I have now made this without it being a leftover and it really is just as good, if a little more time-consuming.

English Cottage Pie
*note* all measurements are approximate

2-2/12 lbs leftover roast beef
2 T butter or extra virgin olive oil
1 cup beef broth
1 cup red wine
carrots (I often keep frozen bags of peas and carrots--either mixed or separately--on hand but fresh is great)
leftover potatoes, mashed or otherwise

I don't measure anymore so bear with me.

1. Dice the leftover beef, removing any fat.  Heat butter or oil in deep skillet and toss in beef to warm it up.  Add beef broth and/or wine.  I've used cider, hard cider, cranberry vodka, and cranberry pomegranate juice when I've been out of wine.  All are good.  You just need some sweetness and acid in there for flavor and tenderness.  Make sure there's just enough liquid to cover the meat about half way.  Add, oh, about 1 teaspoon each rosemary and thyme, but feel free to add more if you like.  IMHO, it's the rosemary that gives this dish its signature flavor, but that might just be me.

2. Cook over medium-high heat until broth is bubbly and begins to thicken.  If it's not thickening fast enough, make a slurry with cornstarch and warm water (just enough water to make a thin, liquidy paste) and add it to the broth.

3.  When the broth has cooked down and the beef mixture looks about how you remember cottage or shepherd's pie looking, add the peas and carrots.  Frozen veg are fine.  Whenever I have carrots leftover from the roast beef dinner, I add them: they're fabulous.  There have been times I spaced out and haven't had carrots and I've added frozen or canned corn instead.  Also good.

4.  Let the mixture kind of get comfy.  At this point, if you have any leftover gravy from roast beef night, ADD IT.  This will add tons of flavor to the dish!  If not, carry on...Spoon the mixture into whatever size baking pan you can fill.  When it's just us, I usually use a 9-inch square pan or my small oval casserole dish. If I happen to have a lot of leftover beef, I'll use a 9 x 13 pan.

5. If your potatoes are not already mashed, heat them up and mash them.  Plop them on top of the beef mixture and spread them around to the very edges of the pan.  You can sprinkle cheddar cheese on top of the potatoes but that is a most house-dividing issue over here.  I'll leave that to you...

6. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until beef is bubbly.

Best served with beer, ale, or hard cider.  Also good with a ginger beer or shandy.

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