Traditional Cottage Pie

Wednesday 20 January 2021

There is no more comforting a supper on a cold winter's than a traditional cottage pie. I wanted to share this cottage pie recipe with you today that I have downsized from my original recipe for a simple cottage pie which serves 4-6 people. This version is half that size. 

This English classic need not be reserved just for the large family. Why should the smaller family suffer for lack of numbers? I am here to say that you can eat just as well when you are only one or two as you can when you are more.

Traditional Cottage Pie  

A traditional cottage pie consists of a rich meaty filling on the bottom, topped with vegetables, blanketed in a top layer of potato thatch! It is the ultimate in comfort food! 

You can make it with either leftover roast beef, as I have here today, or fresh ground beef, which is also the custom in many homes. It is very similar to its close cousin, the Shepherd's Pie.   

Traditional Cottage Pie 

You may find yourself asking the question, what is the difference between a cottage pie and a shepherd's pie?  Great question.

They are very similar casseroles, but in a cottage pie beef is traditionally used as the meat and in a shepherd's pie the meat is usually lamb.  You can use either leftover meat from your Sunday roast or fresh meat, depending on what you have in your kitchen.

Traditional Cottage Pie 

This is one of the things I like to make whenever I have leftover roast beef in my refrigerator. It makes a great change from making hash or a pot pie, which are my usual go-to's.

You don't even need to have leftover gravy to make it. I tell you how to make a delicious beef sauce without any gravy, By all means, however, do use gravy if you are lucky enough to have some!

Traditional Cottage Pie 

Not only is it very easy to make, but it is also incredibly economical. Something we are all aware of these days. 

We all want the food we eat to fit within our budgets. That is especially important when you are a smaller family.

Traditional Cottage Pie 

You might think that it is much cheaper for two people to eat than it is for four.  Simply not true. In fact in many cases it may even cost more, especially if you tend to buy smaller packages of things.

Typically smaller packages cost more than the larger sized versions of the same per ounce/gram.  I am not sure why that is.

Traditional Cottage Pie 

A good steward of the family budget needs to be able to make wise choices when it comes to the purchase of food. I have found that it is much more budget-savvy to buy the larger sizes, break them down and freeze the excess for a later date.

Being budget-savvy also means making the best use of what you have. Our fore-bearers knew exactly how to do that and dishes like Cottage Pie helped them to do just that.

Traditional Cottage Pie 

As I said, you can use either cooked leftover roast in this or fresh hamburger. If you are using fresh minced beef you need to brown it. I find it is easiest to do this when you are sautéing the onions and other aromatics.

An aromatic is a vegetable used in cooking that develop deep and well rounded flavors to a dish when chopped or crushed and then heated and cooked. Aromatics most commonly used tend to be onions, carrots and celery.

Traditional Cottage Pie 

Typically these are added at the beginning when you are cooking a dish. This helps them to add as much flavor and aroma as possible.  

These are the things which bring others into the kitchen begging and answer to  the question, "What's cooking?" These things typically set our tastebuds to tingling in overtime!

Traditional Cottage Pie 

For this recipe I have minced leftover cooked roast beef and added it to onions, carrots, swede/rutabaga and celery.  This is browned gently in butter, which adds much to the flavors.

Once browned a quantity of flour is added which will thicken the gravy. Make sure you cook it for a few minutes to cook out the flavor of the flour. This is a really important step to take as there is nothing worse than the flavor of raw flour in a sauce.

Traditional Cottage Pie 

Once that is done a bit of beef stock is added along with some tomato paste, brown/HP sauce and herbs. You don't need to add the brown sauce, but I find it really adds a special something to the depth of flavor in this gravy.

You can add Worcestershire sauce in its place if that is all you have. It also works beautifully here.

Traditional Cottage Pie 

I sometimes like to add a bit of creamed horseradish as well. Not a lot, only a dab.  You want just the merest hint of it.  Horseradish goes very well with beef. 

Meat sauce made, it goes into the bottom of the dish and a layer of vegetables go on top. Typically I use frozen peas and I add them frozen, which not only helps to preserve the color of them somewhat, but also helps to keep them fresher tasting during the longer bake time. 

Traditional Cottage Pie 

You don't have to use peas. Some people use corn. Some people use both.  Some people use a frozen mix of vegetables such as peas, corn, beans, etc.  All work well.

The star of the show is the potato thatch which blankets the top of the dish. Creamy, fluffy and delicious, it seals in all the goodness of that rich and meaty base perfectly.

Traditional Cottage Pie 

Our typical vision of the ideal English Cottage is one which is covered with a thatched roof of straw.  That is why this covering of mashed potatoes is called the "thatch."  I love the quaint reasoning behind these English recipes, along with their simplicity.

I like to score a pattern in the thatch which adds to the attractiveness I think. Its not really necessary. You can just pile it on and swirl it, or not.  Just make sure it covers the filling all the way to the edges.  Typically some of the juices will bubble up through anyways.  

Traditional Cottage Pie

I cannot tell a lie, those rich corners where the juices of the gravy bubble through are my favorite bits.  I love all of this comfort food casserole really.  That rich and meaty filling, the crisp buttery potato thatch, those meaty juiced edges.

Its all pretty good if you ask me!  Somehow, no matter what your day has handed you, even the worst day gets tangibly better when a Cottage Pie is on the menu!  Today I served it with some coleslaw, but any salad will do, or even a simple slice of buttered brown bread.  Enjoy!! 

Cottage Pie for Two

Cottage Pie for Two
Yield: 2
Author: Marie Rayner
prep time: 15 Mincook time: 45 Mininactive time: 15 Mintotal time: 1 H & 15 M
Simple, delicious, and a family pleasing comfort food. Downsized for two people.


  • 1 1/2 cups (200g) leftover roast beef, roughly chopped, or browned ground beef
  • 1/2 TBS butter
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 stick celery, trimmed and chopped
  • 1/2 small carrot, peeled and grated
  • a 2-inch cube of swede (rutabaga) peeled and grated
  • 1/2 TBS tomato paste ( tomato puree)
  • 1/2 TBS plain flour
  •   1 tsp brown sauce (HP sauce)
  • 3/4 cup (200ml) well flavoured beef stock
  • 1/4 tsp summer savoury
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup (50g) frozen peas
For the potato thatch:
  •  3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • warm milk
  • a knob of butter
  • salt and pepper
  •  1 TBS grated cheese (Parmesan or cheddar)
  • melted butter to brush (optional


  1. First make the potatoes for the thatch topping.
  2. Put the potatoes in a pot of lightly salted water and
  3. bring to the boil. Boil for 10 to 15 minutes until soft. Drain well
  4. and then return the potatoes to the pan. Shake the pan over the residual heat of the burner to dry them out a bit and then mash the potatoes well until smooth with some warm milk, and a knob of butter. Season to  taste with salt and pepper and stir in the cheese. Set aside and keep warm.
  5. To make the filling, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the
  6. onion, celery, carrot and sweet. Cook, stirring frequently over medium low heat until softened and the onion is translucent. Stir in the flour. Slowly stir in the beef stock and bring to the boil.
  7. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils and thickens. Stir in the tomato puree, brown sauce, and summer savoury. Season to taste with salt and black pepper and then stir in the chopped beef.
  8. Pour this mixture into the bottom of a buttered 1/2 litre (3 cup) shallow baking dish. Sprinkle the frozen peas over top evenly.
  9. Spread the mashed potatoes on top tocover. Rough up the potato a bit with a fork. Brush with melted butter.
  10. Preheat the oven to 200*C/400*F/ gas mark 6. Bake the casserole in the heated oven for 45 minutes until the potatoes are golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Let stand 15 minutes prior to serving. Serve hot with your favourite sides.


If you are using ground beef brown it in the skillet along with the onion, carrot, celery and swede. Proceed with the remaining recipe as directed.

I sometimes like to add a bit of creamed horseradish to either the topping or the filling depending on how I feel.

Did you make this recipe?
Tag @marierayner5530 on instagram and hashtag it #EnglishKitchen
Cottage Pie

This content (written and photography) is the sole property of The English Kitchen. Any reposting or misuse is not permitted. If you are reading this elsewhere, please know that it is stolen content and you may report it to me at: mariealicejoan at aol dot com Thanks so much for visiting. Do come again! 

Follow my blog with Bloglovin


  1. I always looked forward to this when I was a kid. If mum made a lamb roast on Sunday, we had Shepherd's Pie on Monday night. And if it was roast beef, we had Cottage Pie. It was a fabulous way to use up the leftovers and create a delicious new meal.

    I really love the thatch pattern on your cottage pie. It looks so inviting - and let's face it, we eat with our eyes as well. And I can see that it makes for lots more crunchy bits which I also like, because brushing with melted butter is a must for me :)

    I'd never thought to add horseradish - that's a great idea. We can't get summer savoury here, so I use a mix of thyme, sage, oregano and marjoram instead and those flavours combine well.

    I shall try this out next week - a lovely trip down memory lane and an ideal winter warming dish.

    1. Thanks Marie! I always get a bit fanciful with my thatch! lol Its the artist in me I guess! I hope you enjoy! Your subs for summer savoury are spot on! xoxo

  2. Love, love, love cottage pie. A favorite in childhood and a favorite now. I tend to use leftover meatloaf as my meat as I rarely have roast. So good!

    1. Leftover meatloaf as a filling sounds perfect Katy! xoxo

  3. Ditto !! Mum would do a shoulder of lamb most Sundays, it was the cheapest meat when I was a little girl. So it was shepherd's pie every Monday, the meat minced in our old Spong mincer. Cottage pie was more of a treat as it meant that either we had had beef on Sunday which was really special or Mum had bought minced beef from the butcher's van. Happy days.
    (I love the pattern in the mash, will do that myself next time!)

    1. We are so lucky to have the things we have available to us to use for cooking with these days Jean! It is like we are living in the land of milk and honey compared to our mom's days! hank you so much for sharing your memories! xoxo

  4. I never knew about lamb/beef. Rick always makes his Shepherd's with beef. In any event, this looks beautiful -- love the technique on the top!

    1. Thank you so much Jeanie! I do like to get fancy with the hatch. It is the artist in me! xoxo


Thanks for stopping by. I love to hear from you so do not be shy!

Did you make the recipe as directed? Recipe results are not guaranteed when changes have been made.

Is this comment helpful to other readers? Rude or hateful comments will not be approved. Remember that this website is run by a real person.

Are you here to complain about ads? Please keep in mind that I develop these recipes and provide them to you for free. Advertising helps to defray my cost of doing so, and allows me to continue to post regular fresh content.

Thanks so much for your understanding! I appreciate you!