Traditional Cottage Pie holds a special place in my heart. It’s a dish I’ve enjoyed since I was a little girl, and I have happy memories of my mom making it for dinner on chilly nights. I can still smell the comforting aroma wafting through our home and to this day, the smell of onions and beef cooking together instantly transports me right back to my childhood kitchen!
Not to mention the fact that I deeply love buttery, creamy mashed potatoes, so the combination of them with the savory beef and vegetable filling makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
Whenever I eat Cottage Pie, I get taken right back to those cozy evenings spent with my family, and I’m filled with a sense of nostalgia. So if you’re looking for a delicious and comforting meal, this recipe for Cottage Pie with beef is sure to become a staple in your home, just as it has in mine.
What is Cottage Pie?
Cottage Pie is a delicious English classic that’s been enjoyed for hundreds of years. It’s made with a savory meat filling simmered in a rich, flavorful gravy that’s mixed with vegetables, topped with a layer of mashed potatoes, and baked until golden and crispy.
But don’t let the “pie” part fool you! Cottage Pie has no pastry or crust, and it most often gets cooked and served in a baking dish rather than a pie pan.
Why is Cottage Pie called Cottage Pie?
Believed to have originated in the late 18th century, Traditional Cottage Pie was a staple dish among poor, rural communities who lived in cottages. As a means to stretch their food supply and avoid wastage, the people in these communities created this dish to use up any leftover meats and vegetables. The name “Cottage Pie” thus originated from the humble origins of these cottage-dwelling people who commonly prepared it.
Although Cottage Pie is now known for being a dish specifically made with beef, vegetables, and potatoes, at the time, any pie made that had meat and potatoes in it was considered a “Cottage Pie.”
Cottage Pie vs. Sheperd’s Pie
Despite their similarities, the difference between Irish Sheperd’s Pie and English Cottage Pie is that Sheperd’s Pie is made with lamb (which makes sense given that shepherds tend to sheep!) while Cottage Pie is made with beef.
Other variations include Cumberland Pie, made with large beef chunks instead of ground beef, and Shepherdess Pie, a vegetarian take on Shepherd's Pie that’s often made with lentils.
Cottage Pie is considered the precursor to Sheperd’s Pie, and for many years the names were used interchangeably. Over time, however, a distinction was made between the two despite their similarities. (This was fun for me to learn because growing up “Sheperd’s Pie” was a regular part of my family’s dinner rotation, only it was actually Cottage Pie that we enjoyed!)
That said, I created this recipe with both types of meat in mind. So if you’re looking for a Sheperd’s Pie recipe instead, you can certainly swap out the beef for lamb!
Traditional Cottage Pie Ingredients
A traditional Cottage Pie is made of meat, vegetables, and potatoes. However, like many recipes for popular dishes enjoyed around the world, the ingredients for Cottage Pie depend on what you like and where you live. Although the vegetables and herbs in cottage pie can vary, it almost always includes beef, onions, peas, carrots, and potatoes.
I’ve opted for a traditional recipe, and the ingredients are as follows:
For the beef and vegetable filling:
- Ground beef
- Yellow onion
- Dried rosemary
- Dried parsley
- Dried thyme
- Worcestershire sauce
- Tomato paste
- Beef broth
- Frozen peas, carrots, and corn
- Olive oil
For the mashed potato topping:
- Yukon gold potatoes
- Half & half or milk
- Salt & pepper
One note on the potatoes, I also like to throw an unskinned russet into the mix! It gives the potatoes a little texture, which I really like. I basically do this every time I make mashed potatoes.
How To Make Cottage Pie
Making Cottage Pie is easier than you might think, it just involves a couple of steps! You can find detailed instructions for this easy Cottage Pie recipe in the printable card below, but here’s an overview to help you with your Cottage Pie prep:
1. Brown your beef
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add ground beef and brown until cooked through, seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper. Drain and set aside.
2. Start the veggies
Preheat your oven to 375° F (190° C). In the pan you used for the meat, melt a tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and sauté until soft and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper as they cook down.
3. Make the filling
Return the beef to the pan and mix it together with the onions and garlic. Sprinkle the flour evenly across the top of the mixture and stir to combine. Add the Worcestershire sauce, beef broth, tomato paste, and herbs and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the frozen veggies. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow the mixture to simmer until the sauce has thickened.
4. Prepare the potatoes
In a large pot of salted water, boil the potatoes until they’re soft and then drain well. Return potatoes to the pot, add butter and half & half, and mash until well combined. (I recommend using a potato masher rather than a mixer because a mixer can make the potatoes gluey.) Season potatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Carefully spoon mashed potatoes over the top of the meat mixture and spread into an even layer.
5. Assemble your Traditional Cottage Pie and bake
Spread the meat and vegetable filling in an even layer on the bottom of an oven-proof dish. (I typically use a 9x13 baking dish, but you can use whatever dish you like.) Carefully spoon the mashed potatoes over the filling and smooth it out to form an even layer to cover it. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden and crispy. (You can also put it under the broiler for a few minutes for some extra color!) Cool for about 10-15 minutes before serving.
Traditional Cottage pie in the slow cooker
Although this recipe offers instructions for baking it the oven, Cottage Pie can also be made in a slow cooker for an easy and convenient meal. In fact, it’s the perfect recipe for a slow cooker as the flavors can really develop and meld together!
To make Cottage Pie in a slow cooker:
- Brown and drain the meat.
- Sauté the onions and garlic until slightly tender.
- Transfer the meat and onion mixture to the slow cooker, sprinkle with the flour, and mix together.
- Add all of the remaining ingredients (except for the mashed potatoes) and stir until well combined.
- Top the mixture with the mashed potatoes.
- Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.
The slow cooker method is not only convenient, but it also results in a delicious and comforting Cottage Pie that’s sure to become a family favorite!
When to Serve Cottage Pie
Traditional Cottage Pie is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed at any time of the year without having to spend too much time in the kitchen. It’s a great option for:
- Family dinners
- Cozy nights in
- Entertaining large groups of people
- Sunday supper served family-style
- An alternative to corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day!
- Any time you need a meal that’s warm and comforting
What to serve with Cottage Pie
You can pair a variety of side dishes with this hearty dish. Popular Cottage Pie sides include:
- Steamed or roasted vegetables, such as broccoli, green beans, carrots, or brussels sprouts
- A simple green or mixed green salad
- Creamed corn
- Sautéed spinach or Swiss chard
- Braised red cabbage
- Garlic bread
Can you freeze Cottage Pie?
Absolutely! Cottage Pie is a great dish to make ahead of time and freeze for busy weeknights or for when you need a quick and hearty meal.
Simply skip the baking step and let the pie cool completely. Then either transfer the Cottage Pie to an airtight container or wrap the baking dish tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. (Personally, I like a layer of plastic wrap followed by a layer of foil!)
If stored properly, Cottage Pie can last for up to 6 months in the freezer. When you’re ready to reheat it, it’s best to thaw it completely in the fridge overnight and then bake it at 375° F (190° C) for about 30 minutes or until the mashed potatoes are golden brown.
Common Questions About Traditional Cottage Pie
Are you curious about the vegetables in Cottage Pie, how to freeze or reheat it, or whether or not to add cheese? Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about this classic comfort food.
Can you prepare cottage pie in advance?
Yes, Cottage Pie can be made ahead of time, which is a convenient way to ensure that a satisfying meal is always at the ready! You can make the entire dish in advance and simply bake it when ready, or you can prepare each of the components and store them separately in the refrigerator until ready to assemble and bake. This dish is highly adaptable and easily customizable to your preferences and needs.
Can Cottage Pie be cooked from frozen?
While I recommend thawing your frozen Cottage Pie before cooking, it’s no problem at all to cook it from frozen. You will need to allow more baking time, but it will still turn out satisfying and delicious. However, because of this extended baking time, you may want to cover it with foil to keep the mashed potatoes from browning too quickly and so that it cooks evenly.
Can Cottage Pie be reheated?
Most definitely! Reheating Cottage Pie is a simple and straightforward process that can be done in a few ways:
- Covered with foil and baked in the oven at 375° F (175° C) for 30 minutes or until heated through
- Wrapped with plastic wrap and microwaved on high for 2-3 minutes or until hot
- Placed in a saucepan with a little bit of water on the bottom and warmed on the stovetop over medium heat until it reaches the temperature you desire
Regardless of the method you choose, heat the Cottage Pie until the filling bubbles, and then allow it to sit for a few minutes before serving so the flavors meld together.
Does Traditional Cottage Pie have vegetables in it?
It sure does! Traditional Cottage Pie typically contains vegetables such as onions, carrots, and peas, which add flavor, texture, and nutrients to the dish. However, you can mix up the veggies to suit your personal taste preferences.
Does Cottage Pie have cheese in it?
Some variations of Cottage Pie include cheese in the mashed potato topping. However, whether you put cheese on top of Cottage Pie or mix it in the potatoes is completely up to you. I opted not to add it, but a little cheese never hurt anyone if you ask me!
What cheese for Cottage Pie?
If you’re making a cheesy Cottage Pie, cheddar cheese is the preferred choice for its bold flavor that complements the other ingredients. But feel free to experiment with any cheese you like!
Do you put mushrooms in Cottage Pie?
Traditionally, mushrooms are not an ingredient in Cottage Pie. However, they are a delicious addition and can definitely be added, it’s up to you!
Does Traditional Cottage Pie have peas?
Yes, Cottage Pie typically has peas. But you can certainly leave them out or swap them for a different veggie – this dish is super flexible.
Does Cottage Pie have a crust?
No, there is no crust or pastry in Cottage Pie. The only “crust” comes from the golden-brown mashed potato topping.
Why put flour in cottage pie?
You add flour to Cottage Pie to thicken the filling. It helps to both absorb any excess liquid that cooks out of the meat and vegetables and to create a smooth texture and consistency that will hold it together well when served.
Does Cottage Pie have tomatoes?
Traditional Cottage Pie does not have tomatoes, but variations of the recipe that include them can easily be found. There is usually tomato paste in the recipe, however.
How long does Cottage Pie last in the fridge?
Cottage Pie can last for up to 5 days in the refrigerator if stored properly. Just make sure you allow it to cool completely and that you store it in an airtight container before putting it in the fridge.
Can Cottage Pie be made vegetarian?
Absolutely! For those who follow a meat-free diet, you can transform this dish into a vegetarian Cottage Pie simply by leaving out the meat and incorporating extra vegetables. Mushrooms, celery, eggplant, and lentils are particularly tasty options; however, most veggies work well in this dish.
The Best Cottage Pie Recipe: The Wrap-Up
Traditional Cottage Pie is a classic dish that has withstood the test of time. With its tasty blend of savory beef and vegetables and its creamy mashed potato topping, Cottage Pie remains one of my cold-weather favorites.
Whether you make it in the oven, in the slow cooker, or freeze it for later, this Cottage Pie recipe is the ultimate comfort food that’s easy to prepare and always satisfies!
A writer and photographer, Allie Albanese is the founder and curator of Parched Around the World. Here she aims to tell stories about the intersection of food, drinks, cultures, and traditions in places near and far.
Allie holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from American University and for more than a decade has worked as a freelance travel, food, and drinks journalist for various publications across the United States and abroad.