Traditional British Beef Cottage Pie

A Traditional Cottage Pie is a homely British recipe of braised ground beef and root vegetables in gravy topped with a crispy potato topping.

Portrait image of a spoon of pie being taken form a traditional potato topped British cottage pie

The Classic British Cottage Pie

This recipe is one of the most enduring food memories from my childhood. Not just from home but at my grandparents’ house, school dinners, friend houses.

It is essentially a really simple dish of beef mince, vegetables in a gravy all topped with mashed potato. Then baked in the oven to crisp up the mash.

References to it date back to the 18th Century but they have always been rustic dishes.

Traditionally they were a way to use up leftover roasted meat, but have become a frugal recipe using minced meat.

Whilst it passes a resemblance to the much more famous Shepherds Pie, there is a difference!

For most Brits, a Cottage Pie contains beef, a Shepherd’s pie contains lamb. As a result, the sauce and consequently the flavours are often fundamentally different!

This is a rare recipe for 4, I always make two as this saves fantastically.

You can cover and freeze for up to 3 months, or just store in the fridge and cook up to 5 days later.

Portrait image of two traditional cottage pies cooked in baby blue baking dishes

The Perfect Mashed Potato Topping.

The perfect mashed potato topping for a cottage pie recipe should be just that, mashed potato.

It is important that the topping has some structure and should not be ‘pureed’ potatoes.

The addition of an egg yolk lends the most beautiful colour and silkiness too.

I’m very much an advocate of using a potato ricer for mashing potatoes you eliminate all lumps. As for cooking, either boil or bake your potatoes I switch freely between the two.

I promise you I am not being all pretentious by piping on my mashed potato.

I am certainly not a dab hand with a piping bag as you can probably tell, but I love a nice crispy topping on my pie.

Piping the potato on means more edges, the edges go crispy when baked, the crispy bits are the best bits.

That means if you pipe big tall potato, you get more best bits which surely must equal a better pie!

As for cheese in the mash, that ain’t for me, cheese and gravy are not a good mix as far as I am concerned.

Portrait close up image of a spoon of pie being taken form a traditional potato topped British cottage pie

Ingredient Guide.

I have made one significant shift from the dish my Mum cooked and my grandparents cooked.

That derivation is red wine in the gravy, growing up both would have used an Oxo cube!

But times change, and red wine adds a wonderful richness to the gravy and a depth of flavour that I adore.

You can skip this and just increase the beef stock, or even swap for beer which is something I often do!

As for the root vegetables, knock yourself out. You can swap in ingredients like swede, turnip, celeriac or go crazy with Jerusalem artichokes or sweet potato!

Many people add peas, I am less keen on this as I find that they overcook. I prefer to serve this with a big pile of steaming garden peas and nothing else!

Traditional British Cottage Pie Recipe

Traditional British Cottage Pie Recipe

Yield: 4 Servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

Traditional cottage pies contain minced beef and root vegetables in a gravy and they are then topped with mashed potatoes before being baked until they are crispy.


  • 1 kg Potatoes
  • 1 Egg Yolk
  • 100 g Butter
  • 75 g Onion
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 500 g Minced Beef
  • 100 g Carrot
  • 100 g Parsnip
  • 1 Tsp Dried Thyme
  • 200 ml Red Wine
  • 150 ml Tomato Passata
  • 250 ml Beef Stock
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • Salt to Taste
  • Black Pepper to Taste


  1. Peel and chop the potatoes roughly to the size of a golf ball.
  2. Boil the potatoes in well salted water until soft drain and allow to dry,
  3. Mash adding in the butter, set aside until you are ready to build the pie, ensure you check for seasoning and add salt as required.
  4. Cut the onion into a medium dice and thinly slice the garlic.
  5. Roughly chop the carrots and parsnip.
  6. Cook the onion in a frying pan over a medium high heat for 5 minutes with a splash of oil.
  7. Add in the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  8. Turn the heat up to high, add the minced beef and fry for 5 minutes.
  9. Preheat your oven to 180Β°C or 350Β°F.
  10. Add in the carrot and parsnip, dried thyme, season with salt and black pepper and then pour in the red wine and allow to reduce until almost dry about 15 minutes.
  11. Add in the tomato passata and beef stock and reduce by half.
  12. Remove from the heat and then add in the Worcestershire sauce, check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste and layer into your serving bowl or bowls.
  13. Stir in the egg yolk to the mashed potato until thoroughly combined.
  14. Pipe on your mashed potato (you can layer it on any other way you like).
  15. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.


Use Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, everything else is a poor imitation!

You don't have to pipe the potatoes if you do not wish, I like to as it means I get lots of peaks on the mashed potato to go crispy.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 869Total Fat: 44gSaturated Fat: 22gTrans Fat: 2gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 211mgSodium: 635mgCarbohydrates: 67gFiber: 8gSugar: 9gProtein: 44g
Calorific details are provided by a third-party application and are to be used as indicative figures only.

15 thoughts on this Recipe:

  1. It’s just food, I don’t get it… Authenticity is for museums as far as I am concerned, food is to be loved, shared and enjoyed, so I stick with my atypical tut and move on πŸ˜‰

  2. I often make shepherd’s and cottage pies- I do prefer the lamb somehow but never piped the potatoes so nicely – what a nice idea! – will definitely remember this – has a proper waw factor – kids will love it even more πŸ˜‰

  3. Love the piping, much better than boring fork patterns and much more crispy! Definitely a family favourite as we couldn’t afford lamb anyway. In our house peas were added or baked beans but your recipe looks much classier!

  4. You learn something new everyday right? Well consider me educated! Thanks for the great recipe and the foodie knowledge as well πŸ™‚

  5. This is home-cooking comfort food at it’s best. My mother always called this Shepherd’s Pie. She never used carrots or parsnips, but corn instead. This recipe sounds so good! I’ve printed this one out to try myself.

    • Thanks Tina, the name thing seems to be a common theme… I think that the name has become the generic name for a ‘mash’ topped stew like this… I am sure my Grandma is rolling in her grave πŸ˜‰

  6. So you mean to tell me that every time I have made a “shepherd’s pie” with beef, I am really making a cottage pie? Good to know! And this looks delish.. .next time I make some I’ll have to try your crispy potatoes trick πŸ™‚

    • Yup sorry… I am sure it is a British thing and that globally the name has become the name for a potato topped pie, but you can take the boy out of Britain but you can’t take Brit… πŸ˜‰

  7. i think the piping’s brilliant! What size tip did you use? (I also have to confess to having the same attitude toward “shepherd’s” pie that don’t have lamb.)

    • Cheers Peter… It is a bit of a giggle and reminds me of one of my haircuts from the 80’s πŸ˜‰ It is functional too though, the more surface area the more crispy bits there are and the crispy bits are my favourite!


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