I have been unable to trace the origins of either Shepherds pie or Cottage pie but to my mind it is likely to come from somewhere that produces lamb and potatoes, thus most part of the Country can claim its origin. What is clear is that Cottage Pie is made from beef where as Shepard’s pie is made from lamb. Most quintessentially English dishes are unfortunately much abused by supermarkets when made from low quality meat and over processed potatoes topped with bland processed cheese. When made correctly a deeply savoury treat of long cooked meat and vegetables topped with fluffy mash and punchy mature cheese. Most people advocate using minced meat for this type of dish, I don’t. Unless you have seen the butcher mince the meat in front of you, you don’t know what you are getting. If you shop in a supermarket it is best to buy a piece of not too lean meat say a boned shoulder for 5-6 people or half one for four or for cottage pie use a piece chuck steak or flank of beef. If you go to the butchers you could ask them to mince it for you I prefer large lumps of meat, the choice is yours.
For a family sized pie with leftovers for lunch the following day.
½ boned lamb shoulder or 2 ½ lb of beef flank or chuck trimmed of sinew and roughly diced
oil or dripping
2 large carrots peeled and diced
1 large onion peeled and diced
Fresh stock or 1 stock cube or water from boiling the spuds.
A bundle of thyme bay and parsley stalks tie together
Salt and black pepper
4 oz grated mature hard cheese (Cheddar, Lancashire, Wensleydale etc.)
1 quantity of mashed potato according to the previous recipe
Pre heat the oven to 180oc
Begin buy tossing your chosen meat in seasoned flour. Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan till you see a haze above it, add enough dripping or oil to cover the bottom allow this to get hot. Now add the meat, only adding enough to cover the bottom of pan, do not crowd the pan (two batches may be necessary) the meat must fry to a deep golden brown not sweat to a dull grey! Leave the meat with out moving it for a couple of minutes give it a stir and allow the other side to brown. When this is complete remove the meat to a colander set over a bowl and continue with the remaining meat. When all the meat has been browned brown the onions and carrots in the same pan, but this time the pan will be encrusted with tasty morsels of meat and flour. After the vegetables have been browned add some water to the pan and scrape off all the stuck on bits and pieces this will add to the flavour considerably. Now transfer the meat vegetables to a sauce pan cover with stock, add seasoning a good dash of Worchester and anchovy essence and the faggot of herbs. Bring to a simmer and simmer till the meat is tender, half an hour should suffice. At this point have a look at the sauce it should quiet thick due to meat being floured, if it is not thick enough to go into the pie boil it till reduced and nice and thick. Season it judiciously and place in a casserole dish, at this point it can be refrigerated for a few days of frozen for up to month. To serve right a way (the best choice in my opinion) remove the herb faggot and cover thickly with your mash adding a good layer of cheese. Bake till the cheese is golden and the juices are bubbling. The best accompaniment to this are a deep green leafy vegetable of the brassica such a spring cabbage, curly kale or sprouting broccoli, briefly streamed and anointed with melted butter and salt.