I wanted to do a BBQ recipe, but thanks to our wonderful weather it seems a bit pointless at the moment so I figured this warm and comforting cottage pie would be just the ticket for these dreary wet days. When I’m feeling a bit melancholic this dish sits me right back in happiness. This recipe uses shin of beef, you can use mince but if you want a more satisfying and textural pie, use beef shin. Forget garlic, red wine, or any tomato puree, this is not a Mediterranean dish, this is simple pure indulgence. Chop the beef by hand with a heavy cleaver or chefs knife into small pieces about the size of your little finger nail.
For the filling
- 500g beef shin (trimmed of excess fat and gristle and hand chopped to little finger nail sized pieces)
- 2 medium carrots (chopped to little finger nail size)
- 1 medium onion (chopped to little finger nail size)
- 1 celery stick (chopped to little finger nail size)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp seasoned plain flour
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme (stripped from stalks)
- 450ml good beef stock
- 2 tbsp Worcester sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the mash topping
- 800g floury potatoes such as Maris piper (peeled and diced into equal sized chunks)
- 50g butter
- 3 fl oz double cream
- pinch of pepper
- 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1. First thing is to brown your finely diced beef, mix your seasoned flour with the beef. Heat a large frying pan with a little oil an fry the minced beef until nice and brown (you may need to do this in batches, don’t over crowd your pan with too much as this will stew the beef rather than brown it). Once the beef has browned place in a casserole dish.
2. Next soften the onion, carrot and celery in the same pan, lower the heat a little as you don’t want them to brown, you just want them to soften slightly, this should take about 10 minutes, the onions will become slightly translucent when it’s ready. Add the thyme for the last five minutes then transfer into the casserole dish with the beef.
3. Take your beef stock and pour into the frying pan you used for the beef and veg and using a spatula scrape any beefy bits off the bottom of the pan, mixing it with the stock. Pour that into the casserole dish with everything else. Pre heat your oven to gas mark 5 (190ºc).
4. Add the Worcester sauce to the beef and veg mix, add the bay leaf, a pinch of salt and a good 5 turns of a pepper mill. Place the lid on the casserole dish and bake in the oven for 1 ½ – 2 hours until the meat is soft and tender and the sauce is nice and thick. Taste it and add more salt and pepper to your liking. Leave to one side to cool slightly.
5. Place your potatoes in a pan of cold salted water and bring to the boil, simmer for 15-20 minutes until they are soft and tender but not water logged. Mash your potatoes using a ricer or you can use a fine mesh sieve and force the potato through using the back of a spoon (using either of these methods is better than using a masher as it makes a soft lump free mash). Mix in the butter until melted, add the cream and mustard with a pinch of pepper (white pepper works best with mash).
6. This part is entirely down to how you want your pie to look, I personally made mini individual pies and piped on the mash, but if you want a more rustic look simply place the filling in a large pie dish, spoon on the mash and use a fork to create grooves and peaks on the mash. Once your pie(s) are in their vessel of choice, dot the top withe knobs of butter and place under a grill for 10-15 minutes until the top is golden brown and the filling starts to bubble up in a satisfying almost hypnotic way.
I love this dish, I used to cook it with mince until I discovered that actually beef shin works so much better, and for the extra cooking time it’s completely worth it, and of course it’s healthier, not that it matters when your feeling melancholic!