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Cottage pie hearty comfort food

Use sliced potatoes instead of mashed for crispy texture

By Meredith Deeds, Star Tribune
Published: May 22, 2024, 6:04am

Celebrate the last cool nights of late spring with the ultimate comfort food: cottage pie.

Cottage pie is simply the beef version of shepherd’s pie, which is typically made with lamb.

In its most basic form, ground beef is sautéed with onions and carrots. A little flour, along with beef broth, is added to create a gravy.

Mashed potatoes are layered over the top and the casserole is baked until bubbly and brown.

While the basic version is good, in my humble opinion there’s room for improvement.

My version starts the same as most, by sautéing the meat and vegetables. Next, I add a little tomato paste, to bump up the richness of the gravy and give it a touch of sweetness, before creating a roux by cooking the mixture with a little flour.

If you have homemade beef broth, by all means use it here, but if that’s not the case, and store-bought broth is the only option, I suggest low-sodium chicken stock. I think store-bought beef stock isn’t as palatable as chicken stock, so I almost always default to the latter.

To make the gravy dark and add another layer of flavor, I pour in a healthy dose of dark beer. I use a porter or a stout beer, but if you don’t have that on hand, or don’t care for beer, feel free to add more stock. A splash of Worcestershire sauce and a bit of fresh thyme bumps up the flavor even more.

I also like to add a little frozen peas and corn for color, texture and flavor.

Mashed potatoes are the topping of choice in most cottage pie recipes, but I prefer layering thinly sliced potatoes over the top for a couple of reasons. First, it’s easier to slice the potatoes than it is to make mashed potatoes. I also like the crispiness that forms around the edges of each potato slice as the casserole bakes.

Cottage pie is a rich dish, so I like to serve it with a crisp green salad on the side.

Cottage Pie With Sliced Potato Topping

Serves 6 to 8.

Topping this beef version of shepherd’s pie with sliced potatoes is not only easier than the traditional mashed topping, but also adds a delicious crispiness around the edges. From Meredith Deeds.

3 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped

2 lb. lean (85 percent) ground beef

Salt and pepper

1 tbsp. tomato paste

4 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

3/4 cup dark beer (stout or porter), or substitute with more broth, if preferred

1 tbsp. Worcestershire

2 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme, plus several sprigs for garnish if desired

1/2 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup frozen corn

2 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (3 to 4 medium potatoes)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add beef, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook, breaking up meat into small pieces with wooden spoon, until browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook until paste begins to darken, about 2 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for another minute.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add broth, beer, Worcestershire sauce and 11/2 teaspoons thyme and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture is thick but still quite saucy, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in peas and corn, adjust seasonings, if necessary.

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon thyme. 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Shingle the potatoes over the beef mixture. Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until bubbly around the edges and potatoes are tender and lightly browned. Let stand for 5 minutes. Garnish with thyme sprigs, if desired, and serve.