Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cottage Pie in a Cast-Iron Skillet

Easy Cottage Pie Recipe

Cottage pie is the epitome of comfort food: savory ground beef, tender veggies, and pungent herbs in a flavorful gravy all topped with a cheesy mashed potato crust. Sounds amazing, right? This easy dish is the type of meal you crave after a long or difficult day. You know, those evenings when you just want to kick up your feet, sip on a tasty beverage (or three) and dig into a heaping plate of comfort food.

PSA: Shepherd's Pie with Ground Beef is Actually Called Cottage Pie

If you've been eating a meat pie dish with ground beef all your life and calling it shepherd's pie, you should probably know that it's called cottage pie! Don't worry...I made the same mistake for years.

According to the purists out there, shepherd's pie is made with ground lamb and cottage pie (as the British call it) is made with ground beef. Does the name really matter? Probably not in terms of deliciousness, but it does make a difference when you're differentiating between two types of meats. 

I like both versions equally but make cottage pie most often simply out of convenience. Grass-fed ground beef is easier to find, less expensive, and I like to keep a few packs on hand in my freezer for quick dishes like chili and lettuce wraps. However, I do enjoy lamb on occasion, so that's a nice alternative to the norm.

I usually make cottage pie 2-3 times a year, yet I've never managed to get decent photographs until now. Probably because the dish always comes out of the oven sometime after 8 pm in the colder months when it's dark outside and the light in my kitchen is oh-so-yellow. Both are not conducive for good photos, trust me!

Cottage Pie in a Cast-Iron Skillet

This is the only picture I snapped of the cottage pie before we dug in for dinner. Whoops. The rest of the pictures are from the next day after we'd polished off a good 1/3 of the pie (I always have seconds).

I'm not one of those disciplined food bloggers who fixes dinner recipes at 11 am so I can photograph them in natural light with my DSLR. (You have to admire that dedication.) I've done it for a few recipes that are easy to reheat, but usually end up taking pictures of what I've made for dinner on the fly when food cravings inspiration hits! 

Cottage Pie: Easy Slow Cooked Flavor 

Want to know what I love most about this dish? The delicious filling tastes like it has slow cooked for 3-4 hours, but the whole dish only takes about 60-75 minutes from start to finish. And during the last 15-20 minutes the oven does all the work. Hello, easy town! 

To save time, opt for frozen veggies like carrots, peas, and green beans and use the time you would have spent peeling and chopping to assemble the rest of the ingredients and make the mashed potatoes. If you happen to have a bunch of leftover mashed potatoes in your fridge (maybe after a family gathering or social function) this is a great way to re-purpose them.

Even better (if you're motivated) you can make this ahead of time and freeze it for later. Just like those ready-made freezer casseroles from the grocery store, you can plan ahead and simply pop this in the oven for an hour or so on a busy night. 

You could even double this recipe and portion out half of the filling and mashed potatoes into individual containers like you would chicken pot pie or ham pot pie.

Don't Rush The Filling 

However, I want to urge you NOT to rush the filling while you're cooking it on the stovetop. If you're making this on a weeknight, it might be tempting to try and cut the total recipe time down to 30-45 minutes by cranking up the heat. 

This might be possible, but it's really not worth it. What's likely to happen instead is this: you're busy multitasking the rest of the dish or doing other things and your filling ends up overcooking and all that delicious gravy dries up. 

Yes, this has happened to me. It sucks. 

So heed my advice and take it slow. This recipe is worth it! 

Cottage Pie
An easy cottage pie recipe with grass-fed ground beef, frozen veggies, and dried herbs in a flavorful gravy all topped with a cheesy mashed potato crust. This comforting dish goes straight from stove-top to oven using a cast-iron skillet, which gives you one less dish to wash!
Adapted from BBC Good Food's Cottage Pie

1-2 tablespoons of cooking oil (I use THIS or THIS)
1 yellow onion, diced
1 pound of ground beef (I prefer 100% grass-fed)
2-3 teaspoons of dried rosemary
2-3 teaspoons of dried thyme
Sea salt, to taste (I love THIS)
Black pepper, to taste
Granulated garlic, to taste
3-4 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
10-16 ounces of frozen mixed veggies (like peas, carrots & cut green beans)
2-3 teaspoons of tomato paste (you can sub tomato sauce, but it won't have as strong a flavor)
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
1-2 tablespoons of flour (or your favorite gluten-free thickener) 
1 cup of beef stock or chicken stock, unsalted or low-sodium
1/2 cup of dry red wine
2-3 cups of mashed potatoes (made separately)
2-3 ounces of shredded or grated cheese (like sharp cheddar or pecorino romano)

Recommended Equipment
10.5 inch or bigger cast-iron skillet 
OR stove top skillet + oven safe baking dish


For the potato topping:
Fill a stock pot 2/3 full of water, wash and dry the potatoes (peel if desired or if using baking potatoes), cut them into chunks, drop into the water, bring the water to a slight boil, and cook until the potatoes are fork tender. When they're ready, drain off the water and while they're still hot & steaming, add in whatever your desired mix-ins (butter, sour cream, chicken broth, cheese, heavy cream, coconut milk, salt, pepper, fresh herbs, dried herbs, etc.), mash well, and set aside until you're ready to spread on top of the cottage pie. 

For the cottage pie filling:
Heat the skillet to medium, add the cooking oil, peel and dice the onion, add the onion to the pan, and cook for 5-7 minutes. Now add the ground beef, breaking it up into chunks with a cooking utensil, and cook for another 10 minutes or until there is no longer any pink. Mince the garlic and add that into the pan along with the rosemary, thyme, sea salt, black pepper, and granulated garlic. 

Grab your bag of frozen veggies, pour them into a colander, give them a rinse under running water to break off any ice chunks, shake off any excess water, then stir them into the skillet mixture. Add the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and flour, stir everything well and let the mixture cook for 1-2 minutes. Pour in the stock and wine, let the mixture come barely to a boil, then simmer on medium-low or low for 15-20 minutes to let the wine cook off and the gravy thicken. 

Now would be a good time to check on the potatoes if you're cooking them from scratch at the same time AND pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Once the gravy has reached your desired thickness, turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for a few minutes. Top the beef filling with an even layer of mashed potatoes (letting it cool off first will make it easier to spread and keep it from sinking, but I'm not usually that patient). 

Sprinkle the top of the potatoes with shredded cheese of your choice. If desired, you can make small grooves in the potatoes with a fork to give the top a bit of surface area to brown. Pop the skillet into a 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted, the potatoes are slightly golden, and the filling is bubbly. 

Notes & Tips
  • If you're using fresh veggies instead of frozen, cook them first until just softened before adding the raw ground beef and cooking that through. 
  • To make it easier to spread the mashed potatoes on top, let the filling cool slightly beforehand. I usually don't have the patience to do this, but it definitely helps to prevent the potatoes from sinking into the ground beef mixture. 

I'd like to hear from YOU!

Have you ever made a meat pie like cottage pie or shepherd's pie? What are your favorite seasonings and veggies to include?

Easy Cottage Pie in a Cast-Iron Skillet

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Psssst...Keep Reading! More Recipes From The Rising Spoon:

Leftover Pot Roast Stew: The Best Ever Excuse For Making a Pot Roast

Grass-Fed Beef Lettuce Wraps (30-Minute Meal)

How to Make Easy Beef Jerky Without a Dehydrator

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