What is a cottage pie?
Cottage pie was probably one of the very first meals I learnt how to cook, way back when I was a little girl helping my nan cook in her big East London kitchen. Back then though, the ingredients may have included much more fat, with full fat beef mince in a home made gravy and lashings of real dairy butter and cream in the mash that covered it. Not to mention to the extra cheese that I begged her to add to the top.
Over the years as my health and weight became more important to me, the cottage pie recipe I carried on from my nan had some slight adaptations. This, is the low calorie cottage pie recipe is an adapted version of my nans cottage pie. However, the biggest change to this recipe is not actually in the ingredients or the way they are cooked but in fact the name… When I was a child, this dish would ALWAYS be called Shepherds pie, not cottage pie. Whilst many people do believe this is just a dish with two names, there is actually one very big difference between cottage pie and shepherds pie. This difference would be the meat used. A shepherds pie is made with lamb mince, giving it a much richer flavour (which isn’t to every bodies taste) whilst cottage pie is made with beef mince. For the most part, all other components remain the same. I always remembered this dish being made with beef therefore its a low calorie cottage pie recipe.
Do you have a diet restriction?
This recipe is great for people with the following diet restrictions:
- Gluten Free
- Dairy Free (If you omit the dairy from the mash)
- Nut Free
- Paleo Friendly
Step 1: Prepare the mash
To start with, I like to get the mash out of the way first so that I can focus on the real star of the show, the mince, without any distractions. Peel 3 potatoes (weighed in at 700g) and dice into small cubes, place in boiling water for 15-20 minutes. When your potato is soft enough to fall apart when speared with a fork drain and place the potato back in the saucepan with 2 tbsp of milk and 2 tbsp of low calorie margarine such as “Flora” or “I cant Believe Its Not Butter”. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes well for 5+ minutes until the mash is completely smooth and no lumps remain, you wont be able to tell by eye so you will have to taste a small amount to detect lumps. The secret to good mash in this cottage pie recipe really is in mashing it until it is 100% lump free. Leave to one side for use later.
Step 2: Prepare the mince and vegetables
Finely dice an onion, 2 garlic cloves and 1-2 large carrots. I used just under 200g of carrot. Place the onion and the garlic in a warm frying pan (you can also use a wok, we all know I love a good wok). If your diet allows oil then you can add a spoonful whilst your pan is warming but if you prefer not too like myself then just add a splash of water as needed like you usually would. When the onions are soft and translucent add in 400g of beef mince and break up well. when the mince has browned all over add in thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper and bay leaves. You can also add in your carrot now but leave the peas until the end.
Add approximately 400ml of beef stock and cook for 10-15 minutes until the carrots are starting to soften and the stock has reduced. At this point you can add 3-4 tbsp of beef gravy granules to thicken the beef stock. You can now also add in your peas whether they are frozen or defrosted. Your mince mixture should be moist and well covered in gravy but the gravy should be thick enough not to drip, it shouldn’t look like a stew. If it does, remove some of the liquid and add more gravy granules to thicken.
Step 3: Build the cottage pie
Place the mince into a deep oven proof dish and spoon the mash on top. I find the best way to get two clearly separated layers is not place spoonful’s of mash all over the mince but don’t try to smooth it out until all of the mince is covered. that way, you smooth the top over without disturbing the lower levels of mash and mix it into the mince. Once you’ve smoothed your mash, grab a fork and run it gently along the top of the mashed potato to create little lines, this helps create a crispy topping. Optionally, you can top with a slight sprinkle of cheddar before putting in the oven for 30 minutes at 200c or until the peaks of the mash start to crisp.
Serve with fresh seasonal vegetables, or, if your anything like my family, a good serving of baked beans.
*Now I feel it is important to put in a bit of a disclaimer about using margarine as I know many of the people using my recipes use them because I try to avoid processed foods and if this is you, you’ll probably be reeling at the thought of using a product like margarine, if your not comfortable using it then swap it out for butter but remember to change the calorie count if needed. I often find I have to make a choice between healthy or low calorie and in the case of butter, where the calories in the clean product are so shockingly high, that i will always choose the lower calorie alternative even if it is one of the most processed product on the planet. Still feel a little bit guilty for it though, hence the disclaimer!
**I think its also appropriate to make a little disclaimer about cheating with gravy granules. I’ve made peace with the fact that I couldn’t make my own gravy even if my very life depended on it, I stopped trying to make gravy from scratch a long time ago. If you know how to make your own gravy and would like to substitute this section of the recipe with your own gravy then id love to hear about it, maybe you can teach me something new!
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