Cottage Pie

What people eat tells you a great deal about a country and this is no exception in Great Britain where comfort food is king. You just have to look at a dish of cottage pie, a layer of seasoned minced beef covered with a crust of buttery potatoes and you can figure out a few things: the weather is chilly, they have lots of cattle, they use butter instead of oil and they use ovens.

Great Britain is a beautiful land where you could experience all seasons in just one day and where the vegetation is green and lush year round. This temperate weather is what gives them beautiful year-round gardens. Proximity to the sea has given them potted shrimp (shrimp preserved in butter), smoked and dried fish, fish and chips, fish pie and the wonderful seaweed samphire.

The food is robust and protein-centric from an Asian point of view. Famous dishes are steak and kidney pie, roast beef and Yorkshire, Bangers and Mash (sausages and potato mash) and Scottish cock-a-leekie, an unusual but delicious soup made with beef, chicken, leeks and prunes. The traditional breakfast is not for the faint-hearted and includes sausages, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes and fried bread. In terms of vegetables they love peas, potatoes and are very partial to rhubarb in sweet preparations whereas the Chinese use only the roots for medicinal purposes.

The Brits also eat game, a wide array of cakes and puddings and enjoy take outs of Thai and Indian food. They are credited with the invention of the sandwich, so pragmatic and portable. Cheddar one of the best cow’s milk cheeses in the world comes from Somerset in England. If the world had a food capital it would be London with its multi-cultural restaurants, historic pubs and markets.

If you want to learn more I find British cookbooks wonderfully written with warmth and wit. Food writing is an art form and while there are legends like Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David in modern times you have writers like Nigel Slater and Diana Henry who are also producing exceptional cookbooks.

Cottage pie

Serves 6

  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 1kg minced beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 350 g shitake mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 400 g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 beef stock cube in 400 ml of water
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp miso paste
  • 1kg potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 5 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tbsp butter

Preheat the oven to 200C

Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the mince in batches and fry until brown all over. Add the onion and carrot and fry for a few minutes. Add the garlic.

Sprinkle over the flour, stir for a minute, then blend in the chopped tomatoes, the chopped mushrooms. Add the stock and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and cook for 40 minutes to 1 hour until meat is tender. Add soy sauce and miso paste. Place in an oven-proof dish.

Set aside to cool while you make the potatoes

Boil the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender, drain and return to the pan.

Add the milk, butter, salt and pepper and mash until smooth.

Spread the potatoes over the meat. Place in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until bubbling and slightly golden on top. Serve hot.