Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking
Also known as shepherd’s pie, and the conventional wisdom is that it’s cottage if you use beef, shepherd’s if it’s lamb.
This ludicrously easy British classic can be knocked up in a trice, then bunged in the oven, to emerge 30 minutes later, steaming and succulent like Jenny Agutter in Walkabout.
Use your loaf about quantities. You know what it looks like, so it all depends how many people you’re cooking for.
Beef or lamb mince
Boil and mash some potatoes. Slip in some salt, butter and even a little grated cheese if you want to liven it up.
Chop and fry an onion until it’s soft but not brown, then add the mince and fry until it’s that browny-grey rather than red.
Now you need to add some flavour.
Splosh in a little red wine and Worcestershire sauce
Crumble in a stock cube and add some water, but not too much. If it ends up too wet, the mash will sink when you spread it on.
If there is too much liquid, simmer it for a while to let some water evaporate.
If you don’t have time to simmer it, add some porridge oats, breadcrumbs, crumbled bran flakes – whatever you have that will thicken it without changing the flavor.
When the mince mixture is ready, turn it out into a small roasting tin, loaf tin or casserole dish and spread the mashed potato on top. Rake the top with a fork to make it even and give it a bit of a geometric touch that looks like you took care over it.
You can sprinkle some grated cheese on the top, which looks good when browned and also adds flavour. Something cheddarish would be fine, or parmesan.
Place it in a fairly hot oven for half an hour or so until the top looks appetising.
Serve with peas, carrots, mashed swede and carrot or green beans.
If you think it’s going to be a bit dry, use some of the water you’ve cooked the vegetables in to make gravy (stock cube, water, a little cornflour to thicken it).
Try to serve it in neat, square portions. It will taste the same if you just splat it on the plate, but appearance is very important to some people and if it looks good they will expect it to taste good – and vice versa.