Festive Cottage Pie

Tinsel glistening, lights twinkling, bucks fizz flowing – it must be December!  Friends (and enemies) of mine know that each year I make it my mission to try as many Christmas sandwiches from the supermarkets as I can.  I just enjoy the novelty of it – how are they going to cram Christmassy cheer between two slices of bread this year?   Inevitably, 90% of it amounts to swapping chicken for turkey and adding a bit of cranberry to it.  Sometimes its as lazy as slapping a few sparkles onto the packet and calling it a day.

Is that what I’m doing here, then?  Quite probably.  That said, the cottage/shepherd’s pie famously has two variants as it is – and pedants like me love to remind people of that when they say the wrong one for the wrong meat.  I’ve also always been a lover of mash-topped pies, as is evident from previous recipes on this very site.  So, this yuletide season I decided this would probably be the perfect dish to give a seasonal makeover.  It’s what the baby Jesus would have wanted, after all.

The differences between this and a standard cottage pie are small but very noticeable.  While the obvious addition of dried cranberries and nuts may be the most visually and texturally striking, it’s really the subtle hint of winter spices in the sauce as well as the delicious roasting herb-infused mash that do the heavy lifting.  As for the turkey, you could swap it out for any mince, but if nothing else turkey is wonderfully lean and the flavour delicate enough to let the others sing.

Ingredients – serves approx 4

  • 500g Turkey mince (I used breast as I tend to find thigh mince smells a bit like wet dog)
  • 150g (or more) of bacon lardons (diced bacon sliced would work too)
  • 1-2 large onions, diced
  • A few carrots, diced
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • A few cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 3-4tbsp sour cream/crème fraîche
  • 1 poultry stock cube/pot
  • Handful dried cranberries
  • Handful nuts (I used walnuts), roughly chopped
  • 4-5 large potatoes – always use 1 more than you think you need
  • Fresh roasting herbs, finely chopped (I used rosemary and sage, but thyme would also be great here)
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • Salt and pepper to season

Method

  • Add 1 tbsp of the butter to a large saucepan and melt until foaming.  Add the bacon and gently fry over a low heat for 5-10 minutes to render out the bacon fat.  Once the bacon is beginning to crisp, remove it to a bowl.
  • Add the onions into the saucepan and gently fry with a sprinkling of salt for 10 minutes until nicely softened.  Add the carrot and fry for a further five minutes until some of the moisture has been released.
  • While this is happening, peel and dice your potatoes to roughly 1 inch cubes.  Add to a large saucepan and cover with salted water.  Bring to the boil and allow them to cook for 10-15 minutes.  When they’re ready (test with a knife that it goes in without resistance), drain, add to a bowl and mash slightly.
  • Turn up the heat up to medium high and add the turkey.  Break into small pieces with a wooden spoon as you keep it moving around the pan.  First it will release its moisture, then as that evaporates off it’ll start to caramelise on the bottom.  At this point add the garlic and spices, fry for a minute until aromatic, then the tomato paste and sugar (the latter to counter the tartness of the former).  Fry again for a couple of minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t stick too much.
  • Add the flour and continue to stir for 3-4 minutes on medium high before pouring in the wine and crumbling in the stock cube, along with the bacon from earlier.  Stir it all together and allow the liquid to reduce by half before stirring through the cranberries, nuts and all but 1 tbsp of the sour cream.
  • As this takes place, melt 2 tbsp butter in a small pan and add the chopped herbs.  Cook at the lowest temperature for at least 5 minutes for the herbs to really infuse into the butter.  Pour into the mashed potatoes and mash them further, adding in the remaining sour cream.  If it’s too firm for your liking, a splash of milk should loosen it up.
  • Now time to assemble.  Heat the oven to 180C before pouring the meat mixture into a large, rectangular baking dish.  Smooth over, then spoon on the mashed potato and gently spread to cover.  You don’t want the mash to sink into the meat mixture so be gentle.  Roughly run a fork along the top to create lots of crags that can crisp up in the oven – surface area is the name of the game.  Bake for at least 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top.  Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes or it’ll fall apart as you try and serve it.
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