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Cottage pie comforts the inner wimp

Cottage pie comforts the inner wimp

Recipes: Cumberland fish pie, chicken and leek pie and cottage pie.

Diary: Imagining a man cold, but a thousand times worse.

We all know guys are pathetic when it comes to the slightest sniffle. That’s why I was expecting no sympathy a few weeks ago, when for only the second time in my life, I submitted to the surgeon’s knife. There are two good sides to all this. First, they gave me an on-demand morphine pump, and second when it’s all over and better, I’ll be able to dance again. At least, that’s what the surgeon has assured me. Actually, I couldn’t dance before, so perhaps he’s overstating it.

In preparation for this week of less than fun times and being stuck in bed, I ensured that I had lots of favourite comfort foods to hand, by making up three of my best savoury pies and freezing them in easily re-heatable portions. Two of these pies — Cumberland fish pie and chicken and leek pie — I’ve talked about before in these kitchen adventures, but to my surprise I find I’ve never written about cottage pie. I suppose it’s because cottage pie is one of those comfort food recipes one can throw together with whatever is in the fridge (or the cottage) and it will come out just fine, so no need to share the ingredients. But some folk need all the details, so here goes.

Ready for the freezer and later consumption

Ready for the freezer and later consumption

Most people will be familiar with shepherd’s pie, but correctly speaking that should be made with lamb. The version made with ground beef should be called cottage pie. It really is English country food at it’s best, because it will not suffer from having a variety of different seasonal ingredients. When I came to put this version together, I found I’d run out of onions but I had plenty of leeks left over from the chicken and leek pie.  So leeks it is and all the better for it.

Any time you’re feeling down, try one of these pies for the ultimate in comfort food. Or do as I have and freeze some ahead for bad times and sad times.


  • Servings: 4
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by Nigel Napier-Andrews

Often called shepherd’s pie, which should be made with lamb, of course, this is my take on an old recipe.

IngredientsFrozen 4

  • 1 1/2 to 2 lb potatoes (about 3 large ones) peeled and halved
  • 8 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
  • 1 1/2 lb lean ground beef (about 680g)
  • 1 stick of butter (8 tbsp)
  • 2 cups leeks, chopped and washed (or traditionally onions)
  • 1 cup carrots, diced and steamed
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup beef stock, hot
  • 3 tbsp fine flour
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup grated cheddar
  • sprig of fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Peel and halve the potatoes and cover with water in a pot. Add plenty of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender (about 15 – 20 mins). Add the peeled garlic cloves to the hot water and cook along with the potatoes. Add the peeled and diced carrots to the hot water, if you like, and cook along too.
  2. Melt half the butter in a thick pan. Add the chopped leeks (or onions if you prefer) and saute until soft.  Add the ground beef and cook until all the pink has gone. Sprinkle some of the flour on top and mix in until it disappears, then add the rest and do the same.
  3. Now add some of the beef stock, better if it is hot, so microwave it first in a heat proof jug, and stir in to the mix to make a thick sauce. Add the rest of the stock, making sure there are no lumps. Add the Worcestershire sauce. Add a few leaves of chopped up rosemary. Cook for about 10 minutes to allow all the flavours to blend. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. When the potatoes are done, remove the carrots from the pot with slotted spoon and add them to the beef mix. Drain the potatoes and garlic and add the rest of the butter, with a good grind of black pepper. Mash the garlic right in with the potatoes until smooth.
  5. Preheat the oven to 205°C/400°F. Spread the beef, leeks and carrots in the bottom of a large baking dish. Add the frozen peas and mix in. Add the mashed potatoes on top and smooth out with the back of a fork, making a pattern of ridges. Sprinkle on some medium to strong grated cheddar and add a sprig of rosemary on top. It’s mostly for decoration, but you’d be surprised how much flavour will permeate the dish.
  6. Place in the oven and cook until browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes. If necessary, turn the broiler on for the last few minutes to ensure the mashed potatoes are good and brown, but not burnt. Allow the dish to rest for five minutes or so before serving.


  • Servings: 4
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by Nigel Napier-Andrews

Preparation 50 mins
Baking 35 mins

As promised, this is The Devonshire Arms, Derbyshire,  version of fish pie, with additional cheese in the topping. Extra delicious.Frozen 3


  • 350ml (1 1/3 cup) full-cream milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 300g piece of salmon, skinned
  • 300g piece of cod, skinned
  • 300g piece of haddock, skinned
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 cup grated medium white cheddar cheese
  • 4 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs

For the mashed potatoes

  • 1kg floury potatoes, peeled and cut into even chunks
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 100ml full-cream milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Step 1: Make the mashed potatoes.
Cook the potatoes in a saucepan of lightly salted boiling water for 15-20 minutes, until tender. Drain well, return to the pan and mash with the butter and milk until smooth. Season well and set aside.

Step 2: Make the filling.
Put the milk and bay leaf in a wide, deep frying pan over a medium heat. Bring just to simmering point, then add the salmon, haddock and cod (halve to fit in the pan, if necessary). Poach for 5 minutes, then transfer to a baking dish using a slotted spoon. When cool enough to handle, flake or cut the fish into bite-size pieces. (This is a good time to check for any errant bones or pieces of skin you missed earlier.) Strain the infused milk into a jug, discarding the bay leaf.

Step 3: Make the sauce.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F). Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually stir in the warm infused milk and bring just to the boil, stirring constantly. Simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard and half the grated cheese until it melts. Return to the heat if necessarySeason well.

Step 4: Assemble and bake.
Gently mix the sauce with the fish in the baking dish. Top with the mashed potato. You can just spoon it on and make furrows with the back of a fork, or you can get fancy and pipe it on using a piping bag and a wide star shaped nozzle. Mix the breadcrumbs with the rest of the grated cheese and sprinkle with breadcrumbs/cheese mix all over the topping. Place the pie on a baking sheet and cook in the oven for about 35 minutes or until turning golden and bubbling hot throughout.

Serve with green veggies, traditionally peas.

To freeze and reheat: You can freeze the pie after assembling and before cooking, covered, for up to 1 month. Thaw in the fridge for 24 hours or until it is completely defrosted, then bring up to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F) and cook for 50 minutes until piping hot throughout.

POSTSCRIPT: In May 2015 I wrote: “At The Devonshire Arms at Pilsley, Derbyshire, not be confused with The Devonshire Arms at Beeley, a mere three miles away, but still on the Duke of Devonshire’s vast Chatsworth estate, Diane is served an excellent fish pie. I decline to taste test it as it has shrimp within. The Duke’s version is covered with grated Cheddar cheese and makes a delicious difference. As soon as I get back from this road trip and into a functioning kitchen, I’ll post the Devonshire version (sans shrimp).”

The recipe above is my version of their version of the original. Oh, you know what I mean.


  • Servings: 4
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by Nigel Napier-Andrews

Prep time: 45 mins
Cook time: 25 mins
  • cooked chicken, 900g on the bone, about 600g boned and skinned
  • 3 cups of washed chopped leeks
  • 3 cups (approx 650ml) hot chicken stock
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 tbsp (1/4 cup) butter
  • 1/2 pkt frozen puff pastry (225g), defrosted but chilled
  • 1/2 cup (approx 100 ml) water
  • 4 tbsp fine white flour
  • 1 egg
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/390°F.
  2. Roast a small chicken, or approx 900g chicken breasts, skin and bone on for 30 mins — a very good substitute is to buy a small ready roasted chicken. Allow to cool, strip off the skin and bones and discard or reserve for stock another day. Chop the pieces into bite size chunks. Set aside in a covered bowl.
  3. Top and tail the leeks, cut in half lengthways, separate leaves and wash very thoroughly. Grit in the pie is a no-no. Shake leaves dry and chop across the length into small semi-circles.
  4. In a saucepan heat up the stock and add 3 bay leaves.
  5. In a heavy bottomed pot, melt the butter and add the chopped leeks. Stir for a minute or two as they soften, then add the 1/2 cup of water and simmer with the lid on for about 10 mins, until the leeks are quite soft.
  6. Sprinkle on 3 tbsp flour and stir in to make a thick paste. If it doesn’t seem quite thick enough, add the last tsp. Stir around for two minutes until the flour is cooked
  7. Slowly pour in the hot stock, including the bay leaves, and continue stirring until there are no lumps. Add the chopped parsley, some salt and pepper and finally the cooked chopped chicken. Just stir enough to cover the chicken thoroughly with sauce, but not enough for the chicken to disintegrate. Cook on very low heat, uncovered, for 5 mins.
  8. Beat the egg in a small bowl and have ready with a pastry brush.
  9. Pour the mixture into your pie dish. Brush around the edge of the dish with egg to allow the pastry to stick. Roll out the pastry and place on top of the pie. Crimp it around the edges with the tines of a fork, cut three or four holes in the pie so the steam can escape, and trim the edges of excess pastry. If you’re feeling creative, you can cut some leaves out of the left over pastry and apply to the top of the pie after dipping in the egg. Brush lightly with the beaten egg.
  10. Set the pie dish on a baking tin (in case of spillage) in the middle of the oven and cook for 25 mins, or until golden brown on top. Serve at once, discarding the bay leaves as you come across them.

2 replies »

    • Well on the way to recovery now I defrosted the cottage pie last night, cooked it and ate it. Fully up to expectations as you’ll see from the updated photo!


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