I cook a lot, and I have been cooking with a heavy paleo bent for a long time. And, since Sarah and I are doing the Whole30 this month, I thought it might be fun to share some of my recipes with you all. Note: if you are looking for precision in your recipes, buy a cookbook. I’m just going to tell you how I do it, and you can make it work for yourself.
Cottage Pie is a generic term for a dish using leftover meat topped with mashed potatoes which is then baked again. It’s a pretty solid and filling meal-in-a-bowl and it holds up to reheating perfectly so you can make a bunch and eat it throughout the week. The dish is also commonly referred to as Shepherd’s Pie, but I’ve always understood that to be mutton-based (shepherd = sheep, obviously). I’ve also heard the dish referred to as Chinese Pie when made with ground beef instead of mutton or lamb as a reference to Chinese immigrant laborers building the railroads who didn’t have access to mutton, but did have access to beef. But, Cottage Pie is more common (and less potentially racist?) so Cottage Pie it is.
This is also a good recipe since it’s not precise at all. And I mean AT ALL. You can take my ideas here and adapt them however you like. I cooked this thing according to the ingredients below recently, but next time it will be different. As long as you follow good cooking practice, you basically can’t fuck this up.
Wingin’ It Cottage Pie
4 or 5 biggish sweet potatoes
1.5 lb ground beef
1 mediumish carrot
2 or 3 celery spears
1 medium onion
4 tomatoes on the vine or roma tomatoes or other tomatoes about that size
1 14oz can crushed tomatoes
Garlic cloves as per your preference
1 box low-sodium beef stock
Spices: salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, cumin, paprika, coriander, oregano, thyme, garlic, parsley, whatever the hell you want, really.
Steps 1, 2, and 3-6 can sort of be done at the same time. There’s a lot of waiting to be done, so multitask.
1) Peel and cut your sweet potatoes into similarly sized chunks. Not too big, but don’t waste your time making them super small either. It’s more important that they are all about the same size since they will cook more evenly.
Throw those bad boys into a big stock pot and add some salt. Maybe like a teaspoon per sweet potato, kind of like salting pasta water (but pasta is right out on the Whole30 so don’t even THINK about it, bro). Whatever. The amount of salt isn’t super critical. Use your best judgment.
Fill the pot with water so there’s an inch or so of water on top of the sweet potato chunks. They should be floating a little.
Cover the pot and stick it on the stove on high. When it comes to a rolling boil, reduce to a simmer and let simmer for like 30 minutes. Should be totally good after that. After 30 minutes, drain the pot. Then drizzle the potatoes with a little olive oil if you like (or don’t) and salt and pepper and mash the shit out them. They should be nearly pureed. If you want to stick them in a food process or something you can, but that’s a ton of extra dishes and not at all necessary. Just use a potato masher like a grown-up.
Cover the pot and set aside.
2) Dice your tomatoes into smallish chunks. Again, actual size isn’t that important. Like big chunks? Leave them big! Like small chunks? Dice the hell out of them! Don’t like tomatoes at all? Fuck it! Omit this step completely!
Get a pot, like one of those 3 quart guys, and get it hot. Add a little bit of ghee and sauté the tomato chunks until they look pretty cooked. Add some red pepper flakes because they are good. Salt and pepper too, of course.
Once the tomatoes are pretty cooked, stir in half the canned crushed tomatoes and set the rest aside for a little bit. Bring the sautéed tomato/crushed tomato mix to a simmer and then cover and reduce to super low. We don’t want it to cook, just to stay warm.
3) Dice your carrot, celery, and onion. I like a small dice, but do whatever the hell you like; it’s your life. Also dice up a couple cloves of garlic, but keep it separate from the carrotceleryonion mix.
Heat a large, high-walled pan (a dutch oven works great for this) over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot add a tablespoon-ish of ghee (full disclosure: I have no idea what a tablespoon looks like, I just eyeball it based on experience) which will melt within 20 seconds. Add in your garlic and let it cook for not too long. We don’t want it to burn, just to open up a little.
Once the garlic is slightly browner, add in the carrotceleryonion. Salt that shit. It helps draw out the excess water and makes it more delicious. Cook those guys together over medium-high heat until the celery is soft and the onions are fairly reduced in size. Keep stirring. The carrots will still look raw because carrots are jerks and you can’t trust them. Once they’re nice and cooked (5 to 7 minutes, maybe less, probably a touch more) take them out of the pan and set them aside for now.
4) Add another dollop of ghee to the pan and, once it melts, toss in your ground beef. Salt it and raise the heat to high.
Cook your beef until it’s cooked. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. Just keep stirring that shit until it’s done. You’ll know because it will be brown, you know, like cooked beef.
Lots of recipes will tell you to drain the juice at this step, but I say bullshit to that. Leave the juice in the pan. That shit is delicious. Juice drainers can go to hell.
5) Add the cooked veggies from Step 3 to the cooked beef from Step 4 and mix those guys together. Yum! It smells good! Reduce the heat to medium for now.
Time to add spices. I like to use cheap-shit paprika as a base. It gives a nice color, the cheap stuff isn’t spicy, and it kind of goes with everything. I also add salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin, parsley, and whatever I mentioned above. It doesn’t really matter that much. I like these ones so this is what I use. Use whatever spice combo you like. Ground beef is basically like a blank flavor palette, so follow your joy.
Add all your spices to a bowl and stir with your fingers. This agitates the spices and opens them up a little and gives you a good sense of your balance.
Protip: when you think you’ve added enough of a spice to the bowl, add more. More spices = more delicious. This dish is not about subtlety. It’s about heartiness and flavor and making you feel warm on the inside. Add more spice. One exception: salt. You can always add more salt later, but you’ll never be able to take it out.
Stir the spice mixture into the meat veggie mixture. I also like to add a couple heavy dollops of the canned tomatoes I set aside early. I use the “Eh that feels like enough” metric, so add as much or as little as you like.
Once the spices are well integrated, add beef stock until the beef is a little wobbly in the pan. Increase the heat to high and let the stock reduce. This blends all those flavors together and increases the deliciousness of your food big time.
6) Preheat your oven to 375 or 400 while the beef stock is reducing. Whatever.
7) Once the beef juice has reduced to the point that it just looks like thick-ish sauce (but should absolutely NOT be dry), turn the stove off. Your elements are prepared! AWESOME!
Get yourself an 8 x 13 casserole dish. Or you can use two smaller dishes if you want. It literally does not matter at all. Fuck, if you want to do this in the dutch oven you used earlier, you totally can, but it might be a little hard to serve.
Spoon the beef into the bottom of the dish and spread so it’s a nice even layer. Cool! At this point, I like to give it another splash of beef stock since we’ll be putting it under heat again and dry meat sucks ass.
Next, take your tomato mixture and spread that on top of the beef in an even layer. Nice!!
Finally, scoop your mashed sweet potatoes on top of everything else. Gently spread it into a roughly even layer. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just more or less even. Be careful when applying pressure as the beef base is not a very stable foundation. Wow!!!
Once it’s all assembled I like to finish it with a sprinkle of something delicious on top. The time I did this in the photograph I used Maldon’s sea salt flakes and maras pepper because they are wonderful and you should have them. But if you don’t, regular black pepper and kosher salt will be fine. Put a bunch: you have to remember that you have a giant layer of basically unspiced sweet potato mash to contend with.
8) Stick the now-assembled cottage pie in the oven for like 30 minutes. The actual time doesn’t really matter. You’ll know it’s ready to eat when you see the beef liquid bubbling at the edges. 30 minutes will definitely do it.
That’s it! Let it cool for a minute and then eat the thing!
Leftovers go in the fridge and can easily be reheated in the oven and be just as delicious as the first time.