Cottage Pie is a perennial British favourite, one of that breed of dishes you find in all cultures whose sole purpose in life it is to use up yummy leftovers. A proper cottage pie is a hearty dish of savoury beef cooked with carrots and onions and topped with a rib-sticking layer of mashed potato. Its sibling recipe, shepherd’s pie, is much the same but made with lamb, each dish being bourne out of the happy necessity to use up leftover meat from the Sunday roast.
A good cottage pie is a splendid thing, and no great nutritional disaster if you choose lean mince and don’t smother the top with cheddar cheese or bathe the mash in heaps of butter. But it is also the epitome of winter cooking – time to move on. March is time for a welcome spring take on cottage pie using chicken alongside lighthearted flavourings of lemon zest, tarragon and crème fraiche.
The original inspiration for this recipe is buried deep within a gargantuan pile of food magazines in our living room so this is one of those top of the head efforts. It turned out pleasingly well I thought, a delicately flavoured Sunday lunch kind of a pie rather than a big, hearty supper dish.
Of course to name this recipe properly I really need the correct term for the person or persons whose job it is to look after chickens. If any of you can help out I’d be much obliged (fingers crossed that it will be something suitably whimsical – poultry farmer pie just isn’t cutting it!).
Flicking back through the archives, this is the first meat recipe on Mostly Eating since mid-October. More than ever meat is a bit of a treat in our house, something to savour, not an everyday staple food. Flexible recipes that can be made vegetarian or meaty depending on mood and available ingredients seems to be the way forward more and more, for us anyway.
Variations on the theme
- the milder flavours here would work well with a soya based or quorn mince
- for a second veggie variation, use a mix of white beans and green lentils in place of the chicken (with extra seasoning and crème fraiche)
- lamb mince is good in this, but not beef (I have a feeling that the ‘mother’ of this recipe was lamb based)
- for a lighter topping use mashed parsnips, or a half and half mix of potatoes and parsnip
- lemon thyme has the same fragrant cheery spring vibe as tarragon
I couldn’t get hold of high welfare standard chicken mince so bought organic chicken thigh and minced it in a food processor (chicken breast would be a bit bland here). The pie is lovely with a few simple lightly cooked seasonal vegetables on the side (ours were carrots with lemon thyme and purple sprouting broccoli).
Recipe for Spring chicken cottage pie
Serves 6 people, or four greedy guts
700g chicken mince
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 Tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
4 Heaped tbsp half-fat crème fraiche
1 Tbsp olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper
800g potato, peeled and roughly chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced
A splash of milk
Put the oven on to heat up to 190C.
Put the potatoes in saucepan and boil for about 15 minutes, until tender.
Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan. Cook the shallots, leek and carrot on a gentle heat for about five minutes.
When the vegetables have cooked and softened, turn up the heat and add the chicken mince. Stir until the mince is cooked (about 10 minutes).
Take the chicken and vegetable mixture off the heat and stir in the crème fraiche, tarragon, lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice. Season with black pepper.
Mash the potatoes.
Loosen the mash with a splash of milk. Stir in about two thirds of the spring onions.
Pour the chicken mixture into a large, shallow oven-proof dish. Spread the mashed potato over the chicken mix. Sprinkle with the remaining spring onions.
Cook for about 20 minutes, until golden brown on top.