A spring cottage pie

by sophie on March 25, 2008 · 28 comments

Post image for A spring cottage pie

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.

chickenshepherdspie ingredients
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

Making mash in the kitchen aid 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).
Spring chicken cottage pie

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.


Lucy March 26, 2008 at 00:18

Well, this is the most beautiful Spring dish I’ve seen so far! Photos – stunning. Lit with perfect Northern spring light.
Am trying to think of something more whimsical than chicken farmer…perhaps a poulterer? Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, though.
It’s cooling down here and my tarragon is growing so well that I think a lentil and white bean version is on the cards for this weekend. With creme fraiche, of course! Thanks.

oookinpanda March 26, 2008 at 01:35

This sounds delicious. I love the simplicity of it. I will definitely be trying it… most likely with tofu or a mixture of beans. Mmm.

Johanna March 26, 2008 at 08:05

I have never really thought about the difference between cottage pie and shepherd’s pie but now I am wondering why one is named after a person and the other after a building – does this mean that you could name your pie after another ye olde buildinge :-) I have always thought a vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie should be called market gardener’s pie but don’t know about chooks!

Meeta March 26, 2008 at 19:20

Sophie, this is a lovely elegant Spring dish. So perfect. It also fits in so well with the style of your blog!

maninas March 26, 2008 at 23:50

Sounds fantastic!
Love the idea!
I-m so looking forward to spring! I-m in Croatia at the moment and we’ve got wild asparagus here now! fantastic stuff!

kathryn March 27, 2008 at 08:38

Gorgeous Sophie. Being of British origins I do like a good cottage pie. My main recipe is a hearty, hearty lentil based one. Never thought to update it for a different season. Your picture of leeks, carrots and shallots sauteeing is just glorious.
We’re slowly heading in to autumn here – the mornings are getting crisper and I might have the duvet on the bed tonight. But a lighter cottage pie is still right for the season – not quite ready for the full winter dishes yet.

Ric March 27, 2008 at 23:28

It’s really nice to see a lighter, more vegetable-packed cottage pie. I remember the cottage and shepherd’s pies of my childhood (my parents are English): very little vegetables but lots of non-lean meat, loads of butter in the mashed potatoes, and a very generous topping of grated cheddar cheese. What a nutritional disaster!
Nowadays we usually make a version of cottage/shepherd’s pie with lentils, but your chicken version looks very tasty indeed. :)

Annemarie March 27, 2008 at 23:42

What a nice variation no the original. I do like the leeks and the thyme, and the part parsnip topping might be a good use for all those parsnips in my veg box…

Peter March 27, 2008 at 23:46

Ann Marie (above) just sent me over, I just made a Shepherd’s (Cottage) pie and the bug must be catching on!
Your photos are great!

Tina March 28, 2008 at 05:19

Great blog!

Deb March 28, 2008 at 21:17

Yum Sophie, this looks so lovely! Looks so light and inviting as compared to the pies that include tons of heavy beef. A nicely chilled Sauvignon Blanc would be excellent with your dish!

Jessica March 29, 2008 at 14:47

This really does look delicious! I’ll definitely be making this, maybe with a combination ground chicken and white beans. Great photos too!

SharonMay March 30, 2008 at 02:06

That looks very good maybe because it looks so light and fluffy. YUM.
Sharona May

SharonMay March 30, 2008 at 02:06

That looks very good maybe because it looks so light and fluffy. YUM.
Sharona May

Sophie March 30, 2008 at 18:44

Thanks for all the comments everyone. I’d love to hear about it if anybody tries making a vegetarian version?
Deb – lovely to have wine suggestion!
Thanks for pondering on the name Johanna (no, it doesn’t quite make sense how one is named after a building and one a person). I’m wondering about Barnyard pie or something like that now?

Erin March 30, 2008 at 22:55

Ah, what a lovely thing – a spring pie. And thank god for an interesting recipe with leeks in it, if I get any more leeks in my Riverford box I will go crazy. I was begging everyone at work for new recipes because they were taking over my fridge at one point.

LyB March 31, 2008 at 14:24

Such a lovely dish. I love new ways of using leftover chicken, this is just perfect! Thanks so much for sharing!

Cassie April 1, 2008 at 16:42

Sophie, wow, what beautiful photos! Your dish has me inspired, too! I make a vegetarian (vegan, actually) version with lentils and a potato topping (sometimes celery root added to the mash) but it’s not really spring-like in look and feel. Making me want to whip up a new, spring-ier variety! Been hard for me to get in the spring mood though with three feet of snow still on the ground. And in fact, it’s snowing again right now. sigh….
Anyway, your pictures are truly stunning and I’ve got you bookmarked to remind me to try my hand at a variation very soon.
Hope you’re well!

Wendy April 1, 2008 at 21:34

Speechless at how beautiful these pictures are. Really am.
Bookmarking now with the intention of making this later in the week. :)

kittie April 2, 2008 at 17:49

Gorgeous pictures – and I like the seasonal slant on this classic!

Hélène April 4, 2008 at 17:18

This is a great way to enjoy my coffee this morning in reading your post and looking at your great pictures.

Wendy April 4, 2008 at 21:17

We had this for dinner this evening and it was very good indeed. Swapped the tarragon (yuck) for a mixture of thyme and parsley and made it with the potato/parsnip mash. D approved whole-heartedly.

radish April 5, 2008 at 13:14

What a beautiful blog! I just read this recipe and want to make it immediately – unfortunately, I’m in the midst of packing to go to a Washington DC wedding, so sadly, this will have to wait! The pictures are stunning!

Antonia April 6, 2008 at 09:52

Beautiful variation on a winter favourite – what a great idea. Lovely Spring flavours too.
I often add parsnips to the potatoes when I make Cottage pie for a really flavoursome topping. I’ve never thought of making a version with chicken though, so thank you for the inspiration.

Helen April 6, 2008 at 10:08

That looks so gorgeous and fresh! It looks perfect for spring. We have the same attitude to meat now and we tend to eat veggie or opt for fish.

Anticiplate April 12, 2008 at 17:48

I just found your blog. Beautiful photos and healthy recipes…..I love it:)

abby April 27, 2008 at 08:19

an inspired and delicious idea, thanks sophie!

Sultana Ali February 8, 2011 at 09:53

Cottage pie recipe

Previous post:

Next post: