While doing research for this recipe, I discovered some interesting things about English meat pies:
1. Not all meat pies have a pastry crust.
2. The most famous, shepherd’s pie, is only made with lamb (lamb = shepherd, get it?) and hails from Ireland.
3. If it’s made like a shepherd’s pie but with beef instead of lamb, it’s a cottage pie.
4. If you add cheese and bread crumbs to the topping of a either pie, it’s a Cumberland pie (named for the Cumbria region of England).
5. Originally, meat pies were made with minced meat (not to be confused with mincemeat); ground meat is a more modern adaptation for the sake of convenience.
6. There are no rules about what vegetables go in the filling of a shepherd’s, cottage, or Cumberland pie. Most versions seen today include green peas; some include carrots or corn (or both), and really modern versions have mushrooms (either in addition to or instead of the meat). But originally, meat pies were peasant dishes made with whatever was on hand.
My recipe has ingredients that I like, but still maintains the original integrity of the dish. I used beef and included cheese and bread crumbs [because, to me, why wouldn’t you?] so this is a Cumberland pie. And since I think they are tasty and easy, I have used instant potatoes. If you want to use homemade, please do so without disparaging me for culinary laziness.
- 1 lb beef tips, diced (can also use ground beef if preferred)
- 1 packet instant mashed potatoes (plain or your preferred flavor)
- 1 cup matchstick carrots
- 1 cup frozen broccoli florets (or peas if you must)
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup wine or sherry (optional)
- 1/4 cup water (1/2 cup if omitting wine)
- 2-4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2-4 tbsp tomato paste or ketchup
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 packet brown gravy mix
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp paprika
- salt and black pepper to taste
Steam broccoli in microwave until softened and cut into small pieces. Season beef with salt and pepper and brown on stove in oven-safe skillet or Dutch oven; remove meat to plate (or broccoli container) and cook onion, carrots, and garlic in meat drippings with butter until softened. Stir in gravy mix until smooth. Deglaze pan with wine and/or water, then stir in Worcestershire, tomato paste, and other seasonings and heat until starting to thicken. Remove from heat and stir meat back into mixture along with broccoli. Add more salt and pepper if needed. [If preferred, transfer to alternate dish(es) for baking; but this can also be baked directly in the skillet or Dutch oven.]
Prepare mashed potatoes according to directions, add cheeses, and spoon over filling. Top with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes; if more browning is needed for potatoes, switch to broil and keep a close eye on it to prevent burning.