This is now a classic dish which appears on many pub menus and when well made, is a lovely dish with rich flavours and delicious gravy.
Cottage pie refers to an English meat pie made with beef mince and with a crust made from mashed potato.
A variation on this dish using lamb mince is known as Shepherd's pie.
The term cottage pie is known to have been in use in 1791, when potato was being introduced as an edible crop affordable for the poor ("cottage" meaning a modest dwelling for rural workers).
In early cookery books, the dish was a means of using leftover roasted meat of any kind, and the pie dish was lined with mashed potato as well as having a mashed potato crust on top.
The term "shepherd's pie" did not appear until the 1870s, and since then it has been used synonymously with "cottage pie", regardless of whether the principal ingredient was beef or mutton. There is now a popular tendency for "shepherd's pie" to be used when the meat is mutton or lamb, with the suggested origin being that shepherds are concerned with sheep and not cattle.
In Ireland and English-speaking Canada, it is called shepherd's pie even when containing beef.
The Australian meat pie with a layer of mashed potato replacing the usual pastry crust, is also known as a Shepherds Pie.
This is also known commonly in New Zealand, as a potato top pie.
In the United States a similar dish is called cowboy pie and in New England the most common recipe for shepherd's pie consists of ground beef, canned creamed corn, and mashed potatoes.
A vegetarian version can be made using soya or other meat substitutes, or legumes such as lentils or chick peas.
A similar British dish developed from this is Fishermans Pie made with fish and shellfish.
In Argentina and Chile a similar dish is called pastel de papa (potato pie).
Finely chopped celery can be added to the meat at the same time as the onion and carrot – this improves flavour.
Garden peas can be added to the meat mixture to add colour.
Beer or Stout can be used with, or instead of, stock.
Chopped, tinned, tomatoes can be added to increase the amount of meat mixture produced, but the stock should be made stronger and a tablespoon of plain flour should be added when sweating the onions and carrots.
A can of baked beans can be added for those who dislike tomatoes.
Mushrooms can be added if available.
Other diced root vegetables can be added to the meat mixture to increase to bulk and reduce the dish cost.
Parsnips or turnips can be added to the mash to add a further flavour dimension.
Stir in a tablespoon of horseradish or wholegrain mustard to the mash to further develop flavour.
If tomatoes have been added to the meat, decorate the top of the pie with sliced tomatoes as well as cheese.