My recent fish pie with waves post has inadvertently reignited an old controversy. Not the lamb v beef cottage / shepherds pie polemic but something I had not foreseen. It started pretty innocuously. At work, Matt started out being quite complementary about my wavy topped fish pie. This led to a discussion about the right toppings for different pies. The conversation moved around the office but agreement was not reached. I now need to make a stand and draw up the definitive set of rules.
You can top a fish pie with either puff pastry or potato waves. If you can’t trick somebody into making the potato waves for you, it is acceptable (just) to use potato mountains instead. Ploughed potato fields are totally unacceptable.
Pastry topping will make you a laughing-stock. If you do this, use laughing-stock instead of lamb stock while making the pie. Ploughed fields are the way to go. Potato mountains are just about acceptable if you are using mountain sheep meat in the pie.
This one has caused some hullaballoo. Like on the Shepherds pie, pastry is intolerable. There are a couple of schools (kindergarten schools in my opinion) of thought. Many go for the ploughed fields. Others suggest that piped mash can be used. Laughable. Truly laughable. The definitive opinion is that as it is a ‘cottage’ it should have a tiled potato roof.
With the pie rules defined, I am now going to create the world’s first Engineered Cottage Pie. It has to be engineered as well as cooked because the roof has to stay on. I have never seen a flat tiled roof on a cottage. It must have an apex and a sloped roof. As we add elevation, we also add weight. Weight on top of a marshy base. This pie is going to need some serious engineering. Vegetable engineering springs to mind. This could go badly wrong.
You will need the following ingredients.
- 1.5 kilos (3 lb) of minced beef
- 3 onions
- 6 to 8 carrots
- 6 stalks of celery
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Half a litre (1 pint) of beef stock
- As many peas as you want in the pie
- Cornstarch diluted in water to thicken the gravy
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper to season
- Plenty of potatoes (some big ones please)
Here’s what to do:
We may as well get the first bit of engineering greatness out-of-the-way. Measure your carrots and celery for the task in hand. We need them to support the big potato roof. I admit that I am pretty proud of this. I did not study engineering in college or anywhere else.
Chop and sweat the onions and garlic for about 40 minutes over a low heat. Add the chopped carrots and celery at about half way (not the ones you have used for engineering purposes).
When the onions, garlic, celery and carrots are sweated, remove them from the heat and throw in the peas. Then brown the beef in batches.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the meat and cook for a few minutes to bind everything together. Fill around your roof supports. This is beginning to feel a bit extreme, even by my standards.
Now comes the second tricky part. Making the roof tiles. Any engineer will tell you that roof tiles need to be a consistent size. To achieve this, you need to take your bigger potatoes and work out how you are going to get enough square potato tiles of consistent size. I had enough trouble with this to not be in a position to guide you. Suffice to say, at the end, I had a lot of surplus potato pieces to go into the mash pot.
Boil enough potatoes to make enough mash to make the foundation for your roof. You will need lots. Remember also that weight is our enemy and we are aiming for very light, fluffy mash. We are building over a marsh and not withstanding the serious vegetable engineering, weight will work against us. When the potatoes are mashed and as light as possible, fill the gaps between the rafters.
Then make an apex shape out of the remaining mash. smooth it over and tile the roof with potato tiles. At this stage, I was wondering if I had really lost my mind.
I do have a stubborn streak in my nature so I persevered. The pie held up and I popped it in the oven for 50 minutes at 200 degrees celsius. The long baking time influenced by the big potato roof.
Engineering and culinary success! The pie was pretty good. We enjoyed it and I think I have elevated myself to the status of the world’s definitive reference point on pie topping. Perhaps it was worth the effort after all?
I almost forgot the important bit. Wine paring. An engineered pie needs a powerful wine. Enough said: