If you ever doubt your ability to cook an amazing meal, let me tell you about my friend Ray. A few months ago, he could barely make beans on toast. He’d been brought up by a mum who did all the cooking, and then fed by his wife Sara, who loves to cook.
But as he approaches 50, he decided it was time to have a go for himself. He started off tentatively with a roast dinner here and a stew or casserole there, but then Sara bought Ray the brilliant Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes cookbook for Christmas – and Ray was hooked.
So hooked, in fact, that he’s trying recipes that more experienced amateur cooks like me would hesitate to attempt – such as this mammoth undertaking: Tom’s Cottage Pie with Blue Cheese Mash.
It involves 10 stages, a multitude or processes and no fewer than 20 ingredients. Goddam it, he even roasted and ground (in a pestle and mortar, mind!) his own curry powder (although I’ve left that out of this rendition, posted here).
The results were marvellous, moreish, magnificent. Despite having more than 20 years’ head start on Ray, he has already put me to shame. Don’t make a habit of it, eh, matey boy?
500g braising steak
50g plain flour
Vegetable oil, for cooking
700ml beef stock
300ml dark ale
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
500g minced beef
2 onions, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
2 celery sticks, tough strings removed, finely diced
2 tbsp curry powder
Few splashes of Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the mash topping
6 floury potatoes (such as King Edward), peeled and diced
¾ tbsp English mustard
150g blue cheese (use your favourite), grated
1 tsp paprika
1. Preheat the oven to 150C/Gas 2. Cut the braising steak into 2cm dice, dust in flour and shake off the excess. Warm a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, add a little oil and fry the braising steak until it gets a deep, rich colour all over. Drain the steak on some kitchen paper and transfer to a casserole.
2. Put the frying pan back on the heat and deglaze it with the stock and ale, scraping up any tasty brown bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon, then pour the liquid over the beef in the casserole. Add the star anise and cinnamon stick and bring to the boil. Put the lid on and braise slowly in the oven for 2 ½-3 hours until the beef is tender. Leave to cool.
3. When cool, remove the cooked steak from the casserole with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl in the fridge until needed. Reserve the remaining cooking liquor.
4. Wipe out the casserole, then place it over a medium-high heat and pour in a thin layer of vegetable oil. Add the minced beef and cook, stirring constantly, until it’s thoroughly browned. The beef shouldn’t be grey, you want it to be dry, roasted and crumbly, the colour of the outside of a beef burger. This should take about 10-12 minutes. Drain in a colander to get rid of any fat, and set aside.
5. Return the casserole to the hob, warm a little more oil over a medium-heat, and add the diced vegetables, Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring from time to time, until they soften. Add the curry powder and stir, making sure the vegetables are thoroughly coated in the spice.
6. Add the drained minced beef and the reserved braising liquid and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and reduce the stock until it’s nice and thick. Add a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce and season. Leave to cool for 20 minutes.
7. When the minced beef has cooled a little, stir in the chilled, braised beef and mix thoroughly, but try not to break up the beef too much. Transfer to a large pie dish or ovenproof serving dish and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
8. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the potatoes for 14-15 minutes or until soft. Drain in a colander and leave to steam and air dry a little. Meanwhile, warm the milk and butter in a small saucepan. Either put the cooked potato through a potato ricer into a bowl or mash thoroughly with a hand masher. Beat in the hot milk and butter with a wooden spoon to form a semi-firm mashed potato. Mix in the mustard and season.
9. Take the chilled beef mixture from the fridge and pipe the mash on top, or spread it and make little peaks with a fork. Sprinkle the blue cheese on top and dust with paprika. At this point, you can store the cottage pie covered in clingfilm in the fridge for up to two days.
10. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Put the cottage pie on to a baking tray, stick it in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the middle is very hot. Remove from the oven and place under a hot grill, if needed, just to glaze the blue cheese. Serve immediately with green veg. (I served ours with rocket).