Pies topped with fluffy, crispy mashed potato are a British culinary delight. If you’re craving something warm and comforting right now, these melt-in-the-mouth recipes have got you covered.
Winter may have officially started in mid-December, but if you’re currently watching flurries of snow drift past your window, you’ll know that the freezing weather has only just begun. Arctic conditions in the UK have got us thinking seriously about food that keeps the cold at bay – which is where the thoroughly British institution of pies topped with mash come into their own.
While there are any number of flavour combinations for delicious homemade pies, there are generally two classic toppings: crisp golden pastry or fluffy mashed potato. A potato crust is a foodie tradition with its roots firmly in the UK and Ireland, where recipes for cottage pie, shepherd’s pie and fish pie date back centuries.
Although we’re fond of pastry, a potato-topped pie will always come up trumps in the simplicity stakes. Whether you prefer a hearty gravy or a rich, creamy filling, you’ll retain all of the comfort with a quick-smart cooking time. One pie will also make several freezer-ready meals – perfect for days when you can’t face another pilgrimage to the shop.
Because there are few things as comforting as a hot pie emerging from the oven on a cold day, we’ve got four melt-in-the-mouth recipes to share below. Alice Zaslavsky’s sweet potato shepherd’s pie is a vibrant twist on the classic dish, proving a little bit of this winter root vegetable goes a long way.
For a delicious mash-up of British and Indian cuisine, Calum Franklin’s keema spiced cottage pie utilises turmeric, garam masala and chilli for added warmth. Gill Meller’s potato, leek and blue cheese pie, meanwhile, is a creamy, herby bake that delivers sticky-sweet cheesy leeks and buttery mashed potato.
Finally, Maxine Clark’s glorious golden fish pie definitely lives up to its name thanks to its crown of saffron and dill mash. Comfort food heaven awaits…
Alice Zaslavsky’s sweet potato shepherd’s pie
Alice says: “One thing I love about sweet potato is the way that it steams, collapses and turns into mash inside its skin when baked long enough. Here, this method is put to full use to create a mash for the top of a classic shepherd’s pie, skin and all, for bonus crunch.
“We’ve used pork and beef to bulk out and flavour the mixture inside the pie, but you could just as easily go to town on mushrooms cooked down in a pan, or use mushroom tempeh mince, or even beans and lentils. The next time a shepherd comes calling – whether he eats plants or sheep – make this pie.”
- 1kg small sweet potatoes, washed
- 3–4 good rasps of fresh nutmeg
- 50g unsalted butter, melted
- 60ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
- 60g pancetta, finely diced
- 300g free-range minced pork
- 400g grass-fed minced beef
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato purée
- 250ml beef stock
- 2 tbsp pouring cream (or full-cream milk)
- 140g frozen peas, thawed slightly
- finely chopped parsley, to serve
- crispy fried shallots, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Poke the sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Arrange in a baking dish and bake for 45 minutes, or until softened through; some may even leak out a sweet potato ‘caramel’, like tree sap.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly, then roughly chop the sweet potatoes (no need to peel) and toss in a bowl with the nutmeg, butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Set aside.
Grease a 2.5 litre casserole dish with oil.
Meanwhile, fry the pancetta in a dry deep-sided frying pan over medium–high heat until golden. Remove the pancetta to a bowl.
Squish the pork and beef in a bowl to combine, splash another tablespoon of oil into the pan, then add the mince mixture, pressing it down as one big patty. Leave to brown for 4 minutes on one side, then break up and stir for another 3 minutes on high heat. Pop into the bowl with the pancetta.
Pour the remaining oil into the pan. Add the onion, carrot, celery and Worcestershire sauce and cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes, or until the veggies are fully softened. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute, or until aromatic.
Return the mince and pancetta to the pan, stir in the tomato paste, stock and cream and simmer for 3–5 minutes, or until slightly reduced.
Stir in the peas, then transfer the mince mixture to the casserole dish. Top with the sweet potato mixture, sprinkle with salt flakes and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.
Serve sprinkled with parsley and fried shallots, with a salad on the side.
The better the quality of the ingredients, the better the flavour will be. I’d much rather you bought less minced meat, but of the highest quality, and bulked it out with cooked-down mushrooms or beans and lentils, please.
From In Praise of Veg by Alice Zaslavsky (£25, Murdoch Books), out now
Calum Franklin’s keema-spiced cottage pie
Calum says: “This is a quick-to-make mix-up of British and Indian classics in a single dish. It is an absolute family favourite at the Franklins.”
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 2 tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tsp grated fresh root ginger
- 2 red chillies, finely chopped
- 500g beef mince
- 350g tinned chopped tomatoes
- 300g frozen peas, defrosted
- 25g coriander, leaves picked
For the potato topping:
- 1kg peeled potatoes, cut into chunks
- 150ml milk
- 80g unsalted butter
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 egg yolk
- 24cm round ovenproof pie dish
Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/gas mark 6.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 10 minutes until it starts to brown.
Add the turmeric, garam masala and cumin seeds and toast for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli, then sauté for a further 5 minutes until soft and lightly browned.
Add the beef mince and sauté until any liquid has evaporated and then add the tomatoes and cook for a further 15 minutes.
Add the peas and coriander leaves. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary, then spoon into a 24cm round ovenproof pie dish, level the surface and allow to cool.
For the potato topping, boil the potatoes in a pan of salted water for 15–20 minutes or until soft in the centre and then drain. Add the milk, butter and turmeric, then mash together well. Finally, fold in the egg yolk and mix well to combine.
Spread the potato topping over the minced beef mixture in the pie dish. Ruffle the surface of the potato topping with a fork for added texture.
Place the dish in the preheated oven and bake the pie for 30 minutes or until the beef mixture is bubbling up the sides of the dish and the potato topping has a crispy golden crust. Serve immediately.
From The Pie Room by Calum Franklin (£26, Bloomsbury Absolute), out now
Gill Meller’s potato, leek and blue cheese pie
Gill says: “Sometimes I write a poem instead of a recipe introduction. It depends on the dish and how I’m feeling. I was going to do it here. ‘Death of a meat pie’ or something like that.
“In the end I didn’t know if I’d be able, through rhyme alone, to convey how wonderful this pie really is. But now I glance over at the picture of it, hot and bubbling, straight from the oven, even words seem frivolous things, quite redundant altogether.”
For the potato topping:
- 1kg large white potatoes (such as maris piper or King Edward), peeled
- 175ml whole milk
- 100g unsalted butter
- sea salt
For the filling:
- 4 leeks, trimmed and sliced into 3cm rounds
- 1 tbsp thyme leaves
- 100g unsalted butter
- 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 50g plain flour
- 125ml whole milk
- 180ml double cream
- 150g frozen peas
- 100g blue cheese, crumbled into small chunks or bits
- 1 small handful of flatleaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
First, make the topping. Cut the potatoes into equal-sized pieces no smaller than a golf ball. Place in a large pan, cover with salted water and bring to the boil over a medium–high heat.
Reduce the heat and simmer for 15–20 minutes, until tender. Drain the potatoes, return them to the pan and allow them to steam for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, gently heat the milk and butter together in a small pan until the butter has melted.
Begin mashing the potatoes. After a minute or so, gradually add the hot milk and butter mixture. Continue to mash until well combined, smooth, light and lump-free. Season with salt and set aside to keep warm.
Make the filling. Place a pan on a medium heat. Add the leeks, half the thyme leaves, 25g of the butter, and the garlic.
Add 100ml of water, season with salt and pepper and place a lid on the pan. Steam the leeks for 6–8 minutes, or until just tender. Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.
Set a colander over a bowl, drain the leeks in the colander and reserve all the cooking liquid.
Rinse the pan and return it to a medium heat. Add the remaining butter and, when it’s melted, add the flour and stir well with a wooden spoon.
Cook the flour on a low heat, stirring regularly, for 1 minute or so. Then, add the leek cooking liquid, along with the milk and double cream. Whisk the sauce enthusiastically until it’s thick, smooth and creamy.
Stir in the peas and tender leeks and half the blue cheese. Add the parsley and plenty of salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into a dish and level it out.
Heap the mashed potato on top in big clumps (you don’t need to be overly neat). Dot over the remaining cheese and sprinkle over the last of the thyme leaves.
Season with salt and pepper and bake for 15–20 minutes, until the top is golden and crisping up in places and the creamy leeks are bubbling up round the edges. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
From Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower by Gill Meller (£27, Quadrille), out now
Maxine Clark’s glorious golden fish pie
Maxine says: “This is a real British family favourite and is worth spending the time to get it just right. The secret of a well-flavoured moist and juicy fish pie is not to overcook the fish and not to pre-cook the prawns. I like to cook the prawn shells in a little milk flavoured with onion, bay leaves and parsley stalks to really extract all the sweet flavour from them.
“Use the driest, flouriest potatoes you can for the mash – if you cook them whole in the microwave or bake them in the oven, the scooped-out flesh will be nice and dry and perfect for mashing. You can make the mash without the saffron, but try it for a treat – it looks and tastes wonderful.”
- 350g raw shell-on tiger prawns
- 700ml milk
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 peppercorns
- 450g fresh sustainable white fish fillets (such as cod, haddock pollack), skin on
- 450g undyed smoked haddock or cod fillet, skin on
- 75g butter
- 75g plain flour
- 4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the saffron and dill mash:
- 1.3 kg floury potatoes, peeled
- a large pinch of saffron threads soaked in 3 tbsp hot water
- 75g butter
- 250ml milk
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh dill
- a 1.5-litre oval pie dish
Peel the shells from the prawns. Put the shells in a saucepan with the milk, onion, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside to infuse.
Lay the white and smoked fish fillets, skin side up, in a roasting pan. Strain the infused milk into the pan and and simmer on the hob for 5–7 minutes until just opaque.
Lift the fish fillets out of the milk and transfer to a plate. When the fillets are cool enough to handle, pull off the skin and flake the fish into large pieces, removing any bones as you go. Transfer to a large bowl and add the shelled prawns.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan set over medium heat, stir in the flour and gradually add the flavoured milk from the roasting pan. Whisk well and simmer gently for 15 minutes until thick and a little reduced.
Taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and pour the sauce over the fish. Carefully mix everything together, then transfer the mixture to the pie dish and leave to cool.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas 4.
Boil the potatoes in salted water until soft, drain well and mash. Beat in the saffron and its soaking water (if using), butter, milk and dill. When the fish mixture is cold, spoon over the golden mash, piling it up gloriously on top.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30–40 minutes or until the potato is golden brown and crispy. If it fails to brown enough, finish it off under a medium grill. Serve immediately!
From Pies, Glorious Pies by Maxine Clark (£14.99, Ryland Peters & Small), out now
Photography: Andrew Montgomery; Ben Dearnley; John Carey; Ryland Peters & Small
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.