The difference between shepherd's pie and cottage pie

Karen Martini's deluxe shepherd's pie.
Karen Martini's deluxe shepherd's pie. Photo: Marina Oliphant

​​What is the difference between shepherd's pie and cottage pie? P. Llywyelyn

Originating from sheep country in Scotland and northern England, shepherd's pie is made with minced lamb or mutton – traditionally roast left over from the day before – and covered with mashed potato, although in Scotland it can be topped with pastry. A cottage pie is made with minced beef. The addition of vegetables to the meat makes a hearty meal. However, both were often used as a way of hiding truly awful meat. Jane Grigson wrote that in the 1970s, prisons and boarding schools used shepherd's pie to "depress their victims with … rubbery granules of leftover meat". The French have a dish similar to a good cottage pie called a hachis parmentier, in which beef, flavoured with nutmeg, is sandwiched between two layers of mashed potato. When I make a shepherd's pie, I flavour the mash with a little nutmeg and a fair bit of schmalz, chicken fat skimmed from cold chicken stock. It makes a very rich, golden crust.

What is pain perdu? K. Wojcik

The name translates as lost bread, but you will know it as French toast, a good way of starting a Sunday morning, along with a pot of coffee. Bread that is several days old is given another life by being baptised in a beaten egg, perhaps milk as well, fried in clarified butter and sprinkled with sugar. It is a dish that has been cooked since Roman times, and every culture that has bread has a version. In Denmark, it is dusted with cinnamon sugar; in Norway, cardamom is used; in Spain, they have a dish called torrijas. This is made from bread soaked in cream, and milk flavoured with cinnamon, lemon, and orange rind, dipped in egg, fried, and served with a honey syrup. In the US, they have a version known as Count of Monte Cristo sandwich in which two slices of egg-soaked bread are placed around camembert, turkey and cranberry sauce, dipped in doughnut batter, deep-fried and dusted with icing sugar. A more restrained version, called the Monte Cristo, is a shallow-fried eggy cheese and ham sandwich.

Letters

H. Riley writes: "In your piece about zesting a lemon, you remark that using the fine teeth of a box grater usually results in spending a great deal of time scratching around with the tip of a knife to remove the zest. This can be avoided by stretching cling wrap over the fine teeth and then laying the cling wrap flat and scraping the grated zest off it quite quickly." Thank you H. Riley.

"Someone asked about a substitute for pancetta or bacon in cooking," writes H. Bailey. "I use turkey bacon bought from Coles." A. Holloway uses Spanish smoky paprika to add that delicious smoky note that bacon can give. S. Palmer-Holton remarked, "An excellent substitute for bacon is to thinly sliced tempeh, fry until golden, then immediately pour over tamari or soy sauce." I reckon if you sprinkle that with smoky paprika, you've got a tasty little bar snack right there.

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