Whilst people nowadays will be at least as familiar with dishes such as Lasagne, Chilli and Spaghetti Bolognese, there are a few traditional English Mince dishes that can give these a run for their money.
Cottage Pie & Shepherd’s Pie
Two English classics and both are still very much alive. This is essentially minced beef or lamb, cooked in a gravy with onions, covered with mashed potato and topped with cheese and sometimes tomato. Some say that it is Cottage Pie if made with beef and Shepherd’s Pie if made with lamb. But in some parts of the country both are known as Cottage Pie.
Minced Beef and Onions
This is the one that has probably lost out the most to more exotic dishes, but it is really nice as a change. Whilst it is very similar to a Cottage Pie, it is made different by more onions and the addition of Yorkshire Puddings. I must admit, I had completely forgotten about Minced Beef and Onion pies. I used to have this as a child.
Not really eaten much these days as it has been taken over by more ‘authentic’ Indian curries. This is basically mince and onions with madras curry powder in it, so less exotic than the proper ‘Keema’ of the Sub-Continent. But it is tasty and I always looked forward to it as a child. Serve with rice. Years ago, you would boil the rice and arrange on the plate in a mound with a hole in the middle. The curry would then be served into the hole and you would eat it by spooning some rice into the curry meat and eating the two together – maybe with some mango chutney. I think this was a way of making the curry less hot!
When I was a child, beef burgers were virtually unheard of in much of England and rissoles were a common tea. Now rissoles are virtually unheard of, except in some regions of the country. That said, they are much the same thing in England. They are typically made from minced beef or lamb, although it can be any other meat, mixed with chopped onion and breadcrumbs and then shallow fried. You can add herbs to the mix or coat with more breadcrumbs before frying. Years ago it was common to use minced up cooked meat (usually from the Sunday roast) whereas nowadays it is more common to make them from fresh. Essentially a burger without the bun and served with gravy, green veg and potato of choice.
If ever there was a dish in need of a make over and change of name – this is it. To make it worse, the commercial version is produced by Mr Brains! But a well made faggot is actually really nice. They are made from minced pig's heart, liver and belly pork or bacon with herbs. A bit like haggis in some ways. Incidentally, the peas on the left hand side are known as ‘marrowfat peas’. These are a sort of half way house in the process of making ‘mushy peas’.
Corned Beef Hash
In England ‘corned beef’ always refers to the minced version that comes in those distinctive tins. It is also known as bully beef and was a staple during both world wars, but was commonly eaten well before that. Although it is seen as a typically Irish dish in North America, its precise origins are uncertain and it is certainly a common dish throughout the UK as a whole. Perhaps a distinctive English twist to it is that we tend to add baked beans and Worcester Sauce into it as it cooks. Also, it is not eaten as a breakfast as in the States, but usually as a light evening meal or lunch.
This is a tricky one because the only type of meat pudding still eaten in the UK is Haggis which is Scotland’s national dish! So I won’t push this as a traditional English dish, but the reality is that the general style, at least, has ancient connections with what is now England just as strong as it has with modern Scotland.
A meat pudding is as old as the hills throughout the land, probably brought over by the Anglo Saxons and Vikings and possibly even older. In fact, the term ‘haggis’ was first used around 1430 in England as "hagws" or "hagese". My guess is that it was once made from different animals and to different recipes. The faggot is in many respects a derivation of the meat pudding.
Typically made with sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs) minced with onion, oatmeal, suet and spices and boiled in a sheep’s stomach. For those who have never tried it, don’t be put off by the ingredients. Served with mashed potato and mashed suede (tattys and neeps in Scotland). It is delicious.