Top 8 warm and comforting ready-made shepherd's pies put to the taste test

Top 8 warm and comforting ready-made shepherd's pies put to the taste test

At home, meat from a leftover roast makes a great shepherd’s pie

A shepherd’s or a cottage pie? We don’t need to care what it’s called as long as it’s warm and comforting. A meaty sauce topped with creamy mashed potatoes, what’s not to like?

Shepherd’s pie made from beef has long been served in Ireland, despite the suggestion in its name of lamb or mutton. However, cottage pie, a later introduction from England, is expected to be made of beef. Producers use the names interchangeably so watch labels if you have a preference for one or the other.

At home, meat from a leftover roast makes a great shepherd’s pie — chopped or shredded works well. There are plenty of recipes online, but don’t hesitate to use leftover vegetables as well as meat, and use up gravy too (bring it to the boil before adding to the meat to kill any possible bugs). A jar of tomato sauce/passata added to the meat and vegetables will give it a lift.

Curry sauce may not be traditional, but it is satisfyingly warming. We can underestimate how good curry flavours are with potato. Try topping the meat sauce with baked sweet potato or butternut squash flavoured with warm spices – a teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and cinnamon goes a long way.

Kinsale Bay Cottage Pie 400g €5.25

Pictures: Denis Minihane.
Pictures: Denis Minihane.

Beef at 35% is generous with plenty of carrots and peas in a gluten-free gravy, including flavouring with tamarind. This was the favourite with family tasters. Topped with proper, buttery mashed potato with a hint of white pepper and just enough salt, it browned nicely. Made in Cork. Widely available, we bought in O’Keeffe’s Deli St Lukes, Cork.

Score: 9

Whelan’s butchers Shepherd’s Pie 465g €5.49

At 52% this had the highest proportion of beef, and there were also onions, mushrooms, carrots and tomatoes. The overall impression was that it tasted impressively homemade. Tasters found the meat texture a little over minced, but liked the generosity of the quantity and the natural, proper mashed potato. Made in Clonmel. We bought at Dunnes Bishopstown Court Cork.

Score: 8.25

Tesco Finest Cottage Pie 400g €4.50

With a chunky mince texture, the decent 32% beef (more than other cheaper versions of this brand) had a quite rich flavour from red wine and beef stock, mustard, tamarind paste, carrot and leek (which could have done with being chunkier). The potato topping was properly mashed and crisped up best of all samples. The listed parsley breadcrumb topping made little difference to the taste. Made with British beef.

Score: 8.25

Lidl Deluxe Irish Beef Brisket Pie 400g €2.99

While not labelled a cottage or shepherd’s pie, I bought this to see what the 21% beef delivered. I wasn’t disappointed. The shredded texture of the meat was different to other samples, but none the worse for that, and was tasty in its stout-enriched gravy. Tasters loved the potato which was well textured, mashed rather than puréed (as some of our rejects were to their detriment). Good value. Made in Ireland from Irish beef.

Score: 8.25

Cully & Sully Shepherd’s Pie 400g €4.99

A decent 27% lamb, with a flavoursome sauce including onion, tomato and garlic purées, rosemary and thyme oils, parsley. The topping has creamy mashed potato which browned nicely. Tasters enjoyed it, but no first preferences. Gluten free. Made in Yorkshire from British lamb. Widely available.

Score: 7.75

Marks & Spencer Gastropub Shepherd’s Pie 830g €11.30

A substantial serving for two, with 19% lamb, tasters liked the barely minced texture. The flavoursome, slightly peppery gravy has carrots and rosemary, lamb stock, shallots, celery, swede turnip, tamarind extract, garlic and tomato purées and herbs, thickened with rice and chickpea flours. The star-shaped piped mashed potato topping browned nicely. Made in UK with New Zealand lamb — quite a journey.

Score: 8

Iceland Slimming World Cottage Pie 500g €4

This frozen pie has 20% beef, with onion, carrot, celery, leek, tomato paste, beef stock, seaweed granules and spices. Tasters liked the flavours, but found the topping over-processed and puréed instead of mashed. It uses fat-free yogurt instead of cream or butter, but at 500 calories for this single portion, is not less calorific than many of our samples. No indication of where it’s made.

Score: 6.75

SuperValu Cottage Pie 450g €3

With a decent 21% Irish beef, there wasn’t a whole lot of depth in the gravy, but the potatoes had an unusually light mash texture (perhaps from the addition of potato flakes) with a peppery flavour. The shepherd’s pie with 17% lamb had better flavour. Still, some tasters said they would buy both, but not as their first preference. Produced in Ireland.

Score: 7

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