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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Fish Pie

There are lots of fish pies: this is fish pie UK style, in a creamy, cheesy sauce, topped with mashed potato. My benchmark for this dish is a fish pie I had in a pub in Cornwall a few years back, made with the freshest local fish; perfectly done, with no frills. Some traditional fish pie recipes include sliced or quartered boiled eggs, tomatoes, and a handful of peas or other vegetables, diced fine – I prefer without, but, as always, it’s up to you.

You can make this in individual portion-sized oven proof dishes, as it was served in the above pub, but it’s easier, and usually more convenient, to make one big one. Due to the mixture of fish required, it’s probably not worth making this dish for one or two, so I have given the rough quantities for four; multiply accordingly, depending on who you are feeding.

This pie has a mashed potato topping. If good, floury spuds are out of season where you are, then use waxy new-type potatoes, sliced quite thickly, par-boiled, layered over the fishy mixture and brushed with a little melted butter.

As always with my fish recipes, please, please, please use ethically sourced fish from sustainable stocks – your fishmonger should be able to help you here, or do a quick google for sustainable fish in your area/country.

Ingredients – for four hungry people

Two pounds/900g boned fillets of fish – a mixture of white fish, salmon, and smoked fish is ideal, with a handful or two of shelled and cleaned prawn/shrimp. For economy, ask your fishmonger for offcuts - some will sell you their own “fish pie mix” which you can go with unless you want to be in total control of the combination.
Two pounds/900g floury potatoes, for mashing – or use waxy spuds as suggested above
Two pints/1140ml full fat milk
3oz/85g plain/all purpose flour
3oz/85g butter plus a little more butter for the mashed potato, to taste
4-6oz/110-170g strong cheese, grated (quantity depending on strength, taste as you go)
A good handful of finely chopped fresh parsley, with a few sprigs reserved as a garnish, if you like
Salt and ground white pepper
Lemon wedges to garnish (optional)


Preheat oven to gas mark 5/190C/375F

Bring the milk gently to the boil, reduce to a simmer, then poach the fish in it until it is just set and starting to flake. Drain, reserving the milk. Flake the fish into the base of your oven dish(es), removing any skin and remaining bones as you go – don’t pulp the fish, leave as chunky as you can.

Peel, cut, boil and mash the potatoes with the extra butter, seasoning with salt and white pepper to taste – I prefer to go light on the salt and heavy on the pepper.

Melt the butter, and cook the flour in it for a few minutes, stirring well. Add the fishy milk gradually, bit by bit, stirring all the time, until you have a smooth sauce. Simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes, until all the raw flour taste is cooked out. (You can follow my b├ęchamel sauce recipe here, if would like a little more detail).

Add the grated cheese and the chopped parsley to the sauce, tasting as you go. Reserve a little cheese (or grate a bit more) for sprinkling on top of the pie. Add a little salt and pepper to taste – you may not need any salt, due to the cheese and the fish itself.

Pour the sauce onto the fish, and gently stir until it is well amalgamated – don’t make this too sloppy, so you may not need all the sauce.

Top with the mashed potato – the best way is to use a palette knife, starting from the edges and working inwards. Sprinkle a little grated cheese on top – just a little, as this is a final seasoning, not a cheesy topping.

Pop into the oven for 40 minutes or so, until thoroughly cooked through and the top is taking on golden brown crusty spots. Serve, garnishing if liked with the parsley sprigs and lemon wedges.

This probably needs no accompaniment other than perhaps some fresh peas or green beans etc but you’ll certainly want some hunks of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

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