Nothing says Sunday comfort food quite like fish pie. In our house this is also referred to as “fish with mash on top”. Despite the accuracy of this description this is a means of ridicule rather than a nickname. Yolanda’s Mum, Elaine, once referred to fish pie in this way and has never lived it down. Despite this persistent harassment by her daughters and granddaughter Elaine is still a big fan of fish pie. It is for this reason that I make one each year for her birthday – this post is about the most recent.
There is something wonderful about a good fish pie that other dishes cannot compete with. The combination of the creamy sauce and poached fish with the topping of eggs and mash is fantastic. In my opinion this is the absolute cream of the mash topped pie world leaving shepherd’s pie and cottage pie floundering in its wake. To me it absolutely embodies the feeling of wanting to curl up on a Sunday afternoon and feel warm and content in a pie format.
There are different approaches to making a fish pie and I would say that mine is fairly traditional. There are two important stages that must be observed in order for it to succeed. First off the béchamel sauce must be made from the milk that the fish was poached in. This of course assumes that you do poach the fish first which you should. Secondly, a layer of hard-boiled eggs before the mash should always be included. I never used to bother with this due to laziness and the belief that it wasn’t needed – but I was wrong. Provided you have included these elements you are well on your way to a top pie.
When it comes to the fish the fresh packets of fish pie mix you can get in most supermarkets will do. I always include prawns in my fish pie as they give a different texture and feel to the end result. You can buy whole fillets of fish as I have done in this recipe which will probably cost a little more but you will get more for your money. One advantage of the whole fillets is that they will be easier to poach. I add the prawns into the fish mix after the poaching as do not want to over cook them. The fish itself should always be a mix of a white fish, smoked dyed fish and salmon. Generally the white fish is cod and the smoked pollock or haddock.
What you will need
All amounts are dependent on how much pie you want to make, here’s what I used to feed 6-8 people:
For the fish pie:
1kg potatoes, 2 or 3 packets of fish pie mix (or equivalent fillets), 2 packets raw king prawns, 6 hard boiled eggs, 2 bags fresh spinach, 2 cloves garlic, milk, an onion, cloves, a bunch of parsley, bay leaves, parmesan cheese.
For the Leeks:
3 large leeks, diced pancetta, garlic, crème fraiche, white wine.
What you need to do
Start by peeling and boiling the potatoes in salted water. Once boiled drain and return to the pan and place it back on the hob but with the heat off. The residual heat in the pan and the hob will remove additional moisture from the potatoes as they cool. Mash with lots of butter and season. Save for later.
Fill a large pan with enough milk to poach the fish, this can be done in batches if necessary. Slice the onion into half and stud with cloves. Add to the milk and bring to a gentle simmer along with some bay leaves and peppercorns. Poach the fish for about 8-10 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon placing in the bottom of your pie dish. A large rectangular oven-proof dish will suffice. Retain the heated milk removing the onions and other aromatics.
In a saucepan melt about half a stick of butter and add the chopped garlic. Let that cook for a little while taking care not to burn either butter or garlic. Stir in a couple heaped tablespoons of plain flour to make a roux. This should still be runny and not a solid. Allow this to cook for a minute or so whilst stirring. Remove from the head and gradually add in the heated milk whisking constantly. You may also want to use a spatula to get into the corners of the pan. Once combined place back on the heat and keep stirring until the sauce thickens. Add in the chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.
In your pie dish add the prawns and peas to the poached fish. Pour over the sauce and combine well. Slice your eggs and layer then on top of the fish mixture before adding the wilted spinach. Grate over a little nutmeg and season. Carefully spoon on the mashed potato using a fork to level out and form ridges along the surface. Grate over the parmesan cheese and place into a pre-heated oven at 180C for approximately 30 minutes. At the end of the cooking turn on the grill for a few minutes if the top is not crisp enough.
Whilst the pie is in the oven slice the leeks and chop some garlic. Add some oil to a frying pan and fry the pancetta until slightly crisp. Add some butter add the leeks. Once softened add the garlic stirring for a couple of minutes to avoid burning. Pour in approximately a glass of white wine and reduce by about half. Once reduced stir in enough crème fraiche to make a sauce and continue to cook for a few minutes. Season to taste and service with the fish pie.
Whilst this is a pretty simple meal to make it does require a bit of effort and creates an impressive amount of mess – when I make it anyway. All of this is worth it though as this really is a crowd pleaser. The leeks and pancetta were a new addition and they accompanied the dish superbly. The salty pancetta was the perfect contrast to all the creamy fishy goodness. The pie itself was all that I would have hoped and have already mentioned above.
Now if that was not a real recipe then I do not know what is.