Fish pie, I think it is fair to say, has a certain ‘marmite’ quality to it. I’ve had some fish pies which have delighted me with just cooked fish, a sauce full of depth and crispy mash potato on top. I’ve also eaten fish pies with a sloppy, bland sauce and dried out fish, leaving a mess of whiteness on the plate! But there are simple steps to follow, and you’ll be left with a fish pie that will catch your imagination, be off the scale, leave you silent till you fin-ish and make you shout “Oh Cod!”
The issue encountered with most fish pies is that the fish is over cooked, having spent 45 minutes in the oven. This recipe counters that by leaving the dish in the oven for as little time as possible.
Start with the mashed potatoes – for four people, a kilo of potatoes should do the trick. Peel, chop into cubes and bring to the boil (from cold salted water). If you want a different coloured mash, add chopped carrots or swede. When they are soft and you can easily pass a knife through them, drain, add a large knob of butter and a glug of olive oil and mash till smooth. If necessary, add a splash of milk or cream. Taste for seasoning and add some ground nutmeg or smoked paprika. Now place a plate or lid over them to keep them warm while you prepare the fish.
As for your choice of fish, you can buy a mixed pack in the super market. However, you’ll get better value for money by choosing from scratch. What is definitely important is a combination of the following: white fish (cod, pollock, hake), a smoked fish (haddock is my favourite), a different coloured fish (salmon, tuna), and a seafood option (prawns). Once you’ve chosen your combination you’ll need up to 450grams for four servings.
Pour ¾ of a pint of milk into a pan. Add your fish in large chunks, the larger the better. ¾ of a centimetre is absolute minimum thickness. Bring the pan up to heat slowly. You want the fish to just start going firm to avoid overcooked fish. When it is just firm and slightly opaque, remove the fish from the pan.
In a new pan (sorry, it’s worth the washing up) add a big knob of butter. When it is melted stir in two spoonfuls of plain flour. Cook until the mixture turns a golden brown and then start adding the fish-infused milk. Whisk at each stage to avoid lumps. When all is added, season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a splash of white wine (whatever you have lying about, about half a glass).
Now the sauce must reach a very high temperature – keep stirring and heat until it is just about to boil.
Turn the grill onto full power. In a dish, layer the fish on the bottom. Add two large handfuls of baby spinach to the sauce; stir and pour on top of the fish (just to cover). Now spoon over the mash potato and smooth over. Rough up the mash with a fork and sprinkle over a handful of grated cheddar (optional). Grill until crispy and serve immediately. You will be left with a wonderful combination of flavours and textures.
I like to serve this with green beans tossed in butter and, if I’m feeling really naughty, a poached egg. Any leftover sauce will make the base of an incredible, creamy pasta sauce. Just add some smoked salmon trimmings.
Image: Smabs Sputzer [Flickr]