A busy day in the kitchen yesterday. A fresh loaf, a blueberry cake, and hell, I’m in the kitchen anyway, I might as well go the whole hog and make a fish pie.
This is more or less Nigel Slater’s famous recipe, and I’ve been making it for long enough that I can quote it from memory. It’s a messy job, there’s no doubt about it, but I’ve tweaked it enough that it’s reasonably straightforward. Even if it wasn’t, fish pie would be worth the fuss.
I start with about half a pound of fish in my big saute pan. Enough milk to cover goes in, with a bay leaf if you’ve got one and some peppercorns. Bring it to a simmer, and cook until the fish is about done. Should take about ten minutes. While that’s bubbling, chop a couple of big leeks and some mushrooms (enough to give you a couple of big handfuls of dice) and a stick of celery. I also put four fist sized potatoes in the steamer to cook, as they are, in their skins.
Fish done. Fish comes out of pan, and put somewhere to stay warm. If you’re a big ole cheaty-head like me, you’ve used a fish pie mix that’s skinless, boneless and already chunked up. If not, the skin and bones will come away easily from the cooked fish, which you should keep in chunky pieces. No mince here. Pour the fishy milk into a jug through a strainer. Keep this with the fish.
Wipe out the pan. Back on the heat with a little oil and butter, and cook the leeks and celery over a lowish heat with the lid on until the leeks are soft and bright green. Whip those out, reheat the pan and do the mushrooms, letting them soak up the oil and butter. You can do these in two pans if you like, but do them separately to stop the mushrooms going wet and sloppy, rather than flavoursome and slightly caramelised.
Once the mushrooms are nice and brown, add the leeks back in, and sprinkle over a couple of tablespoons of flour. Let this cook for a minute of so until you can’t smell the flour any more, then throw in the milk. Let this bubble until the sauce you suddenly have in the pan thickens a bit to a nice creamy texture. A big spoonful of creme fraiche, lots of salt and pepper, then stir the fish back in. If you fancy chucking in any fresh herbs, flat leaf parsley, maybe some celery leaves, hell, even basil, now’s the time. Give this another five minute love in. The sauce should be creamy and rich, not at all runny or sloppy.
While that’s doing, check your spuds. They should be done. Do what you have to do to turn them into mash. I’m not going to tell you how to do it. You’re a grown up. Be comfortable with your mash-making technique.
Pile the mixture into a baking dish. Now the spuds. I use a ricer, and squish cooked unpeeled potato straight on top. Saves on peeling, and gives a nice light result. Then cheese. People say you shouldn’t put cheese on a fish pie. Screw them. I like cheese. I used a nice strong Wyke Farm cheddar with horseradish for a little doink of heat. If you’re going to be all huffy about it, just dot some butter over your mash.
Hot oven (about 200C, Gas 6) for 15 minutes or until there are nice brown toasty peaks on your mash.
Serve to someone you love (you’re not gonna go to all that effort for someone you don’t at least fancy) with some peas and a little soft music.
Worry about the washing up later.