"What can I say about fish pie?" I asked Mr A&N.
I could talk about how after all the turkeys and hams, beef and lamb and sausage indulgences over Christmas, we've wanted to give farm animals a break for a bit and so the fish pie became a natural choice for our Sunday lunch with friends around.
Or, I could discuss the wonderfully named Star Gazey Pie I intended to make for Mr A&N's birthday but for which I failed to source my pilchards in time. The pie, in which the fish heads poke out of the crust and gaze at the stars, is traditionally served on the same day as Mr A&N's birthday but due to my forgetfulness our own tradition of serving the pie will have to wait another year.
Or, I could talk about the comforting creaminess of fish pies. The white sauce, the white fish, the mashed potatoes and cheese on top - a medley of wintertime whiteness that's warm and wonderful in a way that the monotony of the color wouldn't lead you to believe.
"What can you say about fish pie?" he responded. "You can say it's a pie, which is a very good thing, and that it's fishy and potatoey and cheesey and nice and tasty and that I like to eat it because it makes me go 'Mmmmm'."
Well then. That showed me.
Fish Pie, an approximate recipe (inspired by Delia Smith, prepared by Mr A&N)
- 2 kilos of potatoes
- 1 1/2 kilos of white fish (cod, haddock, pollack, halibut - any white fish will do)
- 2/3 of a bottle of dry, inexpensive white wine
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 pints milk
- 45g / 3 Tbs butter, softened
- 45g / 3 Tbs flour (plus possibly a bit more)
- about 30 good-sized cooked prawns, peeled
- 6 eggs, hardboiled and each one cut into about 8 pieces
- about 1 dozen cornichons, chopped
- 3-4 Tbs flat leaf parsley, chopped
- butter and milk to make the mash
- around 200g of cheddar cheese
- salt and pepper throughout
- Pre-heat the oven to 180 C / 375 F.
- Peel and cut the potatoes into chunks for boiling.
- In a large pot, boil enough water for the potatoes to fit into. When boiling, add some salt and then add the potatoes.
- Meanwhile, heat the white wine and bay leaf in a large pan or pot. The fish will be poaching in this, so you want the liquid to just about cover the fish.
- When the white wine is hot, add the fish and cook until the fish is just turning firm but is not quite cooked.
- Remove the fish from the liquid and place aside to drain slightly and cool. Keep behind a ladle-full of the poaching liquid.
- Gently heat the butter in a large enough pan to later hold the milk and poaching liquid. As the butter is melting, stir in the flour.
- Keeping stirring the butter/flour mixture for a couple of minutes, until it browns very slightly and comes away from the base and sides of the pan.
- Add in about 1/4 of the milk, and stir well until the milk is blended with the butter-flour mixture.
- Add the rest of the milk and the ladle-full of poaching liquid, stirring well throughout. Mixture should be fairly thick, like a bechamel sauce.
- Season with salt and pepper, and add the chopped parsely into the sauce.
- If the skin is still attached to the fish, peel it off at the point. Start flaking the fish off in chunks, and add the chunks to a large bowl.
- Add the prawns, cornichons, and hard-boiled eggs to the bowl with the fish chunks.
- Add the white sauce to the bowl with the fish. Stir thoroughly but delicately enough not to break apart the fish.
- Pour this mixture into a large, deep, oven proof dish (about 15 x 8 inches, or divide into two if you don't have a dish that big). This mixture should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the dish, since the rest will be taken up by the mash and cheese.
- Drain the potatoes (they should break apart easily at this point) and mash them with the amount of butter, milk, salt, and pepper that you would normally use for mash.
- Smooth the mash evenly on top of the fish mixture in the dish.
- Cook in the oven for about 20 minutes.
- Remove the dish from the oven, and turn the grill on rather than the oven.
- Grate enough cheese on top so that the mash is evenly covered in cheese.
- Heat under the grill until the cheese is fully melted and a bit brown, about 5 - 10 minutes.
- Remove from the grill and serve warm.