At this time of year I crave comforting, homely dishes. I suspect that I am not alone. I want my food to wrap me up in a cosy blanket and warm the very cockles of my heart. I find that it is at this time of year that I cook disproportionate number of my mother's dishes. Those that I remember fondly from childhood.
Fish pie is one such dish. My version is quite different from my mother's but the basic principles are the same. I'm a little fussy when it comes to fish pie. It has to be exactly right.
My requirements are as follows...
- It simply HAS to have a mashed potato topping. Not for me the combination of creamy fish and puff pastry. Mashed potato is pure comfort. Pastry is nice, but better saved for a meaty pie in my book.
- When it comes to fish, it is fish only I'm afraid. Being allergic to shellfish means that my pie is a no-go zone for the prawn. Even if I could eat prawns, I don't feel that fish pie would be the right place for them. But each to his own...
- The fish simply MUST include some smoked haddock (preferably un-dyed).
- The sauce MUST contain large quantities of parsley.
- Hard-boiled eggs are not welcome in my pie.
Don't let my 'requirements' get in the way of yours. I'm fussy, like I said. And that is one of the great things about comfort food - make it in the way that pleases you the most. There are no rules (though my mother might beg to differ when it comes to the hard-boiled eggs).
Here is my version. It seems to make use of almost every pan and implement in my kitchen but it is definitely worth it. I always make too much and freeze individual portions for nights when I am in need of the aforementioned comfort!
Ingredients (serves 5/6)
Approx. 600g mixed fish (I used smoked haddock, cod and salmon and tend to throw in one fillet per person rather than weigh the fish)
1 pint milk
3 tablespoons plain flour
3 oz butter (plus extra for dotting top of mash and mixing into potatoes)
2 large handfuls parsley (curly or flat-leaf according to preference)
2 tablespoons of chopped chives
3 large leeks
small handful of cloves
6 large potatoes
1. Place fish fillets in large saucepan and pour over the milk (milk should just cover fish so adjust quantity accordingly). Cut onion in half and stud with a few cloves. Add to pan with celery, bay leaf and a few peppercorns. Add some parsley stalks too. Pre-heat oven to 200C.
2. Bring gently and slowly to the boil. When simmering, turn off the heat and leave the fish to poach in the hot milk.
3. Meanwhile, peel and chop the potatoes and boil until tender enough to mash. Slice the leeks and steam or boil until just tender. Drain and set aside.
4. When the fish is just cooked through, pour through the sieve catching the fish in the sieve and retaining the hot fishy milk for later use.
5 Make a white sauce by melting the 3oz butter in a clean pan and adding the flour to create a roux. Add a couple of tablespoonfuls of the hot milk and stir with a wooden spoon until a smooth paste is formed. Over a low heat, add the remaining milk a little at a time, stirring quite vigorously between each addition to create a smooth, creamy sauce. You do not want the sauce to runny - you may not need to add all the milk. When the desired consistency is reached, season with salt and pepper and add plenty of chopped parsley and chives.
6. Pick out the peppercorns, bay leaf and parsley stalks from the fish and flake into a buttered serving dish, picking out any obvious bones and peeling off any skin. Top with a layer of cooked leeks.
7. Pour over the parsley sauce.
8. Mash the potato with a little butter and any remaining fishy milk. Don't make too runny - it needs to be quite firm so that it sits properly on top of the fish. Spoon mash on top of the fish and sauce.
9. Run a fork over the top to create a pattern in the potato. Dot with butter. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are golden.