Fish Pot Pie
Updated: Oct 30, 2021
"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie."
It's British Pie Week 2020! All the details are in the link but in summary, this week was started in 2007 by a ready-made pastry manufacturer and has endured the test of time since. Interestingly, according to the link, fish pie follows only cottage pie in the nation's list of favourites. It surprises me that it's the second favourite pie, but then I'm not the greatest fan of it - I think I've had too many badly-made ones.
I've never really engaged myself in this particular annual institution (apparently it's an 'awareness' week but I wasn't aware of that) but, being a Seafoodie who happened to be in a Seafoodie-mood, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to try to come up with a fish pie using one of our currently seasonal but less-used fish species, the pollack.
It's no mean feat to find a recipe for fish pie that doesn't have the usual mashed potato topping, but I did eventually find one, written by another institution - Delia Smith. In fact her recipe is a little more elaborate than what I have put below, but all I have done is to use her filling recipe in a nice and simple 'pot' pie. The filling is nothing more than fish in a Béchamel with the flavours of tartare sauce. There was never really any doubt it had to work and, in ubiquitous Delia style, it does.
Her recipe suggests to use haddock, cod or whiting. With one eye on the current sustainability charts and the other on the current season, I would suggest using pollack or whiting. But, yes, cod is an option too if responsibly caught.
Happy British Pie Week!
This is quite an easy pie to make. You make the filling, put it in a pie dish (or two), pop a pastry lid on, glaze and cook in the oven.
As always with puff pastry, the sensible thing to do is buy the stuff (all-butter please!). However, there is quite a satisfying half-way house, which is to make your own 'rough puff pastry', which is what I have done here. I would argue that making rough-puff pastry is actually easier than making shortcrust (which I do have to go to battle with), and the recipe I have been using for ages came from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his book "River Cottage Veg Every Day!".
It's important to allow the pie filling to become cold before putting the puff pastry lid over it otherwise the butter in the pastry will start to melt ahead of time and the puff pastry won't puff. If not cooking the pie(s) immediately, proceed until step 3 of the recipe. Once the pie filling is fridge-cold the lid(s) can go on as per step 5 and the prepared pie(s) kept in the fridge, covered with foil, for up to a day. When ready to cook, continue with steps 4 and 6, but another coating of egg-wash may be needed.
Serve with peas and mashed or boiled potatoes.
Fish Pot Pie
Ingredients (Makes one pie for 2 or two individual pies)
165g pollack (or whiting) fillet
300ml milk (or infused milk, see Note)
15g plain flour
¼ tsp mustard powder (optional)
Grating of nutmeg (optional)
1 heaped tsp capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
2 cournichons or small gherkins, rinsed, drained and chopped
1 egg, hard-boiled and chopped
1 heaped tbsp finely chopped parsley, curly or flat-leaf
Lemon juice, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Puff pastry, sufficient to cover the pie leaving a little extra remaining
1 egg, beaten with a little salt
Heat the milk in a saute pan or deep frying pan. When hot, add the fish, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to very low and allow to simmer gently for 5-6 minutes. If the milk does not cover the fish, start with it flesh side down and turn over after a couple of minutes. Remove the fish from the milk and set aside to cool on a plate. Strain the milk through a sieve into a measuring jug.
In a saucepan heat the butter and when it has melted add the flour and mustard powder (if using). Stir it together and cook for a minute or so without colouring. Gradually stir in 225-250ml of the milk in batches making sure it is incorporated each time it is added. Once all the milk has been added, bring it to the boil then reduce the heat and allow the contents of the pan to simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring regularly. This Béchamel will thicken during this time and the objective is a consistency that lightly coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and season liberally with salt, pepper and a grating of nutmeg (if using).
Remove the fish from its skin in chunky flakes, discarding any bones. Add the fish to the saucepan with the capers, cournichons (or gherkins), boiled egg and the parsley. Gently fold these into the Béchamel, taking care not to break up the fish. Adjust the seasoning to taste, adding a squeeze of lemon, then pour the pie filling into one or two pie dishes, cover with cling film and put in the fridge until cold.
Preheat the oven to 220°C or, preferably, 200°C fan and put a baking tray inside.
For the pie lid(s), on a well-floured surface, roll out the pastry to the thickness of a little more than a £1 coin (about 3mm). Cover the pie(s), crimp with the back of a fork and cut away the excess. Brush with the beaten egg. Use the pastry trimmings to decorate the pie lid(s) and brush the decoration with beaten egg.
To cook the pie(s), place it (them) on the heated baking tray and allow about 25-35 minutes for the pastry to turn golden-brown. Remove from the oven, allow to cool a little and then serve.
For a more aromatic Béchamel, add any or all of the following to the milk before starting: 1 clove, a few black peppercorns, a blade of mace, a sliced shallot, a bay leaf and a thyme sprig. Bring this just to the boil then remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 20 minutes. Continue the recipe with this infusion replacing the milk. There is no need to strain it.
"Flaky Fish Pie", DeliaOnline.com, accessed 3 March 2020: https://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/collections/easy-meat-free-recipes/flaky-fish-pie
"River Cottage Veg Every Day!", Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2011), pp. 52: https://www.amazon.co.uk/River-Cottage-Veg-Every-Day/dp/1408812126