It’s not a good idea to think that beige must be boring. Fish pie is able to showcase its strengths, even though a meal with mashed potatoes won’t win any style awards. This is the perfect vehicle for Hugh Fearnley and Whittingstall’s campaign for sustainable seafood. Who could resist flounder covered in a rich, creamy sauce and topped with a fluffy crust of mash?
Since Nigel Slater’s method is the easiest, we chose it as our control. Plus, comfort food can never go wrong with him. Once the fish is cooked, it’s dipped in milk to make it opaque and soft. Then drain the fish and combine it with a roux to create a simple white sauce with chopped parsley. It is comfortingly thick, but it is indisputably bland. The pre-cooked fish becomes a bit rubbery after being cooked for 40 minutes at 180C.
White Sauce Alternative
Marco Pierre White uses stock to make his fish pie. He has said that the cubes he sponsored were “the best fucking ingredients in the world”. However, his willingness to accept them doesn’t inspire confidence in the self-proclaimed stockpot enthusiast. Marco’s recipe doesn’t use white sauce at all, so I try it. I soften shallots in butter, then reduce the liquid to a syrup. Then I add fish stock (Marco doesn’t specify which kind, so I will just take his word for it) and reduce it once more. Once you have added the double cream, let it simmer for a while.
Fish pie is versatile. Jamie Oliver points out that you can use any type of seafood, including mackerel and mussels. It’s also a great way for you to experiment with different flavors. Nigel Slater agrees that the base should consist of a delicately flavorful, hard-white fish.
A smoked option is recommended as it adds flavor and depth to the sauce. You can find excellent smoked haddock online. Nigel says that mussels are “cheap and juicy” and adds “gobs of flavor”, but I find their texture to be off-putting. Sweet small North Atlantic Prawns, however, are more to my liking and have a splash of color. I believe that scallops, tiger shrimps and other seafood are not good choices here. Salmon can be added to the fish pie for some color. However, if it is too small it will become wooly and overdone. To bulk out the filling of a fish pie, sauteed leeks or spinach are great options. Spinach is also good and doesn’t require any pre-cooking.
One word about the seductive golden top that I mentioned earlier: Angela Boggiano’s smoke fish and cider recipe in her concisely-titled Pie uses pastry crust. Nigel Slater suggests a very unusual crumble mixture, but nothing beats fluffy mash for comfort. Nothing else soaks up sauce quite like it does. To pay homage to J Sheekey, who are the purveyors and champions of London’s best fish pie recipes, you can add a few breadcrumbs to yours to give it some crunch. However, if you feel like a splurge on some Parmesan, you can also sprinkle it over.
These are the ingredients you need to make the perfect fish pie.
1kg floury potatoes (eg Maris Piper, King Edwards50g butter
500ml fish stock
100ml white wine
Parsley in small bunch, divided into stalks and leaves
White fish fillets (350g) and/or salmon
350g Smoked Whitefish
200g small peeled Prawns
50g plain flour
200ml double cream
2 anchovies, finely chopped
A few white breadcrumbs
This beautiful traditional British dish is sure to please you and your friends.