Colin’s Original Fish Pie:
Prep: 20 mins.
Cooking: 20 + 30 mins.
Rating: 3: Moderate
Waddayamean, “I don’t like fish“?
This isn’t like “fish” at all. One of our boys (BOYS! – he’s just turned 40!) who “doesn’t like fish” loves this.
Try it and you’ll be surprised and very pleased that you did. Trust me.
It also freezes well, so you can make a big fish pie and then freeze the unused remainder in single portion sized bits. Thank goodness for the freezer and the microwave.
This is great for a dinner party as you can make/build/assemble the pie beforehand and then just pop it in the oven whilst you entertain your guests with your incredible wit and repartee (being funny, that is). They’ll all be really impressed with your newfound culinary confidence (being able to cook, that is).
So, below is my version of Delia Smith’s Fisherman’s Pie recipe, the original to be found in her Complete Cookery Course, a book to be recommended above just about all other cookbooks. My version is for 6-8 people.
Scale (another culinary pun – oh never mind!) it up or down as you wish, but it is good for a dinner party for 6-8, even if some people “don’t like fish”
- 1 kg (2 ¼ lb) of mainly white fish of differing types – but it’s nicer if you can replace a third of the white fish with fresh salmon or a smoked fish of some sort (even nicer when you can include both).
- About 150g (6 oz) butter .
- 800 ml (1 ½ pts) milk .
- 200g (about 8 oz) prawns (peeled – frozen or fresh – size doesn’t matter; despite what the ladies say!). This ingredient is optional, but definitely desirable
- 75g (3 oz) plain (or even self-raising, if that’s all you have) flour.
- 3 hardboiled eggs (see Tricks’n’Tips to avoid blackened yolks).
- Lemon juice.
- Fresh chopped parsley, if possible, if not use dried.
- A few capers out of a jar(perhaps a heaped teaspoonful?), if available, otherwise just leave ‘em out. You could actually replace them with a small, finely chopped ‘Wally’ (a gherkin for the uninitiated……) at a push.
Important: Rinse the capers under cold tap and then pat them dry with kitchen roll before you chop them.
- About three whole Star Anise if you have them
- 1kg (2 ¼ lb) boiled spuds.
- 50g (2 oz) butter
- small pot of single cream (optional, but rather yummy)
- Oven tin (roasting tin)
- Balloon whisk/electric mixer/large fork and a lot of effort
- Ceramic oven dish – probably bigger than you think that you need – there’s lots of ‘stuff’ here.
- Potato masher
- The first thing to do is to poach the fish. Season the fish well and put it into an oven tin, skin down, put a few blobs of butter on top and pour on only enough milk to almost cover it – it doesn’t need to swim anymore!
- Throw in the three star anise pods, making sure that they are wetted thoroughly by the milk.
- Pop the tin into an oven preheated to gas 6/200C and leave if for about 20 minutes.
- Pour the milk off into a container, straining it as you are going to re-use it later – but we need it to be cold when that happens.
- When the fish has cooled just enough so that you don’t burn your freshly-washed fingers, just gently flake the fish, taking it off the skin. The flakes of fish need to be quite chunky, so don’t break it up too much.
- Discard the skin into your cat or dog – they love it
Well, we’re always being encouraged to recycle, aren’t we?
- You shouldn’t find many bones in white fish fillets, but you may find some. Just be aware that it’s finding these bones that put people off eating fish – so make sure there are none Don’t give the bones to the cat or dog; bin ‘em (the bones, that is, not the cat or dog).
- When the cooking liquid has cooled off sufficiently, you can make the sauce by Delia’s wonderful all-in-one method is described below (also see Tricks’n’Tips). It is so much easier than the traditional sauce-making methods so try it – it works a treat.
(No, please don’t think that I consider Delia to be perfect at everything – her style of cookery can sometimes be quite fairly criticised for being less than exciting – but hey, let’s give her credit for what she does well, especially for her major contribution to getting the ordinary British people to cook – even if some people still ignore her thoroughly proven advice.)
- Put the rest of the butter, the cooled cooking liquid, the rest of the milk, the seasonings, the flour – all in a saucepan and start whisking with a balloon whisk or an electric hand mixer as it’s put onto the heat. And keep whisking. A large balloon whisk is great, except for getting into the bottom corners of the pan, where lumps may hide.
- Dislodge the lumps with a wooden spoon quickly and then get back to the whisking.
- When it starts to thicken and bubble, turn the heat down and stir with the wooden spoon. Keep an eye on the bubbles, as these can burst with a bit of force and splash you if you don’t watch out. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit more milk and keep stirring.
- The sauce will need about 6-7 minutes simmering.
- Have a taste to see what it’s like and then mix in the coarsely chopped parsley, capers, (or even a chopped wally – a gherkin), the prawns that you haven’t yet eaten whilst you’ve been cooking (yes, I’ve been watching you nick the odd prawn or twelve…..), and the roughly broken up (or neatly sliced) hardboiled egg, etc.
- Place the flaked fish into a well-buttered ceramic oven dish/Pyrex dish (so that the food doesn’t stick to it too much) and pour the sauce mixture on top, spreading it about so that it’s level. Add the lemon juice to the top of the levelled-off mixture. Yes, the lemon juice will be absorbed into the underside of the mash. That’s the idea. Cor, that smells nice.
- Mash the boiled spuds with the butter (and cream if you have it) as coarsely or as smoothly as you like – I sometimes just squash them with a fork to give a bit of texture; some other times it is creamier than the voice of the crooner – and put blobs of this on the fish mixture, gently spreading the mash so that it doesn’t disturb the sauce mixture too much.
- If you wish, sprinkle a few flakes of butter onto the top of the mash to give a bit of colour. Do not press the mash down as it will start to overflow the dish in the oven, but it’s nice to get an interesting fork pattern on the top as the pie will look gorgeous as it is placed on the table, to the astounded gaze of your guests. Be gentle!
- Delia recommends a little nutmeg in the mash, but I don’t suppose you have any of that, so if you don’t have it, don’t bother. If you have, be sparing with its use.
- The oven needs to be preheated to gas 6. If you take the precaution of standing the oven dish on a baking tray it will catch any overflow of the pie contents and thus save mucking up the oven. Then you won’t have to clean it.
- Put the pie on a high shelf for half an hour to give the topping some darker colours and to ensure that the whole pie is hot throughout.
- Use a good oven glove to fetch out the dish and proudly take it to the table, laying it gently onto a heat mat, graciously handing the serving spoon to the most respected lady guest as a matter of respect and courtesy (and so that you don’t have to lift the first bit of the pie out, making a mess all over the table and looking a twit). Someone else can have that joy (Tee-hee!).
- Serve with a modest selection of vegetables (even if they are from the freezer).