A fish pie is a classic British dish, consisting in its most basic form of flaked pieces of fish in a white sauce, topped with creamy mashed potato and baked in the oven. Traditionally, a fish pie would be made using the cheapest offcuts of fish, which were essentially unsuited to most other purposes. A fish pie can be made with a great many varieties of fish but to be enjoyed at its best, it should be made with at least three different types. This recipe sees it made with salmon, smoked haddock and whiting.
- 8oz salmon fillet
- 8oz smoked haddock fillet
- 8oz whiting fillet
- 3/4 pint* milk, plus a little extra for mashing potatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 small eggs
- 2lb floury/starchy potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
- 3oz butter, (1oz for mash, 2oz for sauce)
- 2oz plain/all purpose flour
- 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
- Salt and white pepper
- Veg of choice to serve
*Note that this refers to a British pint measurement.
Step by step instructions to making a fish pie:
1. Put the fish fillets in to a large pot with the bay leaf. Pour in the milk and ensure the fillets are covered. Put the pot on to the heat and bring the milk to the gentlest of simmers for five minutes only.
2. Put the chopped potatoes in to a pot of cold, lightly salted water. Bring the water to a simmer for around twenty minutes until the potatoes are just softened.
3. The eggs have to be hard boiled. Put them in to a pot of cold water. Put the pot on the heat and when the water boils, reduce to simmer for about eight minutes.
4. Use a large slotted spoon to remove the fish fillets from the pot to a plate. Don't worry if they start to break up - you will be flaking them anyway. Cover and leave to cool until they can be easily handled. Discard the bay leaf and pour the milk in to a bowl or jug for later use.
5. Take the pot containing the eggs to the sink and run cold water in to it until the eggs are cool enough to handle. Crack the shells, peel them and return to the cold water to cool them rapidly. This prevents discolouration around the edges of the yolk.
6. Drain the potatoes and return to the empty pot. Allow them to steam for five minutes prior to mashing. This gets rid of the excess moisture, as otherwise you would get soggy mash. Add 1oz of the butter, a couple of tablespoons of milk and mash with a hand masher.
7. Remove any remaining skin from the fish fillets and flake to medium sized pieces. The opportunity should also be taken at this stage to feel for and remove any bones. Roughly chop the cooled eggs.
8. Gently reheat the milk in a large pot before returning to the jug. Melt the butter in the same pot and add the flour, stirring to form a roux. After a couple of minutes, begin adding the warm milk in three or four stages until a smooth béchamel sauce is formed.
9. The fish flakes, chopped eggs and parsley should be added to the béchamel sauce. Season with salt and white pepper. Combine by using a slow and steady folding motion, rather than a firm stirring motion.
10. Preheat your oven to 375F/190C. Pour the filling in to a suitable pie dish and gently and evenly disperse with the back of your wooden spoon.
11. Do not simply tip the mash on to the filling and try to smooth it out this way. That is a recipe for disaster and you will succeed only in stirring it through the filling. Instead, use a spoon to add it in lumps, over the filling. A knife dipped in a cup of boiling water should then be used to smooth it out and create wave like ripples on the surface.
12. Put the pie on to a baking tray (prevents potential spillage going all over oven) and in to the oven for thirty minutes.
13. When the pie comes out of the oven, it is technically ready to eat. Putting it under a hot grill or broiler for five minutes, however, gives the potato a beautiful golden crust. Set aside to rest for ten minutes or so while you prepare your vegetable accompaniment(s).
As is so often the case with classic recipes, the modern era sees them adapted, enhanced and "improved" to suit the needs of the cook or chef striving for ever more complex and aesthetically pleasing dishes. While it is possible to develop a traditional fish pie recipe in any number of ways, it is vital never to lose sight of the most important ingredient and flavour of all – the fish. You may wish to try adding some leek (stem only), peas or carrots to the fish pie filling, while dill is a herb which really can add a little extra something to the sauce. Try also scattering some grated cheddar cheese over the top before you put it under the grill or broiler.
However you choose to prepare it and with whichever type of fish, hopefully this old dish borne of need and circumstance is something your family can enjoy for a long time to come.
Enjoy your meal!