It’s cold. It’s too cold to get on the bike without three layers of lycra and wool. Guilt is setting in, along with the fear that in less than six months a bunch of us will spend a week in the Alps then Pyrenees attempting to follow in the (very expensive) wheels of the big boys from the Tour. So what do I do? I make a fish pie. Obviously.
This is a recipe that my sister Nic shared with me many years ago and it’s a cracker, even if it did have a crap name: “Luxury fish pie” (you have to say luxury in that Marks & Spencer’s ad voice but with the addition of a slight northern twang, otherwise it doesn’t work). Funnily enough, I think the luxury thing was a sign of the times – back in the early 90’s scallops and monkfish were still considered a little exotic – now (thankfully) they are commonplace, as they should be.. It just shows how much better we are at food than we were…
The other great thing about this pie is that it’s a chance to give your local fishmonger a little business – mine in Enfield is the real deal – an old boy who’s been there for decades and who is a pleasure to buy from – worlds apart from these Kensington & Chelsea boutique fish sellers who think it’s ok to charge the earth for an ammonious skate wing. It’s a great thing to support your local businesses, but I only really like to do it to when they’re not taking the piss..
You can put pretty much anything in this pie – there are just three elements to it: Fishy stuff, a great sauce and a top. This time I used monkfish, skate cheeks (I was looking for cod cheeks, but this is what he had, and it worked really well), scallops, prawns and some salmon for colour. You simply skin and cut up the fish into bite sized chunks and put them in your dish. Like this:
For the topping, par-boil new potatoes for about 6 minutes and then plunge them into cold water. When they are cool enough to handle, grate them into a bowl (don’t worry about peeling them) and add a huge knob of butter, a generous handful of finely chopped capers and plenty of salt and pepper.
Now for the sauce – start with a simple roux – lots of melted butter and a couple of tablespoons of flour, then incorporating milk and mixing vigorously until you have a very thick sauce. Now add a glass of vermouth and double cream and let it cook and reduce. The sauce should be pretty thick as the liquid from the fish will thin it a little during cooking. Season the sauce and add a handful each of chopped parsley and dill along with a spoonful of dijon mustard. While you’re doing this, fry a very finely chopped onion (or leek) along with a little red chilli and once softened (don’t let it colour) add it to the sauce. Now pour the sauce over the fish and wiggle the bits about so that it’s well mixed together.
Place the potatoes in spoonfuls on the top of the pie, starting at the edges and working in. Pile it high and make sure there are plenty of edgy bits that will go crispy in the oven. Now just pop it in the oven at 180 degrees for 35 minutes. It’s really good with wilted spinach or just a hunk of really good bread. And a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet…