10 September 2012

Fish Pie - as close to "economical" as I could get

I love fish pie.  Well, it's got mashed potato on it so I'm bound to love it, right?  However, it also involves fish - which up until I got pregnant with son & heir, was very much a no-no for me.  However, even back in the day when I was a little nipper a fish pie could restore me from bed-ridden, tonsillitis-wracked misery, to something resembling health.

Being my second-rated (after a Cottage Pie) port of call for comfort food, I've stuck with it over the years.  Through many sub-standard supermarket versions when I was either without a kitchen or without the time and inclination to cook it and with occasional successes under the guise of a ready-made "Fisherman's Pie".

Now when I announced to the assembled family (hubby and son & heir, that is) that this was the "first Fish Pie I have ever made" - I truly believed that.  (Not taking into account several Russian Fish Pies that have come and gone).  However their reaction negated my belief and led me to the conclusion that fish pies I have made in the past have been so awful that I must have written them from my memory.  Odd.  I have given the grey matter a good old wring out and just can't remember ever making it before - but then with age comes a certain amount of loss of memory.  *cough*

Fish .. sauce .. spoon .. eat.  No!  Must add mashed potato and bake!

One thing I know for sure, is that I have wanted to make a fish pie for absolutely ages, but the price of the fish has been restrictive to the point where we just couldn't afford the investment in the ingredients.  Not much has changed where that is concerned (the price of fish, that is), but our local Asda have brought out two types of "Fish Pie Mix" - the frozen version (cod, smoked haddock and salmon) at £3.00 for 300g and the fresh version (haddock, smoked haddock and salmon) at £3.20 for 325g.  Now one of those packs on their own is not sufficient for the three of us and I had looked wistfully at them from time to time, just to see if the quantity increased at all.

However, thanks to the Tom Yum Soup requiring some fishy input and my buying a "cheap as chips" small bag of teensy prawns, it occurred to me that if I included a 200g bag of said teensy prawns for £1.30, it would bring the quantity up to acceptable and the price for the fish to (almost) an affordable level.

With a final flourish of grated cheddar, it is ready for the oven

So I invested in a bag of both, some Maris Piper potatoes and crossed my fingers.

Of course, I had to uncross them in order to peel the spuds - but they were crossed in my mind, you understand.  The fish pieces were minimal, but even so I cut them in half just to make sure they went a bit further.  Don't ask me how it does it, but somehow whilst in the oven, fish pieces have the capability of all migrating across to one side of the casserole dish - so rendering one poor person with mashed potato and sauce.  I hoped that by cutting them in half, it might slow down such shenanigans.  I gather that hubby's portion was somewhat light in fish and heavy in prawns, so it didn't quite work - but I tried to lay them down evenly!  I can't be held responsible for any migratory habits once in the oven.  Oh, now here's a thought - maybe it's the salmon who round up the other fish and chivvy them across during their migration!  We all know how salmon like to migrate during their lives.  It's possible - anything is possible.  I shall have to put up small mushroom weirs to keep them on their own side in future.

~ comes back to reality ~

The washing up is a good way of coming back to reality ..

So - I knew this fish pie was going to be tasty as soon as I got the sauce right.  This was the occasion I was talking about in the Creamy Chicken & Courgettes post - when I used some of Essential Cuisine's fish stock powder to full effect.  I had the sauce pretty much made, but it was just lacking in something to key it to the fish that was to be added later when I remembered the fish stock powder.  Essential Cuisine's stock powders aren't hugely salty and I knew that if I added a flat teaspoonful to the sauce it would mix in and disappear, but leave behind it a subtle hint of shellfish that would be perfect.  The cayenne pepper provided a lovely background warmth without being at all intrusive and the nutmeg and parsley were just plain old traditional.

Because the fish pieces were so small, I didn't worry about cooking the fish before adding it to the casserole dish.  I suspect we'd have wound up with tiny pieces of rubber, had I have done so.   I did take the precaution of squeezing out as much water as I could, by pressing them (along with the prawns) between two pieces of kitchen paper before adding them to the dish.  I have had several failures with defrosted frozen fish in the past, when they have let gallons of water (well, it looked like gallons) out into my beautifully crafted sauce - so leaving me with dishwater.

Slowly submerging under a sea of sauce - but deliciously so!

There was slightly too much sauce in the casserole dish - I'll have to watch that in future, as I'd have preferred it not to have encroached quite so far upon the surface.  It rather spoiled the effect of the baked cheese.  It wouldn't have gone to waste, as it was all I could do not to eat it by the spoonful instead of putting it in the casserole dish.

Hubby felt that there was rather too much mashed potato on board his portion, so I've resolved to buy some individual sized dishes and use those in future.  That way son & heir and I can have a good whack of potato, whilst hubby's can be rather more restrained.  A good handful of grated cheddar on top finished it off beautifully.

The veggies - carrots (cooking), green beans (colander) and peas, all queueing politely

The finished pie served the three of us very generously - and there was even a spoonful or two left for lunch the next day.  Hubby thinks I'm mad to go scraping the bowl around, getting all the baked on bits of mashed potato and cheese out.  However, for me, they're the best bits and it really hurts to see them still stuck to the casserole dish, but the casserole dish put into the water to soak!  I'm sure I was born into the wrong era.  I should have been around during rationing.  I'd probably have enjoyed eating false marmalade and Lord Woolton Pie.

FISH PIE  (serves 3)

Ingredients :

1 pint plus 100ml of milk
2 small onions, one halved, one diced super-finely
6 cloves
2 bay leaves
50g and 25g butter
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp plain flour
3 tbsp double cream (optional)
one third of a tsp of cayenne pepper
one third of a tsp of nutmeg
a pinch of sea salt
a flat tsp of fish stock powder (or half a fish stock cube, crumbled)
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
300g mixed fish (I used a combination of smoked haddock, cod and salmon)
200g cooked peeled prawns
3-4 large Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
a handful of grated strong cheddar cheese.

Method :

1.  Pour the pint of milk into a small saucepan and place over a low heat to warm through.  Add the halved onion, into which you have pushed the six cloves (three on each half) and the two bay leaves.  Once the milk is steaming - but long before it boils - set aside to steep.

2.  In a small saucepan, melt one third of the 50g of butter and add the finely diced onion.  Sweat the onion - without browning at all - until it is softened and transparent.  Then add some freshly ground black pepper and the remaining two thirds of the 50g of butter to melt.

3.  Stir in the flour and continue to cook over a low heat for 2-3 minutes, without browning.  Then begin adding the steeped milk, little by little, stirring all the time, until you have a thick and lump free sauce.

4.  Add the cayenne pepper, nutmeg, cream, fish stock powder, sea salt and parsley and stir through.  Taste for seasoning and add a little more if necessary.  Remove from the heat and reserve to cool slightly.

5.  Place the potato chunks into a pan of boiling salted water and cook until tender.

6.  In the meantime, cut the fish into bite sized chunks and, if it was frozen or just plain old wet, then dry on some kitchen paper pressing down to remove as much water as possible.  Place the fish into the bottom of a casserole dish.

6.  Do the same with the prawns, removing all traces of moisture.  Add to the fish and stir to combine.

7.  Add the cooled sauce and gently stir the fish through.  Make sure the fish is evenly distributed across the bottom of the casserole dish, so that everyone gets an equal amount.

8.  Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and return them to the saucepan along with the 25g of butter and the 100ml of milk (warmed slightly - I use the microwave) plus a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper.  Mash the potatoes thoroughly, making sure that all lumps are gone.

9.  Place spoonfuls of the mashed potato onto the top of the fish mixture and gently level the top, making sure not to press too hard and squash the fish.

10.  Sprinkle the grated cheddar cheese across the top and place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/gas 4, for 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden and the sauce has begun to bubble at the sides.


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  1. sounds fab.. and you are a lucky girl to have the Essential Cuisine stocks to hand. I keep meaning to buy some, but then other things grab the budget... ho hum...

    I buy up fish going cheap at sainsbury for fish pie, throw it in the freezer until I have enough. I like to have some smoked fish in there somewhere, and a couple of quartered hard boiled eggs added over the sauce and under the potato are essential to me.

    1. I got my Essential Cuisine stocks way back in the summer and have been gagging to use them ever since. LOL I'm so happy now we're going back to things that need gravy, so that I can use them - and they're worth every penny!

      If only I had a bigger freezer (ours is tiny), I'd buy fish & freeze it, too. Unfortunately, there's only room for the essentials. One day I'll get a bigger one - it's on the list! lol Oh, you're not the first to comment on the lack of boiled eggs. This is another reason for buying individual dishes for fish pie in the future. Hubby's egg sensitivity demands that we leave egg out for now - but believe me, it'll be there once I've got individual dishes! :)

  2. I've never made fish pie. I don't think I've ever actually eaten a proper one! I think my mum used to make them as a leftovers dish many years back, but it was more potatoes than fish and never contained any mix of fish or seafood, just the one fish leftover.

    I think the problem with proper fish pie is my complete lack of fish and seafood knowledge. I'll only eat prawns if they're fried to a crisp in chilli, and I've eaten anything other than the obligatory cod and haddock - despite living 10 minutes from a fishing town where they sell the catch as they bring it in.

    I really must get out more. And eat more :)

    1. Is there such a thing as a "proper" Fish Pie? I think of fish pies as being the fishy version of a Cottage Pie, in that there are about a thousand and one different variations available. I don't think it matters what fish you put in them, everything seems to work. If you don't like prawns, then don't include them! If all you like is cod and haddock, then add some white cod and some smoked haddock (for flavour) and a couple of quartered boiled eggs (if you like them). You can even add stealth veggies if you're feeling keen - a few peas, a few thin carrot slices, some tenderstem broccoli - it's all good!


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