An honorary pie, despite obvious shortcomings in the pastry department, fish pie is the culinary equivalent of a cosy pair of slippers. It can be as basic or as fancy as you like, but it should never be anything other than home cooking. Easy to make ahead, happy to be customised according to what you have available, and perfect with frozen peas, it’s also just what you need right now.
Prep 55 min
Cook 45 min
1kg floury potatoes (see step 2)
1 splash milk
500ml fish stock
100ml white wine
1 small bunch parsley or tarragon
350g white or oily fish (pollack, trout, etc)
350g smoked fish (haddock, cod, etc)
200g small peeled prawns, defrosted if necessary
50g plain or cornflour
2 anchovies, finely chopped (optional)
200ml double cream
2 hard-boiled eggs (boiled for 8 minutes), peeled (optional)
1 handful white breadcrumbs (optional)
1 Choose your fish
A word about the fish. It’s hard to keep on top of what’s sustainable, especially internationally (if you’re unsure, check the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide), so take the quantities listed above as a guide.
I like a combination of white and smoked fish with sweet little prawns, but you may prefer to replace one of them with an oily fish such as salmon, trout or mackerel, or other seafood such as mussels, crabmeat or squid.
2 Choose the potatoes
Peel the potatoes – a floury variety is best here, because you want it to be a fluffy contrast to the richness beneath.
Golden wonder or kerr’s pink would be ideal, but if you can’t find them, Rooster or maris pipers are your best bet, followed by desiree and king edwards in that order. Cut into large, but evenly-sized chunks.
3 Cook the spuds
Put the potatoes in a suitable pan, cover with cold water, add a big pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender; how long this takes will depend on how large your potato chunks are.
Drain well, then put back into the hot pan to steam completely dry. Add half the butter and all the milk, mash until smooth, then season to taste.
4 Prepare the poaching liquor
While the potatoes are cooking, put the fish stock and wine into a pan large enough to hold all the fish in one layer, and bring to a simmer. Cut the stalks off the herbs and add these to the pan, too. Bring to a simmer, then add the fish, skin on if it’s still attached; leave the prawns aside for now.
5 Poach the fish
Turn the heat right down, and leave the pan to bubble very gently for about five minutes, until the fish is opaque but not cooked through; use your judgment here, because how long this takes depends on the size and thickness of the fillets. Err on the side of caution, however: the fish will cook further in the oven.
6 Start on the sauce
Lift out the fish with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Discard the herb stalks from the poaching liquor. Melt the remaining 50g butter in a medium saucepan over a medium-low heat, then stir in the flour (use cornflour if you’d prefer to keep things gluten-free) and fry, stirring, for a minute or so, until it smells slightly toasted. Gradually stir in the poaching liquor.
7 Finish the sauce
Bring the sauce to a simmer, then turn down the heat and leave to bubble away for about 20 minutes, until thick. Meanwhile, remove and discard the skin from the fish, if necessary, and cut the flesh into large bite-sized chunks (again, bear in mind that the smaller they are, the bigger the risk that they’ll overcook). Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6.
8 Add the fish and flavourings
Take the sauce off the heat, roughly chop the herb leaves and finely chop the anchovies (you could use anchovy paste, if you prefer; add to taste).
Once the sauce has stopped bubbling, stir both in with the double cream and season to taste. Stir through the fish and prawns (and quartered hard-boiled eggs, if you like).
9 Top with the mash and bake
Spoon into a baking dish and top with the mashed potato. Rake the top with a fork, if you want it to go extra-crisp, then bake for 20 minutes. Remove, sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, if using (grated cheese is another possibility), and bake for a further 15 minutes, until golden. Serve with peas or wilted greens.