This week I’ve decided to attack a classic; the family favourite fish pie. A lot of us already know how to make this crowd pleaser of a dish, so what is different about my recipe and why have I chosen to write a blog post about it?
On the surface, my reasons are simple. My auntie is poorly, and has been struggling to eat for some time. Part of her illness means she is currently struggling to chew, and has thus far survived on lattés and rice pudding (zero nutrients, which isn’t helping!). She’s starting to look frail and immediately I knew I wanted/ needed to do something.
The requirements are that foods need to be soft, mushy in fact, ideally packed with dairy and we’ve been told fish is hugely beneficial to her condition. Straight away fish pie seemed the obvious answer. But I wasn’t going to settle for an ordinary fish pie, I wanted to create the most delicious, tailor made fish pie, that I could freeze into little portions, for as and when she needs them. Here are my musings on this familiar dish: I have upped the amount of white sauce that you would usually find in a recipe. It makes for a more luxurious pie, while also being easy to eat for my aunt. I’ve added frozen spinach for extra iron and laced it with mustard and nutmeg. Delicious. On top are bite sized chunks of fish (salmon and smoked cod/ haddock) but by all means feel free to pop a few peeled, raw prawns in there too. Chopped soft boiled eggs are a favourite of mine in fish pie, great for added protein. The grated carrot and lemon zest add a wonderful freshness to an otherwise rich dish. And the piped mashed potato means the top will become wonderfully crispy with lots of crisp golden edges.
Interestingly this whole situation is what ‘Stirring Slowly’ is about. Gentle slow cooking, taking time and ultimately showing you care; I truly believe the greatest gift you can give someone is your time. Making these pies for my aunt really reminded me of the early days after we lost Archie. The countless meals from thoughtful friends and family, who knew that cooking and eating was the last thing on our mind. Such kindness and love, it floored us. Yes I could have bought my auntie flowers, and that is a lovely gesture too (this is by no means a post to make anyone feel guilty about not cooking), but I can cook, and I genuinely believe making someone something is one of life’s greatest pleasures and gifts.
The verdict? She absolutely loves the pies, and said it is the best meal she has had in months (Pete tried one too and said it was the best fish pie he’d had!). Obviously I’m thrilled, but it really doesn’t matter if it is the best meal you’ve ever made, I guarantee you if you put time and effort into making someone something, whatever it is, they’ll be chuffed to bits.
(Confession: If I’m being really honest, when I made this for my aunt I was super indulgent and actually use cream instead of milk in the mashed potato, as she has been so poorly and really needs fattening up! It was off the chart delicious. Obviously not an every day addition but fab for a special occasion!).
A ‘GET WELL SOON’ HEAVENLY FISH PIE
Serves 8 (I made these in 8 individual portions, ready for the freezer, but you can of course make one large fish pie, you’ll just need to tweak the cooking time accordingly)
- 175g unsalted butter
- 150g plain flour
- 1.4l milk
- 1 teaspoon English mustard
- 1/2 bunch of flat leaf parsley
- 300g frozen spinach
- 450g smoked cod or haddock, skinless and pin boned
- 450g salmon, skinlees and pin-boned
- 4 eggs, free range or organic ideally
- 2 large carrots
- 1 lemon
- 1.5kg maris piper potatoes
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Start by making the base of the pie, the white sauce, as you’ll need all the components to be completely cool before layering it up (unless you are cooking it straight away then it doesn’t matter if they are warm). Melt 125g of the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat, and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon, until you have a roux – a thick paste. Cook it for a further minute or so, before very slowly pouring in a little milk (you’ll need 1.2l of the milk for this part of the recipe). Feel free to warm the milk before adding it to the pan, as it makes the sauce a little smoother, but often I can’t be bothered, and because the sauce gets baked in a pie it does bake out any little lumps so don’t worry too much. Slowly add the milk, whisking it in thoroughly before adding any more, giving you as smooth a sauce as possible. Once it has all been whisked in, add the mustard and finely grate in 1/3 of a nutmeg. Reduce the heat a little, add the frozen spinach balls to the pan and cook for a further 8 – 10 minutes, stirring often, until the spinach has completely defrosted and the sauce is velvety and thick. Finely chop the parsley, stalks and all and stir in to the sauce. Season to taste, then cover the sauce directly with a piece of greaseproof to stop a skin forming, and leave to one side to cool completely.
Peel the potatoes and cut into even sized chunks. Place in a large saucepan and cover with cold water and a good pinch of salt. Place on a high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat a little and boil for around 12 – 15 minutes, until your potatoes are cooked through (it may take longer depending on how large your chunks are). This is when I cook the eggs, I add them to the pan for 6 minutes, then fish them out with a slotted spoon and leave them to one side. When the potatoes are ready drain them in a colander and leave for a couple of minutes to completely steam dry. Return the potatoes to the dry pan and add the remaining 50g of butter and mash it in until smooth. Mash in most of the remaining milk (or cream!), season well and keep going until you have silky smooth and buttery mash. You may need or want to add a little more milk, especially if you are piping the mash on top, but make sure it isn’t too wet.
When you are ready to layer up your pies get the remaining ingredients ready. Peel the eggs and slice into quarters. Chop the fish into 3cm chunks. Peel the carrots and coarsely grate them.
Divide the spinach white sauce between your 8 oven proof containers and then top with the fish chunks, making sure you distribute them evenly. Pop 2 egg wedges in each pie and then top with the grated carrot. Finely grate the lemon zest over all the dishes, and gently press everything down with a spoon. Spoon the mashed potato into a large piping bag (with a star nozzle, if you like) and pipe evenly over the pies. You can of course just spoon it on top, but where’s the fun in that?
If you are baking them from fresh, drizzle with a little olive oil, and bake in a preheated oven at 200/ gas mark 6, for around 30 – 35 minutes, until golden on top and bubbling underneath (longer if you are making larger pies). Alternatively, cover the finished pies and pop in the freezer (make sure to write on top what it is and when you made it!). When you are ready to eat them, just defrost them beforehand, remove the lid and cook as mentioned (30 – 35 mins at 200. gas mark 6). Et viola. Serve with steamed greens dressed in a little lemon juice.