If you want a fish pie recipe to impress your friends or delight your family then look no further. I have honed this recipe over many years and it is loved by all who eat it.
Serves four to six, depending on hunger, greed etc.
The key to a great fish pie is in packing in flavour so that the final result is a satisfying concentration of fishy goodness. We start by flavouring the milk for the sauce with underlying notes of bay, cloves, onions and herbs before gently poaching the fish in the milk to load it with fishy flavours, finally turning it into an unctuous white sauce.
- 700 ml of whole milk
- 1 tsp of salt
- A medium brown onion peeled and thinly sliced
- 6 cloves
- 6 peppercorns
- 3 bay leaves
- 20gm Tarragon
- 30gm Flat leaf parsley
- 150 gm of butter
- 50 gm of plain flour
- 400 gm of haddock or other white fish such as cod or hake or a mixture
- 200 gm of salmon
- 2oo gm of smoked haddock
- 160 gm of mature cheddar, coarsely grated
- 2 medium to large carrots, about 200gm peeled
- 250 gm of spinach
- 800 gm (peeled weight) of potatoes for mash
You will need a baking dish with a good litre volume, e.g. about 30cm x 30cm width and 6cm deep.
OK let’s get started.
The flavoured milk
Add 500 ml of the milk and the onion slices, about 8 gms each of tarragon and parsley along with the cloves, bay leaves and peppercorns to a suitable pan that will be large enough to hold the milk and eventually the fish too. Add a teaspoon of salt then bring just to the boil (watch it carefully it boils over easily) then immediately turn off the heat. Leave it to stand covered for 30 minutes to an hour for all the flavours to infuse.
While the flavoured milk steeps, peel the carrots and cut them into smallish dice, about half a centimetre cubed and put them to boil in a small pan on low heat. Once tender, put to one side
Peel the potatoes and cut them into suitably sized pieces for mash. Boil until tender then put to one side.
Blanch the spinach in a large pan of boiling water for about a minute then drain and refresh in cold water. Drain a second time and squeeze as much water out of it as you can. Your massive bag of spinach should end up as a bright green ball about the size of your fist. Chop it roughly and set it aside.
Finely chop the remaining tarragon and parsley and set aside.
Cooking the fish
Strain the milk into a bowl or jug and discard the flavourings. I like to press the onions into the sieve to get a bit of pulp and extra oniony flavour through.
Make sure there are no bits of onions or herbs left in the saucepan and pour in the flavoured milk. Gently put the fish in (leave it in big pieces for now) and bring the pan back to the boil then turn off the heat and leave for stand for 30 minutes.
Once cooled, carefully remove the fish fillets from the milk onto a plate and leave to cool. Strain the milk again to recover any chunks of fish that fell of during cooking. Keep the flavoured milk warm on low heat.
Making the bechamel
In a pan large enough to hold all the milk, add 50 gm of the butter and melt it. Once melted add the 50 gm of plain flour and stir with a wooden spoon on low heat for three or four minutes until it smells toasty without browning it. Get a whisk ready and pour the flavoured milk over the cooked butter and flour mixture whisking it as fast as you can. Continue whisking the mixture until smooth. Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce the heat as low as you can and leave it to simmer. If you have a heat diffuser stick it under the pan now. Season generously with ground white pepper and simmer for 15 minutes to cook the flour.
Assembling the pie base
Take your baking dish and add the drained carrots. Gently flake the cooled fish into the dish. Then very gently mix the carrots and fish, taking care not to break the fish up any further.
Remove the bechamel from the heat and add the prepared spinach, fold it in with slicing movements from your wooden spoon to break up any clumps until the spinach is evenly distributed. Add the finely chopped tarragon and parsley and stir gently.
Pour the bechamel over the contents of the baking dish and fold it ever so gently to combine. Set aside and leave to cool. It will firm up a bit which will make adding the mash topping easier.
Making the mash
Drain the cooked potatoes and add the remaining 200ml of milk and 100gm of butter. Season well with ground white pepper and bring to a simmer for five minutes then mash well. Once smooth add most of the grated cheese, reserving a handful. Combine into the mash with your potato masher until smooth.
Final assembly of the fish pie
Some people suggest piping the mash onto the pie and if this is your thing, do that. Personally, I spoon it on which I find works just as well without the effort of trying to get a load of hot cheesy potato mash into a piping bag. However you do it, use a fork to smooth the top so it is nicely ridged. Crosshatch, whorl the choice is yours. Sprinkle the reserved handful of cheese over the top.
Place the baking dish on a baking tray. It will likely bubble over the sides a bit when it cooks and a baking tray is a lot easier to clean than the oven.
Bake for about 40 minutes at 180 C or 350 F (Fan), Gas mark 5 until suitably brown on top.
Leave for 30 minutes before serving. Serve the fish pie on its own or with your favourite vegetables or a salad.
Watch as your family or friends are blown away.
You can make this your fish pie. The method is the same but you always have options.
- Use a fish stock cube instead of the salt.
- Cook some mussels with the fish and them and add to the pie, sans shells obviously.
- Add some prawns.
- Skip the cheese.