Smoked fish pie


Fish pie is a favourite dish that is revisited every couple of weeks in our house. Whether it’s a Sunday lunch just for us, or if we are having people over, it always seems to fit the bill. Nutritious and heart warming, it’s English comfort food at it’s best. Right from when Adam and I first met at university, we’ve been making fish pie together, and it never occurred to us to consult a recipe; we just kind of knew how it should be made despite the fact that neither of us had made it before. 


It’s not hard to work it out, as there are only 3 main components: fish, mash, and béchamel sauce. We always buy good quality, fresh fish from a fishmonger. I never buy fish from a supermarket as I just don’t think it’s very good quality, or ever seems that fresh. I always use un-dyed smoked haddock with salmon fillets for my fish pie. I have used non-smoked haddock but I found it lacking, same with cod; I like a smokiness to my fish pie. On this occasion I even put in an Arbroath Smokie for added oomph, which is actually another haddock but it’s only small and it really gives an edge (although use with caution if feeding kids, they are boney little buggers). A quantity of made-from-scratch, well-infused béchamel is the next must have; I enhance my whole milk by part-poaching the fish in it, along with an infusion of half an onion, some whole peppercorns, and a bay leaf. Creamy mash is a bit of a no-brainer, all to be said here is that we use a good amount of butter and milk, heated up before adding, and we put it through a potato ricer to guarantee a lump free end product. It’s less laborious than a masher I find though a pain to wash. 

If you skimp on any of these areas, then your fish pie will not be fulfilling its potential, and life is too short for that. Please, no fish pie mixes or ready made béchamel! A few added extras that are down to personal preference, such as capers and flat leaf parsley in the béchamel; some English mustard in the mash; or even some hard boiled eggs, a few raw prawns, or some wilted spinach thrown into the mix before the mash goes on, wouldn’t go amiss. But I feel that you can leave these out or not and it’ll still be luscious, as long as you’ve got your basic components right. This time I went for capers, parsley and mustard but no spinach, prawns, or eggs. It’s different every time, and I find how many of these extras you add into the mix will determine how much, if any, extra mix you have left over when filling your pie dish. I always seem to have enough to make a mini pie in addition to go in the freezer, which is a bonus. 

We have it simply alongside a steaming bowl of peas normally, but this time I had some purple sprouting broccoli to use up, so that’s what we had. 

Serves: 4-6 people: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

Ingredients:
Fish:
400g salmon fillet, skin on
500g smoked, un-dyed haddock fillet, skin on but bones removed
An Arbroath Smokie (optional)

For the mash:
About 1300g Desiree potatoes
A generous knob of butter, melted with the milk
A slug of whole milk, heated in a pan first
2 or 3 teaspoons of English mustard 
Salt and pepper 

For the béchamel:
750ml whole milk 
75g butter 
75g plain flour 
Bay leaf 
Few peppercorns, about 5
1/2 onion
Tablespoon capers, rinsed and left whole (optional)
Small bunch of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped (optional)
A handful of grated strong cheddar (optional)

Instructions:
  1. Preheat your oven to 180C. 
  2. First put your fish (cut into large pieces so they fit comfortably) into the milk and warm it gently in a large frying pan. Also put in half an onion, a bay leaf and the peppercorns. As soon as the milk comes to a gentle boil, turn off the heat and put a lid on, leaving it to infuse. Take the fish out after 10 minutes and let cool on a plate. 
  3. Once cooled, peel off the skin, gently flake the haddock, and cut the salmon into chunks. Arrange in your pie dish. If using an Arbroath Smokie, flake this in now too, no need to part-poach this. Carefully take out all the bones, as there will quite a few fiddly ones. 
  4. Meanwhile, put your potatoes on to boil in a pan of salted water. When they are done, heat your butter and milk in a saucepan, add this to the potatoes, season, and mash or rice using a potato ricer. 
  5. To make your béchamel the *traditional way, heat your butter in a decent size saucepan. When it’s melted, add your flour and stir to make a roux. On a low heat, move it around for 5 minutes or so, so the flour cooks out a bit. Now, you want to add your infused milk little by little to the roux off the heat, so have it alongside your pan, strained. Using a ladle, add the milk and stir it in so that there are no lumps. If you need to, use a whisk. When all the milk is added put it back on the heat and keep whisking or stirring until it has thickened. Let it cook gently for five minutes, stirring so it doesn’t stick. Throw in your parsley and capers if using, and season to taste. 
  6. *I mostly make my fish pie using the microwave method nowadays – you can’t infuse it, but it’s much quicker. To do this, simply place the milk, flour and butter in a jug and cook for about 7 minute on high, whisking every minute until it becomes thick and smooth. Add the parsley and capers and season once it’s done. 
  7. Now you are going to compile your pie. Pour your béchamel over your fish in the pie dish. Add any extras here, like eggs, wilted spinach, or prawns. At this point, when all my mixture is in, I like to give it a stir around and to ensure things are nicely distributed. 
  8. Now put your mash on top. I do this by spooning it on bit by it; it should float to some degree on top of the sturdy mix. Once the potato is all on, use a fork to cover up holes and make it pretty. We like some grated cheddar on top. 
  9. Bake for about 45 minutes. It’s a dish that you can make successfully in advance, if doing so leave it to cool at this point and refrigerate, then cook it when ready (not forgetting to bring it to room temperature first before cooking). 
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