Sunday, 19 September 2010

A warm fish pie for a cold London night

This is a cold weather staple that never fails to deliver. Until an American friend mentioned it last night I had no idea that they don't do fish pie in the US - shocking! Apparently fish and mash just aren't served together. I can't imagine going through a whole winter without this making an appearance at least once or twice.

It's a rather nostalgic, homely dish - a little bit of stodge but a whole lot of comfort, and one of the enduring food memories of my childhood. The recipe has barely changed from the one my mum makes, with just the addition of a layer of meltingly soft leeks and spring onions to punctuate the creaminess.

Good old fashioned fish pie
Serves 6

~for the fish layer
600g boneless and skinless cod
350g boneless and skinless undyed smoked haddock
200g raw prawns
4 hard boiled eggs, quartered
600ml whole milk

~for the leek layer
1 bunch spring onions, roughly chopped
1 leek, washed and roughly chopped
15g butter and a drop of oil

~for the mash layer
1300g floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper
25g butter
a dash of double cream
250ml milk

~for the sauce
the milk used to poach the fish
half an onion, peeled but not chopped
2 bay leaves
1 stick celery, chopped into large pieces
a pinch of nutmeg
60g butter
60g plain flour

1) Peel and boil the potatoes until tender, then mash with the butter, cream and milk until smooth and creamy. Add salt and pepper to season, and set aside.

2) Chop the fish into chunky pieces a couple of inches wide, then poach in the milk for just a couple of minutes - it should be barely cooked. Remove the fish, place into a cooking dish (about 3" deep and 10-12" in diameter) and leave to cool. Add the onion, bay leaves, nutmeg and celery to the milk, and simmer for 10 minutes, then strain through a sieve, reserving the liquid and discarding the solids.

3) To make the sauce: heat the butter and flour together for a minute then slowly whisk in the poaching liquor ladle by ladle until it is smooth and thick. Season well with salt as you will not be seasoning the fish.

4) Now for the leek layer: heat the butter and oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan and gently sautee the leeks and spring onions over a low heat until soft and slightly translucent, about 15 minutes.

5) Add the raw prawns to the poached fish and arrange the egg quarters across the top. Pour the sauce over the top, then cover with the leeks. Finally top with the mashed potato and bake for about 30 minutes at 375f/190c/gas mark 5, or until the top is golden and the sauce is rising at the edges. Your oven will thank you to put the cooking dish on a baking tray as this tends to bubble deliciously - sometimes over the edge of the dish.

Serve with minted peas, a snuggly warm duvet and/or a hot toddy.


  1. I am an American who lived in England for 4 years. I am back home now (Boston), but I still make Fish Pie every winter as much as many times as my wife and budget will let me (smoked haddock is an expensive artisanal luxury here unlike in England). It never fails to make me happy and bring back good memories of what sometimes feels like another life.

    You are right, Americans are very suspicious of this dish when I tell them about it. I think it is really the name more than anything else (pies are usually sweet here). But I have won some of them over. I look forward to trying your recipe!


    1. I'm glad to hear that you've embraced the joys of fish pie - I guess if you're used to sweet pies then a fish version would sound rather odd... Hope you like this version!


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