When I was still living at home (not so long ago) my mum’s ultimate speciality was fish pie; if I got wind that we were having it for dinner, I would care a whole lot less about the lacklustre lunch I’d packed in a hurry five minutes before leaving for the bus. Who cared about lunch?! The future was bright. The future was dotted with peas in a valiant attempt at making it less beige. The future was topped with bubbling cheese and a robust crust. The future was a number of metaphors, all of them delicious.
We always ate our towering portion of steaming potatoes, flaky fish and creamy sauce with a piece (or five) of buttered toast, and a generous dollop of HP sauce. I’ve left home now*, and I’ve met people who think that this combination is sick and wrong, but I don’t see how anything so beautiful could be bad.
Now, every time I put a pie of my own in the oven, I think of my mum’s. I diligently cross every available appendage as it crisps up and bubbles around the edges, in the hopes that it will come out even a fraction as delicious as hers.
And it always does – psych.
My fish pie is creamy and saucy and ooh matron-y; even without my family’s addition of HP sauce, it packs a lot of flavour for something so un-apologetically beige; and sure, you could go without the toast, but what kind of life would I be living without seeing how many carbohydrates I could fit into one meal? This pie is the perfect winter warmer, and though I say the recipe feeds four, it’s possible that my partner and I have finished this between us in one sitting more than once.
Who are you to judge me?
Anyway, without further ado (although I am a fan of maxing out the ‘ado’ potential of any and all situations), I give to you fish pie – done right.
Fish Pie (gluten free, pescatarian**)
Feeds 2-4 (dependent on appetite and willpower)
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Wide based pan with a lid for the fish and sauce (if you don’t have a lid, make sure you’ve got enough foil to function as a lid instead); saucepan with a lid for the potatoes; a whisk; deep oven-safe dish roughly 23x13cm (9x5in) or larger; a slotted spoon; a chopping board and chopping implements (commonly known as knives – please do not try to use swords, throwing stars, or other sundry blades for this recipe)
- 500g fish pie mix (you can get these pre-made at most supermarkets, but you can use any combination you like; I like smoked haddock, cod, and salmon. If using frozen fish, defrost thoroughly before cooking)
- 70g frozen peas
- 150g light cream cheese
- 1tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 15g (a good handful) fresh dill
- 400ml skimmed milk (reduce if you like less sauce)
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- 1 medium potato (roughly 200-250g)
- 150-200g squash (by far the cheapest and easiest way of doing this is by using frozen butternut squash – just thaw it out and squeeze as much of the water from the squash as possible before mashing it with your cooked potatoes)
- 1tbsp light mayonnaise
- 1tbsp light spread/butter
- 2tbsp Parmesan (or any strong hard cheese)
- OPTIONAL: lashings of HP sauce and buttered toast
- Pre-heat your oven to 200°C, and get your wide based pan on a medium heat while you prepare the fish. If it’s already cut into bite-sized pieces then congratulations! You can have a celebratory glass of wine at this point if you so choose. If you have fillets of fish, cut these into bite-sized chunks, removing the skin if this has not already been done. You can have a glass of wine at this point too, because I’m a bad influence and I don’t understand positive reinforcement. Add the milk to the pan and let this heat through for five minutes or so, then add a generous seasoning of salt and pepper, along with the fish. Put on the lid or cover with foil and leave to poach for 5-7 minutes.
- Boil a kettle and give your spud(s) a scrub (ooh matron), chopping into rough chunks about 2cm or so in diameter – they should cook fairly quickly at this size. If you’re using fresh squash, cut this into the same size, but I’ll leave it in your hands whether or not you peel the crafty vegetable (if using pre-cooked, frozen squash, just add once the potatoes are cooked). Put your saucepan on a medium high heat and throw in your potatoes and squash, covering with the boiling water (be careful – you know when you turn a spoon upside-down under running water and you suddenly feel as though you will never be dry again? Pour too fast and it’ll be like that, except with a much higher likelihood of you burning your skin off). Put the lid on and cook for around 10 minutes.
- Check on the fish; the chunks are cooked through when opaque and starting to flake. Take the fish out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Take a couple of tablespoons of the warm milk and mix with cornflour to form a slurry – pour this back into the pan with the remaining milk, then add the cream cheese and whisk it all together. Keep whisking occasionally for a couple of minutes on a medium heat until thickened. Roughly chop the dill, adding this to the sauce along with the frozen peas and lemon juice. Stir everything through, then add the fish back to the sauce and stir again so that it’s all combined. Pour the fish pie mixture into your pie dish and smooth the top.
- Your potatoes and squash should now be soft enough to break apart when pressed with the back of a knife. Drain them in a colander and then set the colander back over the pan to steam for a minute or two. Drain any excess water that’s dripped into the pan, then return the potatoes to the saucepan for mashing. Add mayonnaise, spread or butter, salt and pepper, and mash thoroughly until it’s nice and smooth.
- Dot the mash over the top of the fish pie and then, using a fork, cover the whole of the top of the fish mixture and score gently across the mash with the fork; I like the classic little lines you get in the top by doing that, but if you want yours to be totally smooth and boring then I guess that’s your call. If crispy little peaks of cheesy mashed potato don’t set your heart aflutter then perhaps this is where we part ways…
- Cover the top of the pie with Parmesan then put in the over for 30 minutes, until browned. I salute anyone who can be bothered to prepare veg separately and by golly would I support you if you wanted something green on the side of this — but we’ve already established what I believe to be the perfect additions to this dish. Go with your heart. Be free.
How do you make your fish pie? Do you avoid fish pie at all costs due to a tragedy that befell your much beloved childhood pet fish, Mallory? Do you have fond memories of a particular dish from home? Let me know in the comments!
*I mean, I live 5 miles down the road from my mum, but that’s by the by. I have to make my own fish pie now. Apparently she doesn’t want to be blacklisted by the postal service.
**Chrome’s spellchecker is suggesting ‘proletarian’ instead of ‘pescatarian’; I see no reason why these things cannot co-exist. Pie transcends class barriers. Anyway, if you’re making this for someone who is a Coeliac, even if you are not, please ensure you make this dish in a clean environment without cross-contamination, and check all your ingredients to confirm that they don’t contain wheat or wheat gluten.