As far as I’m concerned you’d have to go a long way to find a dinner more comforting than a homemade Fish Pie. I suspect it’s the combination of a cheesy sauce, mashed potatoes and the golden crust that does it. They’re the flavours and textures of childhood and they just make you feel like all is good in the world. Even if you don’t like fish I suspect you could be tempted…
Before we go any further – let’s get one thing out of the way right here… You’re totally in control of what goes into this Fish Pie. I’m not going to say you need 100g of this and 100g of that, as your fishmonger or supermarket is almost certain not to have something on the list. My only stipulation is to include a bit of something smoked as that is essential for the overall flavour. In the majority of cases I’m only cooking for the two of us, so I’ll tend to pick up a Fish Pie mix and use that. It saves on waste (as it’s all pre-prepared) and it’s usually good value for money. As you can see from the picture below it’s usually made up of some White Fish (Cod, Haddock, etc), Salmon and Smoked Haddock. This gives you the flavour and textural contrasts you need. If I have them to hand I’ll also sneak in some prawns for a bit of glamour, but again they’re entirely optional. You’re in control.
Once you’ve chosen your fish mixture the rest is pretty straightforward. You’ll notice that this recipe is called “Extra Crispy” Fish Pie and it’s not just marketing. The additional crunch comes from the way I make the topping. Instead of using “normal” mashed potatoes I make something a little closer to a rösti. The potatoes are par-boiled so that they’re tender but still firm. When cool they’re grated into a bowl and mixed with butter and cheese, before being heaped on top of the pie. After 35-40 minutes in the oven they’re crispy all over and have a lovely crunch.
The sauce is a fairly standard affair – for me at least. I start off with a basic roux of butter and flour before adding in milk, mustard and cheese to give a rich, velvety sauce for the filling. The quantities here should produce a fairly thick sauce, which is important. The fish will impart moisture as the pie cooks so even if it feels a bit too heavy now it will be perfect by the time you serve it up.
Speaking of which – remember to let the Fish Pie rest for a few minutes after taking it out of the oven. For one it will be far too hot to eat and no matter how good something tastes it’s not worth burning you mouth to get there sooner. But mostly it’s to allow everything to slightly thicken again as it cools down, making it easier to server and nicer to eat. Patience is a virtue that I don’t normally have. With Fish Pie I have to force myself to show a little restraint…
Extra Crispy Fish Pie
for the Topping
- 500 g Potatoes
- 20 g Butter melted
- 30 g Cheddar Cheese grated
for the Filling
- 350 g Mixed Fish of your choice see notes above
- 90 g Prawns
- 50 g Butter
- 50 g Plain Flour
- 1 tsp Dijon Mustard
- 400 ml Semi-skimmed Milk
- 30 g Cheddar Cheese grated
- Preheat your oven to 190°C or equivalent if you're planning on serving the pies straight away. Otherwise you can assemble them earlier in the day and keep them in the fridge until needed, adding 5 minutes to the cooking time accordingly.
- Start by preparing the potatoes. Leave the skins on, but cut the larger potatoes in half so that you have everything about the same size. Add to a pan of salted, boiling water, bring back to the boil and cook for 7-10 minutes. You want them to be tender but still firm enough to grate. Drain and leave to one side to cool.
- Meanwhile make a light cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat. Add the flour to the melted butter and stir until the mixture comes together. 'Cook out' the flour for a minute or so.
- From here you start to slowly add the milk in stages and stir the mixture until it's all incorporated into the mix. I reckon 50-100ml a time should be plenty for each stage - it won't look pretty at first but it will quickly come together. A lot of people like to have the milk warmed before doing this but I just make sure it's at room temperature as it saves on washing up.
- Continue stirring over the medium heat until the sauce starts to thicken - don't take your eye off the ball at this stage or it may start to stick to the pan. This stage should leave you with a lovely thick, smooth sauce just before the sauce reaches boiling. Stir in the teaspoon of Dijon mustard at this stage.
- Grate the cheese into the sauce once you're happy with the consistency and take the pan off of the heat. Allow the sauce to cool down before using it
- From here it's just a case of assembling the ingredients into a delicious pie! If your fish isn't already in chunks then cut it into bite sized pieces and mix them into an oven-proof dish. I like to make individual pies so split the fish between two little pie dishes.
- Smother the fish with the sauce and then stir gently to ensure everything is well coated.
- Meanwhile grate the part-cooked potatoes into a separate bowl, then add in the melted butter and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir gently to ensure the potato strands are well coated, then add in half of the cheese. Spoon over the top of the fish mixture.
- Put into the oven for 35-40 minutes, until crispy, golden and bubbling, adding the remaining grated cheese after about 15 minutes. When cooked through remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.