My favourite antidote to the winter blues, fish pie is traditionally made with a white sauce. The fish is first poached in the milk, which is strained and added to a roux. Some people add hard boiled eggs to the filling. I used to make it this way, and we’d have it once or twice a year.
Now that I make it with cream, we have it every fortnight or so, all through the long winter months. It isn’t quick, exactly, but nor is it labour intensive. Just start early and leave everything to cook slowly. I can’t remember where this variation originally came from: it was Mother who passed it on to me.
The ingredients below are simply a guide. Fish pie falls into the same category as roast potatoes: namely that it all goes, no matter how much you make.
1 medium potato per person
1 fillet of white fish per person
1 piece of smoked haddock
some prawns, mussels of other shellfish – about 30-50g per person
100ml double cream per person
Peel the potatoes and put them into a lidded pan of cold water. Bring them to the boil and cook until they are soft and ready to mash. Drain, and keep warm until the fish is cooked.
Once the potatoes are on, put all the fish into a pan (ideally the one you will serve the pie in, to save on the washing up) with the cream, put the lid on and bring it to a very gentle simmer. Keep it at this temperature until the fish is cooked through – about 20 minutes. Don’t let it boil – you might find it easier to just take it off the heat. I often put it into the bottom oven, to keep it warm.
Add some salt, to taste, to the cream. You do need to add a reasonable amount of salt, or there’s just no point in making this.
Mash the potatoes very well (creaminess is of the essence, with this dish) and ladle some of the cream into them. I add quite a bit of cream, making the potatoes almost (but not quite) runny. You want them to be beautifully soft.
Gently break up the pieces of fish, still in the cream sauce. Spoon the mash over the fishy filling, and level it off a bit. I like to run a fork all over the top of the potato, making it look like a tiny furrowed field – it goes all crisp in the oven. Put the dish, without its lid, into the oven, at gas mark 4/ 180 degrees Celsius/ 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and leave it to bubble and crisp for half an hour or forty minutes.
Serve it with wilted greens or peas. Don’t tell anyone how little effort it took – this is a dish which makes everyone happy, for which you should soak up every available bit of credit.