I have a book title stuck in my head right now. It’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Except, right now, it’s Oh, the Places You Won’t Go. And when you’ve been shielding most of the year and nothing feels that safe, there are lots of those. We have cautiously been going out, mostly because we want there to be a world left when this is all over and if any thing needs supporting right now, it is very much the hospitality business. And, hopefully soon, theatre. Yet, at the same time, there is a limit to the support that we can offer. I’ve had no paying work, or barely any, since April and the autumn is looking dreadful. So, though I’d like to go to all of my favourites, returning to them is somewhat on hold. However, I can still wave a flag for them, and encourage others to give them support or, if the restaurant is out of reach, suggest great cookbooks to buy (from bookshops or Hive please; the Omnicorp doesn’t need your money) so, even if you can’t eat out, you can still eat the food (and support the business).
Which is why I have come back to the blog today, to shout about a) J. Sheekey’s excellent cookbook and b) its wonderful fish pie. I often don’t like restaurant cookbooks, because they can be unreliable, especially if they are written by chefs who never use a domestic kitchen. And yet I also love some, for allowing me access to wondrous dishes that I can’t always afford to eat in. This fish pie is a case in point. I tend not to order it in the restaurant, because there is always a whole crab taking precedence, or a beautifully cooked piece of halibut on special (I am resisting the urge to add a reference to Life of Brian here…) and yet it always sounds perfect. And when I browsed the book, and saw that the recipe was quite straightforward, it seemed a very good reason to buy it.
Fish pie is a faff and usually involves three steps: mash, sauce and poaching the fish so you are at three pans before you get to the pie dish. I like this recipe because the fish gets added to the sauce, raw, and is not cooked separately. It’s still a two-pan plus pie dish recipe, but I promise you it is worth it. The sauce is a wonder. I’ve made it several times and, though the recipe specifies three types of fish, I usually only use two. I’d suggest you always need something smoked (so haddock or even mackerel) then after that, either a white fish like hake or cod and/or salmon. If you have all three, fab, but it’s delicious with just two. The only unusual ingredient, in 2020, is white pepper; remember that? I don’t think I’ve used it in anything in years whereas, once upon a time, it was the only one available. Does anyone else think it smells like a farmyard? It is somehow perfectly old-fashioned in this.
One day I’ll be back in the restaurant, sitting at the bar cracking a crab claw or two; for now I’ll make this and be grateful I can afford the ingredients.
J. Sheekey’s Perfect Fish Pie (their name but they’re not wrong)
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
floury potatoes (they recommend King Edwards), 1kg
unsalted butter, 100g
plain flour, 50g
white wine, 125ml (once upon a time I’d have put this on a shopping list but, after 2020, I’m considering it a cupboard essential…)
fish stock, 500ml (cube or fresh or water/a mix of water and milk works too; I’ve used all three and, though the stock is marginally better I’ve not noticed a big difference)
mustard, 1 tablespoon (they say English; I tend to have, and therefore use, Dijon)
Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon
breadcrumbs, 20g (again, they say fresh white but I use what I have which is usually homemade brown ones)
600g fish (equal parts white + smoked + salmon fillet, or just equal parts of two of them; see above)
anchovy essence, ½ teaspoon or use a couple of fillets from a tin
lemon (you only need half)
flat-leaf parsley, ½ small bunch (roughly a large handful)
double cream, 90ml
freshly ground white pepper
1. Peel and cube the potatoes (the smaller the pieces, the quicker the cooking time) then cook until tender. Drain, steam-dry briefly then mash and leave to one side for now. Skin the fish if needed, then chop into bite-sized cubes. Chop the anchovy fillets too, if using, juice the lemon half and chop the parsley.
2. Make the sauce. Melt 50g of the butter in a saucepan, then stir in the flour. Cook this mixture for a few minutes, until it looks dry then stir in the wine bit by bit followed by the stock. Bring to the boil, simmer for 15 minutes then stir in the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, anchovy essence or fillets, lemon juice, chopped parsley and cream. Season to taste.
3. Stir the fish into the sauce and pour the mixture into a large pie dish, deep enough to hold the sauce and a layer of mash on top of it. Leave to cool (this stops the potato sinking into the sauce…).
4. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 5 and, while the sauce is cooling mix the remaining 50g butter and the milk into the mashed potato, until smooth and soft. I find a little cream doesn’t go amiss but you don’t want it too wet. Season to taste.
5. Layer the mash little by little over the top of the cold sauce, until the fish is completely covered, then bake for 30 minutes. Whilst it bakes grate the Parmesan.
6. Remove the pie from the oven, sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and cheese then bake for another 10 minutes or so, until bubbling and golden. Serve with something green, like salad or steamed spinach.