Friday, May 4, 2012

Fish Pie

Fish pie is a classic English dish of the comfort food variety—a mashed potato topping over fish in a creamy sauce. As with any classic dish, there are innumerable variations, ranging from the type of fish and type of sauce, the choice of vegetables (if any) and herbs, to the technique (to pre-cook the fish or not).

Most recipes also call for part of the fish to be smoked white fish of some sort, something that is difficult to come by here. You can easily get smoked mackerel, smoked herring, and smoked salmon, but these are oily fish and have such a distinctive flavour (especially smoked salmon) that I don't think they work properly for fish pie.

Fish pie is prone to a number of problems, such as overcooked fish, bland flavour, and colourless appearance, so I've been on a quest for a fish pie that tastes great, uses sustainable and obtainable fish, and retains its character as down-home comfort food.
I decided to use salmon as a strong-tasting fish to use instead of smoked white fish, ignored suggestions for luxury items like shrimp and scallops, and added a layer of spinach to provide color, flavour, and nutrition. I really enjoyed the result!

Fish Pie

500 grams floury potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
25 grams butter
splash of milk
1 tablespoon chopped dill and/or parsley
500 grams spinach
250 ml fish stock
100 ml cup white wine
small bunch of parsley
250 grams white fish fillets (hake, pollock, haddock)
125 grams salmon fillet
25 grams butter
3 shallots, sliced
1 1/2 tablespoon flour
100 ml cream
1 anchovies, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tablespoon breadcrumbs (optional)
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, finely grated (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.
  2. Make the mashed potatoes. Cook the potatoes and smashed garlic in salted water until the potatoes are cooked, through. Drain the potatoes, then mash with some butter and a splash of milk. Mix in the chopped herbs, season to taste, and set aside.
  3. Prepare and cook the spinach. While the potatoes cook, clean the spinach, removing any course stems. Using just the water that clings to the leaves, cook it in a large pot until it is all wilted. Drain and squeeze as much water out of it as you can, then chop finely. (Alternatively, you can use frozen spinach.) Set aside.
  4. Barely cook the fish. Combine the fish stock (or use a fish bouillon cube in water), wine, and parsley in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the fish fillets and simmer for 3-5 minutes, depending on the size of the fillets. You want the fish to impart some juice and flavour to the broth but to be a little underdone. Remove the fish to a plate and break into large pieces. Remove and discard the parsley. Pour the stock into a measuring cup or bowl so you can reuse the saucepan.
  5. Make the sauce. After rinsing out the saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, and sauté the shallots for 3 minutes. Add the flour and cook it, stirring, for a few minutes. Gradually stir in the fish/wine stock and bring it to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Take the sauce off the heat, stir in the cream, dill and anchovy, then season to taste.
  6. Assemble and bake the pie. Add the fish to the sauce and mix gently. Put the fish in its sauce in a baking dish. Put the spinach as a layer over the fish, and top with mashed potatoes. Use a fork to draw pretty patterns. Sprinkle some paprika over the top, then bake for 35 minutes. (Optionally, bake for 20 minutes and then top with breadcrumbs and cheese before baking for the final 15 minutes.)

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