Fabulous flavourful fish pie for shameless cheats

“She gets van Gogh to compare the qualities of northern and southern light. “Sunrise over Provence!” he cries, as prosecco fish pie yields ruby tomatoes, pink Dublin Bay prawns, smoked haddock and meaty hake. My guests are laughing and the pie has worked.”

Horatio Clare, describing his fantasy dinner party in the Financial Times, November 2023

This is a fish pie to beat all others.

From the taste point of view it takes its inspiration from Nathan Outlaw’s approach – a Michelin-starred chef who specialises in fish and seafood. He includes capers for brightness, and has thought up the novel idea of adding the softly hard-boiled eggs, ‘outdoors’ as it were, atop, at the last minute. This enables you to ensure the eggs are not cooked to bullets, but are very gently just going hard – they’re still rich and luscious.

If you want to emulate Horatio Clare’s prosecco fish pie (see quote at the top of this post) you can substitute some, or, oh the decadence, all, of the fish stock for prosecco. You can also add in some tomatoes.

Moving on to the cheat’s aspect of this recipe, I’ve taken an idea which Rosie Reynolds sets out in her latest book, The Shortcut Cook. Instead of making a béchamel, simply coat the fish in a veil of cornflour. This is a genius idea, cutting down on the effort of making the sauce as well as resulting in a less floury, lighter, slightly powdery texture. Reynolds suggests mixing in some crunchy breadcrumbs (bashed up croutons). I’ve rewound the method on that one, and used whole croutons. Not only does it cut down the time still further, but it also ups the ante on crunch and texture.

Reynolds also cooks her spring onions (albeit in the microwave), whereas, in my view, one of the best characteristics of spring onions is that you don’t need to cook them. Unlike red onions which often are, but really can’t be, eaten raw, you can just snip spring onions over salads, soups, casseroles… whatever, with not just impunity but to applause. Like the capers, the spring onions bring brightness.

Then, when it comes to the mash, I’ve added in my own cheat – or rather a choice of cheats. There’s the virtuous approach and the out and out shamelessly slutty. Either way the onerous peeling task is not included.

The virtuous type topping has more flavour and is more nutritious because the skins remain – also the touch of lemon goes well with the fish. The instant mash is simply a matter of boiling the kettle.

Reynolds suggests that the peas are optional, whereas in my reduce-everything-to-the-minimum book, they are essential. With the addition of the peas you have a one-pot wonder – no need for any kind of vegetable or salad accompaniment. You’ve done your job and you can sit back with a drink.

They say once lockdowns are a thing of the past scratch cooking will be too. But with recipes this good and this simple, it really doesn’t need to be.

NB: if you use frozen prawns you will not be able to freeze this dish, and if you use the virtuous topping it won’t freeze well either.

cheats fish pie recipe
Slutty potato topping with Nathan Outlaw’s outdoors eggs
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