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.
Fabulous flavourful fish pie for shameless cheats
Serves – 4
- 100g/4 oz/about 15 or a cup of fat prawns. The chances are that these will come out of a big bag of frozen prawns you keep in your freezer.
- 800-960g/1 lb 12 oz – 2 lbs mixed fish fillets cut into bite-sized pieces. This can either be, as Outlaw specifies, 300g each of cod, salmon and smoked haddock; or as Reynolds suggests ready-mixed fish pie mix. If you go down Reynolds’ route, make sure the mix includes smoked haddock as this gives real depth. If you can’t find smoked haddock, you might want to up the amount of chorizo. If you are trying to emulate the pie in Horatio Clare’s fantasy dinner party (see quote at the top of this post) you can include Dublin Bay prawns and some ‘meaty hake’.
- 50g/2 oz butter
- 1 tbsp cornflour – you may need more
- 300ml/1¼ cups double cream
- 140g/1 cup frozen peas
- About 2 inches/5 cm/35g/1 oz of mild chorizo, cut into small dice
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 180 ml/¾ cup fish stock made from just boiled water and a fish stock cube
- A couple of sprigs of tarragon
- Small handful of chives
- 4 spring onions
- 1 tbsp capers (not the type in brine, but preserved in salt)
- 2 eggs (optional)
- Urfa pepper flakes, a pinch
- salt – go easy on this, TASTE before adding, as you have some concentrated fish stock, and also, no matter how thorough you have rinsed them, some probably quite salty capers. A very good salt is Daylesford’s organic celery salt
For the potato topping, both virtuous and slutty
- 60g/2 oz/½ cup grated cheddar (or whatever cheese you have to hand in your fridge)
- A handful of croutons (the virtuous will have made their own (go here to find out how)
For virtuous potato topping:
- 6 medium-sized potatoes
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- Juice and zest of half a large lemon
- Salt and pepper
For the slutty potato topping:
- 120g/1 cup instant potato
- 240g/1 cup chicken stock made with one stock cube
- 240-360/1-1½ full milk, or a mix of full milk and cream
- 50g/2 oz butter
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed with a little textured salt
- Defrost the prawns if you need to. Follow this link for various safe methods: fast and slow. The quickest is to put them in a large sieve under the cold tap, and stir.
- Rinse the capers very thoroughly – you may need to leave them under cold running water for a minute or two.
- If you are adding eggs, à la mode de Outlaw, take them out of the fridge now.
- Coat the fish lightly in a veil of cornflour, add to the dish.
- Dot the butter around on top of the fish.
- Snip over the spring onions, including a little of the green.
- Add the peas (which can still be frozen but break them up) and the chorizo. Snip over the herbs. Sprinkle over the Urfa pepper flakes, or grind over some black pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Mix together the mustard, cream and fish stock. Add the defrosted prawns.
- Pour into the dish. Taste it – if you think it needs a little salt, sprinkle some over.
- Now make the mashed potato. If you are making the virtuous type, cut the potatoes into similar sized quarters/thirds and boil in salted water for about a quarter of an hour. Drain, return to the saucepan, add the olive oil, the seasoning, and the lemon juice and zest. Crush gently – you need to break the potatoes up into smaller pieces. If you are making the slutty type, simply mix all the ingredients together. Add more milk if you want the mash easier to spread. If the only cheese you have in your fridge is grated Parmesan, then fold it in to the potato.
- Spread the mashed potato over the pie filling (don’t worry it there are a few bare areas, you can fill them in with the croutons). Bake for about 25 minutes.
- If you are adding eggs, boil them now… try to keep them softish, not hard as nuts: six minutes or so
- Take the pie out of the oven, sprinkle over the cheese, and fill in any bare holes with the croutons… if there are no bare holes, just press a few in around the place.
- Return to the oven for five minutes or so – enough time to allow the cheese to melt, and not so much time that the croutons are in danger of burning!
- Serve, topped with the halved eggs if you are pushing the boat out.