Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Like Captain Birdseye, just

The key when it comes to maximum fish pie enjoyment – and this applies to a weekend fry-up as well – is have someone else make it for you.
On Sunday past our eldest, seeing my lugubre countenance when it was decided that fish pie was the order of the day, suggested that she would make it, if only I could tell her what to do. God love her anyway.
Now, I could have taken her on iff-ing Sunday lunch was going to be beans on toast or pasta or something handy, but there is no getting away from it:  Fish pie is a bit of a mission and a bit fiddly to boot.
On recent Sundays we’ve tried to veer away from the habitual roast chicken, which has alternatively found a niche for itself of a weeknight, and we’ve tried to incorporate different dishes so as to broaden the little human’s gastronomic appreciation. In other words, I don’t want any picky eaters about the place.
So far though, this culinary expansion has been an unqualified success and even the pork loin with cider gravy last month was much appreciated in little human circles.
However, I was concerned that the fish pie wouldn’t be quite so well received. After all, it can be very rich and if you make the binding bechamel with the milk in  which the fish has been poached, it can be intensely flavoursome – two characteristics I generally attempt to achieve.
However last weekend, I also tried a fish pie approach which I hadn’t previously considered: A bag of frozen fish pie mix.
My thinking was: If I don’t make the fish pie on Sunday and the meal is postponed until another weekend, the frozen fish won’t suffer from the pause. In hindsight, while the frozen fish wasn’t quite as good as the freshest examples you might buy, it came a close second.
A quick read on the back of the bag suggested I poach the fish from frozen for 12 minutes. New territory for me, however I ruled this out right away because I’ve never poached fish for 12 minutes before and I’m not starting now just because it’s frozen.
I remembered, you see, that Heston Blumenthal puts raw fish into his fish pie and the cooking is achieved vis the hot  bechamel and then the dish being retired to the oven without hesitation. I also remembered that when eating Heston’s fish pie, diners are offered an MPS player with headphones so that they can listen to the sounds of the sea – waves, seagulls, boats etc – as they eat. Things go down differently at our house, I can tell you. The soundtrack is usually the sound of me tripping over the dog and cursing or  pop music or The Greatest Ruddy Showman Soundtrack which we’ve listened to more often than Hugh Jackman.
So instead of poaching the frozen fish for 12 minutes – a plan I was certain would turn things soup-y – I put the fish in a saucepan, covered it  in milk, brought things to a simmer, stuck a lid on, turned the heat off and let the saucepan sit for five minutes. And it worked a treat. But we’ll get to that in good time.
Anyway, if you’ve a middle-sized human or even a big human to whom you can pass on this recipe, then I heartily recommend you do. Either that, or have them make you a fry-up.
1kg of floury potatoes with which to make the mash
400/500g of frozen fish pie ingredients (in this case it was cod, smoked haddock and salmon)
about a litre of milk or however much it takes to cover the fish in the saucepan
3 tbsps of butter
2 tbsps of plain flour
1 leek, washed really well and finely chopped
300g of tenderstem broccoli
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
grated cheddar
sniped chives (optional)
Start by steaming or boiling your spuds until tender and then mashing with one of those tablespoons of butter, a glug of milk and plenty of seasoning.
As the spuds are going though, get the fish on the go. Place the frozen fish chunks into a saucepan and  cover with the milk. Bring to a simmer, stick a lid on and turn the heat off. Leave for at least five minutes and then remove the fish to a casserole dish with a slotted spoon. Keep the milk for the bechamel.
Par-boil the tenderstem for four minutes or until just starting to wilt and then drain and chop into pieces, as in the picture included. Spread out the eggs into your dish as well  and now make the bechamel.
Add two tablespoons of butter to another saucepan and melt slowly. If you lived in Ramelton you could say you were, “Meltin’ in Ramelton.’ But I don’t, so I can’t.  Then add the chopped leek and sweat for a while, stirring occasionally until soft – about ten mins. Add the flour and stir this mixture about on a low to medium heat  for about four minutes, until the flour is cooked off.
Start adding your fishy milk a few glugs at a time, beating the mixture relentlessly with a wooden spoon until smooth. Keep adding the milk until you have the consistency of paint. Don’t worry if it looks a little lumpy, the lumps are most likely the chopped leeks. So long as you take your time beat the bechamel vigorously as you add the milk, all will be well. Also, you probably won’t need all the milk. Give the remainder to the cat, if you have one. But I don’t, so I didn’t.
When you’ve got the consistency you are after, check to make sure it doesn’t taste of flour. If it does, simmer and stir for another five minutes or so and taste again. Season and it’s ready to go.
Pour this highly flavoursome sauce over the fish and tenderstem and eggs in the casserole dish or tin and top with the mashed potatoes. Rough the mash around a little with a fork, ‘cause that’s how we roll and then top with lots of grated cheddar and if you have some, chopped chives. I didn’t have any, so I didn’t.
You can stick this in the oven now or it’ll keep until you’re ready to eat. Personally, I needed a cup of tea and a sit-down after that mission, so there was a bit of a hiatus.
When you’re looking to eat, give the pie 15 minutes in the oven at 190C or until bubbling around the edges and just beginning to crisp on top.
Like Captain Birdseye, just.

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