There are many things I miss about living in England — among them my friends, the ancient footpaths, golf and the food. Yes, the food!! No, I haven’t gone crazy. English food, well prepared and using farm-fresh ingredients, is fabulous. While not what I expected when moving to England, it was a pleasant surprise.
England is well-versed in the locovore/artisan food movements. This is not because they joined the vanguard early in the movement; it is because they never LEFT the locovore/artisan practice — at least not if you lived in the English countryside. People have been producing/eating local as well as making food to artisan standards for ages.
We lived on a working farm in the English countryside. That meant if you wanted eggs, you walked down the skinny-excuse-for-a-road, put your 1 pound sterling in the cardboard box at your neighbor’s farm’s gate and walked home with 1/2 dozen eggs — probably laid that morning. If you wanted lamb, you drove down the other skinny-excuse-for-a-road and purchased your lamb from a farm that raised the lamb. If you wanted fish, you drove to the trailor parked on the local farm (since they couldn’t grow fish on the land) and took your pick of the day’s catch. What a life!
This all leads me to one of our staple dishes in England — Fish Pie.
The fish monger always had a “fish pie” selection of leftover fish pieces (yes, it was labeled “fish pie” even though it didn’t look remotely like a pie). After a selection of “fish pie” and a bit of smoked haddock, home I went to make my easy-peasy fish pie.
There are two ways to approach fish pie – cooking the fish in stock or in milk. I liked the milk approach as it saved me a step (making fish stock) and was just as tasty when all was said and done.
You simply place the fish, cut into pieces, in milk and bake until the fish is cooked through. After straining the fish, the milk is reserved for the white sauce. With the addition of vegetables and the fish to the finished white sauce, add a topping of mashed potatoes and you have your pie (no crust needed). No wonder this is such a popular home dish as well as “pub food” in the UK – easy to make and delicious.
Sound simple? It is, with one exception. Try finding smoked haddock in the U.S. — not an easy task. I almost gave up asking for it as most vendors looked at me like I was nuts. “What would you do with that?”, they’d say. I did finally find a local market that makes their own smoked fish – not haddock, but white fish, yet it was just as tasty in the fish pie. So, if you can’t find smoked haddock, try another kind of smoked fish.
Fish Pie Recipe
Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
Serving Size: 4
Yield: 1 pie
2 pounds potatoes, maris piper, or russets
4 ounces butter
4 ounces milk
to taste salt
to taste pepper
12 ounces cod, or hake, halibut, etc
8 ounces salmon
4 ounces smoked haddock, or other smoked fish
to taste salt
to taste pepper
1 1/2 cups milk, whole
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium carrots, peeled
1 large leeks
1 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons flour, APF
1/2 cup peas
4 sprig parsley, fresh, for garnish
1. Peel and boil potatoes in salted water. Drain, add first quantity of butter and mash with a ricer. Add milk and mash further. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Remove bones and skins from the fish. Cut the fish into 1-inch chunks ( a bit smaller for the smoked fish) and place in a large, deep ceramic pie dish or small oven-proof baking dish. Salt and pepper the fish lightly and add the second quantity of milk to the dish.
3. Bake fish for about 30-35 minutes or until milk is bubbling gently and fish is cooked through. Remove from oven, stain and RESERVE milk. Gently, return fish to pan and set aside.
4. Peel carrots and slice lengthwise in quarters. Slice carrots into 1/4 inch pieces.
Discard tough portion of leek. Slice remainder in half lengthwise and wash. Slice leek crosswise into 1/4 inch pieces and reserve.
5. Melt second quantity of butter in sauté pan. Add carrots and saute for a few minutes. Add leeks and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots are just beginning to get tender. Add minced garlic and stir until garlic is cooked.
Add flour and stir until flour begins to cook slightly. Return 1/2 of reserved milk to sauté pan and stir until sauce thickens. Add remaining milk and stir until slightly thickened. Add a pinch of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. (Keep in mind that the smoked fish is salty, which has leached into the milk, so you may not to add much salt.)
6. Add peas to the white sauce with vegetables. These add nice color to the finished pie.
The white sauce should be sufficiently thickened to support the potato layer, but not pasty-thick. If necessary, you can add a bit more milk at this point.
7. Pour white sauce with vegetables into the baking dish with the fish.
Top with the mashed potatoes. Warm the potatoes first in the microwave if necessary as they will be easier to spread on the pie if warm. Spread potatoes evenly across the entire pie. Using a large serving fork, run the tines in curves back and forth across the potato surface. This will create a lovely golden brown pattern when the pie is finished.
8. Bake pie in 375 F oven until heated through and the potatoes have started to brown on the surface – about 35-40 minutes.
9. Using a spatula, cut and serve pie into shallow bowls. Garnish with a bit of parsley. Serve with a side salad for a complete dinner.
The United Kingdom, not surprisingly, grows fabulous potatoes and in a seemingly endless variety. Maris Pipers are among the best for any type of mashed or pureed potatoes. If you live in the U.S., you will need to substitute russets.
Smoked haddock is also difficult to find in some locations. If not, another good smoked white fish is an adequate substitute. You may add larger quantities of smoked fish, but I find it is easy to overwhelm the delicate flavors of the other fish.
Finally, this recipe is a great use for leftover mashed potatoes.