As I have mentioned previously one of the greatest influences in terms of the love I now have for cooking was my grandmother. She was an amazing home cook who would serve up the most wonderful meals to us. For the times in which she lived, she was also an adventurous cook, always keen to try out new recipes and she regularly included what were then considered unusual ingredients in the meals she cooked for us. You have to remember that when she was rearing her young family there wasn’t the choice of exotic ingredients that there is today. Back in the late 60s you were considered avant garde if you cooked with green peppers, which were rarely for sale in the grocery store.
Times have changed since then and I now cook with ingredients that she would have never heard of let alone eaten, but despite this, I still find myself returning to the foods she cooked for us. The meals we ate were all home cooked, used the best ingredients that she could afford to buy, were nutritious, but most of all tasted absolutely delicious. I particularly remember the fish pie that she sometimes made. Fresh cod and smoked haddock were smothered in a cheesy sauce and piled into a casserole dish. The fish mixture was topped with creamy mashed potato and everything was baked in the oven until it was golden brown. I loved how the sauce bubbled up around the edges of the mashed potato to create the most wonderful tasting crust. This was comfort food of the highest order.
Given my love for this dish and the fond place it has in my memories, I find it amazing that I don’t make fish pie more often. For me, a fish pie has to contain some smoked fish and here, smoked haddock does the job perfectly. Some people like to include salmon, cod and sometimes prawns, but I like to keep it quite simple merely using cod and the smoked haddock. By all means, make your own additions. I also like to include cheese in my fish pie; both in the sauce and sprinkled on top of the mashed potato topping before the pie is baked. I use a strong red cheddar, which I find holds up perfectly against the smokiness of the haddock.
This is a truly wonderful dish and one that has a very special place in my heart.Mashed potatoes:
1kg potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
500g cod, skinned, boned and cut into bite-sized chunks
350g-400g smoked haddock, skinned, boned and cut into bite-sized chunks
Juice of ½ lemon
65g plain flour
1tsp English mustard
450ml warmed milk
75g cheddar cheese, grated plus extra for sprinkling on top of the pie
1-2 tblsp of finely chopped chives (or parsley)
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1. Place the potatoes into a large saucepan and cover with cold water to which you have added a generous pinch of salt. Bring up to the boil over a high heat and then reduce so that the potatoes are just simmering. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are cooked and tender when pierced with the tip of a knife.
2. Remove from the heat and drain into a colander. Return the potatoes to the empty saucepan and mash or as I prefer, pass through a potato ricer back into the saucepan. Add the butter, mixing through with a fork so that it melts in the residual heat of the potatoes to create a firm mashed potato. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Cover and set aside whilst you make the sauce for the pie.
3. Place the fish chunks into a deep pie dish, add the lemon juice and place on a baking tray. Set aside for the moment.
4. Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6.
5. Heat the butter in a medium sized saucepan over a moderate heat. Stir in the flour to form a paste, making sure that you keep stirring. Add the mustard and then gradually add the warm milk, still stirring continuously. Once the sauce starts bubbling, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
6. Gradually stir in the grated cheese until it is fully combined and add the chopped chives or parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
7. Pour the sauce over the fish in the pie dish making sure that everything is well coated.
To finish:8. Pipe the prepared mashed potato over the saucy fish using a disposable piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle. Alternatively spoon onto the fish and spread out with a fork. Sprinkle over a little more grated cheddar and bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes until well browned.
9. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.