Homemade fish pie – you can’t beat it! With a mix of good fish and prawn, rich and creamy Mornay sauce and a twist on top: sliced potato topping instead of mash.
Everyone loves a pie
Pies, in the British application of the word (because you can’t really take American pies seriously), are the best food in the world. Comforting, rich, they go well with a pint and they are what we most often refer to as ‘just like Mum made’ type of food.
I personally favour the potato-topped ones over pastry, especially those fake ones that feature just the pastry lid. Cottage pie, shepherd’s pie (one is beef and the other lamb but I never know which is which), Lancashire hotpot, and of course fish pie.
The traditional version is topped with a layer of mashed potatoes. But my interpretation, with cooked sliced potatoes, works rather well, baking to a crispy golden layer as if it was a pie finished with roasties. Also, you can justify putting more cheese on top than you would over mash. Not sure why, but it does work like that.
What fish for a pie?
Most people, I imagine, will go for the ready-mixed bags sold at fishmongers or supermarkets. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
But if you set out to make it really delicious, use the best fish you can, not just sad offcuts from Tesco or the bottom of the freezer. After all you can buy a selection of fish, divvy it up and make your own mixes to be frozen for future pies.
The combination is anyone’s flight of fancy but I like the classic selection: haddock fresh, haddock smoked, salmon and prawns.
I imagine a super-decadent version might involve turbot or even Dover sole but it seems rather extravagant to bury prime cuts in sauce under a mound of spuds.
Smoked haddock will benefit from briefly soaking in milk, to neutralise the rather pungent aroma it has. Fresh fish, when really fresh, doesn’t smell. So called ‘fishy smell’ means your dinner material is off.
But there’s absolutely no need to precook the fish for a pie and I can’t quite understand why recipes advise that. The smoked haddock in the finished pie might be a bit on the firm side but better that than stringy mush.
How to prepare fish filling
So for the fish, you just need to skin it and cut it into bite-sized pieces, including the soaked and patted dry smoked haddock.
The sauce is the only element that requires a little time and attention.
How to make Mornay for fish pie
It is Mornay sauce, a type of bechamel with added cheese. It starts with a classic roux: adding flour to melted butter and cooking it together until foamy and golden.
To that milk and fish stock is gradually added – the milk that haddock soaked in, for the flavour – cooking and stirring frequently. When it thickens, add seasoning, white pepper and nutmeg, then double cream and grated cheese. When it cooks down for further few minutes and is perfectly smooth and thick, it’s ready.
Assembling fish pie
A buttered pie or gratin dish, all the fish chunks and some frozen peas scattered amongst it, for a vibrant colour, and most of the sauce – that’s the base.
The previously boiled, feasibly day-old potatoes can now be sliced and arranged in an overlapping layer over the fish, seasoned with salt and pepper and spread with the remaining sauce. If you want extra cheese to bubble on top – and why not? – scatter it over the potatoes.
The pie will bake for about half an hour to forty minutes, and will emerge so piping hot it will need a brief rest before serving: with a green salad or green vegetables.
More creamy fish recipes
Sea bass fillets baked in a creamy spinach sauce, delicious and ready in 15 minutes. This method keeps the fish succulent and flaky even if you use defrosted fillets.
Salmon and potato bake with creamy topping on the salmon and a pinch of crisp Parmesan on the potatoes – it’s a healthy and easy fish tray bake. As suited for a weeknight as for a special occasion.
Lemon sole fillets cooked in creamy Parmesan sauce are an easy and elegant dish. Serve them with simple greens and new potatoes for an exquisite but quick supper.
More pie recipes
Chicken and mushroom pie with homemade Cheddar crust. Shortcrust pastry made from scratch, creamy chicken and wild mushroom filling, it’s not a very quick recipe but super tasty.
Ottolenghi inspired fondue filo pie, with butternut squash swapped for mushrooms. It’s a combo of Savoyarde raclette experience and a Greek or Middle Eastern filo pastry, and it’s excellent.
Pork and mushroom pie served hot or warm, with gravy and chunky tender pork. Not the traditional raised pork pie, this is more like steak or chicken pie with chunks of pork cooked in gravy.