Cookbook Roulette #3 – Proper Fish Pie

We spent the end of March in Scotland, enjoying our honeymoon, and when we weren’t tumbling around old castles and historical sites, we did a decent bit of shopping. I think we were both hoping to find some unique souvenirs to bring home. Unfortunately, either the objects in question weren’t particularly reminiscent of Scotland, or they were so quintessentially touristy as to be kitschy. I had loads of fun choosing a wide variety of postcards to mail off as our thank you notes, but those were the only items I felt inspired to buy until we wandered into a used book store in Stirling. I rifled through every shelf of books there, feeling as though there must be something uniquely Scottish in the town that is famous for being the choke point between the highlands and the lowlands. And then I came across their cookbook section.

The Cookbook:

Which explains how I happen to own the book of the week, Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food. It seems fitting that my honeymoon souvenir should be a book allowing me to recreate some of the food types that we dined upon in the highlands. This book is also the newest addition to my collection, which made it harder to choose between several of the most intriguing recipes. Ultimately, I selected his version of fish pie. Of all the foods we sampled throughout our meanderings, I think smoked fish was the most fondly remembered by Shane. It features prominently in this dish, along with prawns and fresh salmon.

The Recipe:

Lattice-topped fish pie

100g softened butter
1 leek, thinly sliced
400ml chicken stock
200ml whole milk
40g flour
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 TBSP chopped parsley
1 TBSP chopped tarragon
300g salmon, medium dice
225g smoked salmon, medium dice
200g raw shrimp, peeled
500g pie crust
salt and pepper to taste

sauteed leeks
This is the part where I was first told that the house smelled good.

If you don’t have a piecrust already made, start with mixing up your pastry and popping it in the fridge to rest. Then, put your sliced leeks in a saucepan with half of the butter and cook them over low heat until they are soft and aromatic. Meanwhile, use a dab of your remaining butter to grease a 1.5 litre pie dish (I don’t have a proper pie dish this size, so I used my two quart Le Cruset pot, which worked quite nicely). Once the leeks are cooked, tip them out into the buttered dish. Scatter your salmon, smoked salmon, and prawns evenly over the leeks and set the dish aside for now. Next, start warming your milk, stock, nutmeg, and lemon zest. You’ll want to bring this mixture to a low simmer. In another, broad-bottomed pan, melt your remaining butter with the flour and cook on low heat until it comes together into a paste (also known as a roux in kitchen vernacular). Let it cook for a few more minutes and then start slowing whisking in your milk/stock mixture. As with many combinations, you’ll want to start off very slowly, but you can increase the volume of your additions as you get closer to having a sauce instead of a paste. Add salt and pepper to taste, and then set the sauce aside to cool.

I found this to be a good time to roll and cut my pastry. The recipe gives instructions for adding a lattice top directly onto the pie, which I did, but I also cut out several rectangles of pastry to cook separately. I was much better pleased with the pastry that cooked on its own, as it took on better color and retained crunch and flakiness. The lattice top ended up rather soggy, which isn’t my preference, but if you’re alright with that, go ahead with the one-dish cooking method.

Once your sauce is cool, stir in your chopped herbs and pour the whole shebang over the fish and leeks. If you’re using a lattice top, weave it on now, and then chill the pie until the pastry is nice and cold again.

Bake the pie in a 400 degree oven for about half an hour, until the fish is cooked through, sauce is bubbling, and pastry is golden. Enjoy it piping hot.

fish pie - baked
baked and bubbly

Since this is a proper English recipe, I pulled out my kitchen scale, which saved me the effort of converting from grams into American style measurements, though I did ask Google what preheating to ‘Gas Mark 6’ would look like on my oven. Weighing everything out is actually often easier than juggling measuring cups, since I can just zero out the scale before adding the next ingredient onto the pile. All of the techniques were things I’ve messed with before, which made this simple to throw together (I even managed to squeeze in a few minutes of cleaning, between tasks).

My salmon fillet came skin-on, which let me pull out my shiny skinning knife and engage in one of my favorite activities. There’s something very satisfying about cleanly separating the skin from a side of fish. Then, I trimmed up the scrappier edges and used those bits for the pie. I could see this recipe being very useful for dealing with fish scraps in a restaurant, where large pieces are constantly being broken down into more uniform portion sizes. I went the other way, cutting two portions of salmon to freeze after weighing off my 300g, but I might be tucking away small bits of un-grillable fish in the future to save up for more fish pies.

The Verdict:

fish pie on plate
Ready to eat.

This meal was a solid winner. The lemon and nutmeg were tempered by the cream sauce and set the fish off nicely. As I mentioned above, I was disappointed by the crust that cooked on the pie, but since I had back-up pastry ready, it didn’t have long term effects. I completed the meal by serving a simple garden salad while the pie was toasting up. I’m tempted to say this is the first of the roulette recipes that I would make again exactly as before.