Fish pie has annoyed me over the years, and I’ve tried my fair share of recipes and eaten a few at restaurants too which were equally disappointing. Be it runny white sauce, over-cooked fish, mash potato topping merging into the sauce and fish imperceptibly with no appreciable change in texture to speak of, I’ve found they all fell short of the mark.
As a person who doesn’t think mashed potatoes are the be all and end all of comfort food, the biggest let down was the samey texture fish pie can have. To me, dinner eaten out of a bowl when curled up on the couch with the lights dimmed low and my favourite TV on in the background is my definition of comfort food, not a bowl of slop!
If the food is delicately flavoured, for me, that’s when it has to deliver another element such as crunch, chew or crispness to make it truly satisfying.
Which is how my Fish Pie with a Twist came to life. Having successfully made some halloumi and potato waffles recently, I was reminded of a beef casserole I used to make years ago with crispy onions and shredded sweet potato on top that came out as this gloriously rich and soft beef stew with an almost hash brown topping once baked.
Once cooked, the crispness of the baked halloumi and thin strands of potato with a little onion to add a bit of savoury bite against the soft and tender fish in a thick and rich white sauce, made a rich primrose yellow by the addition of a little saffron. I add a few breadcrumbs to ensure any extra moisture from the fish and frozen peas don’t thin the filling down.
The saffron lends a unique flavour which to me is a pungent flavour but being so precious a spice, is used in quantities which lend a gentle fragrance instead. It works well in fish stews and paella so why shouldn’t it work in a fish pie? The halloumi adds a layer of seasoning being quite salty naturally and it crisps beautifully adding a most satisfying crispness to the pie topping.
To make this a complete meal, I like to add some frozen peas into the filling (garden for choice – I do not like petit pois personally). Of course if you prefer, you could serve some doused with a generous knob of butter or (and I can’t believe I am going to admit this) a can of Mushy Peas if you are as much of a Northerner as I am! The crispness of the has brown-esque, French reminiscent even topping against the thick luscious sauce and delicate chunks of fish is everything I want in a bowl of comfort food. I hope you like it too x
- 2 large baking potatoes
- 1 small onion
- 125 g halloumi
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- 30 g plain flour
- 30 g butter
- 1/4 tsp ground mace
- 450 ml milk
- Fat pinch of saffron
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley
- 2-4 tbsp breadcrumbs
- 150 g frozen peas 1 cup
- 750 g fresh skinless and boneless fish*
Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Grease a large oven proof dish.
Coarsely grate the halloumi into a large bowl pop to one side. Add the parsley.
Grate the onion and potatoes into a clean teatowel and squeeze out well over the sink. Leave to stand for 5-10 mins as you prep the rest of the pie and then squeeze again to get as much water out as possible.
Add the saffron to the milk and set aside. Dry the fish very well with kitchen roll and if necessary, cut into 1.5 inch cubes.
Make the sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan and adding the flour, whisking constantly until fully incorporated. Add the mace then dribble in the saffron milk a little bit at a time, whisking over a medium heat to prevent lumps.
Once all the milk is used up, turn up the heat a smidge and cook until thickened.
Allow to cool down for 5 minutes** before pouring into the prepared dish and add the fish, peas and parsley - stir to mix and add a few breadcrumbs if it appears runny. You may well not need the full amount.
Now mix the topping ingredients together well after one last squeeze out and sprinkle over the filling and bake for 40 minutes until golden brown and crisp on top and the fish cooked through to perfection.
* = use whichever you like - smoked haddock is quite strong so I don't often use it but I sometimes use those "fish pie mixes" you can get with little pieces of salmon, cod, unsmoked haddock etc.
** = If you want to freeze half of the pie for another day, allow the sauce to cool completely before mixing with the fish etc. Add the topping and freeze in the dish raw, defrosting in the fridge over night before cooking. A half portion will take a little less time so start checking at 30 minutes.
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