Olympic Fish Pie

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It seems universally agreed (even by reluctant Sydney-based media) that London has bested us all, taking gold for the most outstanding Games in living memory.

What better way to celebrate their success than with a truly British dish: Fish Pie.  

As a Yank, this is unfamiliar territory, so I decided to ask some British authorities, 

What makes an excellent fish pie?  

Nigella:  When I'm feeling the need for some comfort, there's nothing I love more than to wrap myself in the warm caress of a fish pie.  First, I strip the glistening, firm fillets of their skin - naked is better, don't you think?  Then I gently poach the fillets, taking care not to rush things along in a heated lather, as I tend to do.  When the fish is just right - tender and briny and yielding to the touch - I get on with the roux: take a great, big knob of butter - the bigger the better - and let it melt with an equal measure of flour over a long, slow heat until it's bubbling and crying out... for the stock.  Add a mound of grated cheese - lots and lots of cheese - for a gooey, unctuous sauce, and another knob of butter for a silky texture that oozes pleasure with every mouthful.  Spread your mash over the top - I like to use my hands - and top with more cheese.  Too much is never enough.

Jamie:  Right, fish pie.  We're gonna do a really clever, deconstructed fish pie.  No poaching, no fussing about with a white sauce.  Just fish and veg and mash.  We've got this lovely 1kg bag of frozen fish off-cuts from the grocery - no need to defrost it, just whack it in the casserole dish, and as it cooks the ice will break down to form a light, delicate stock.  Beau'iful.  Now, take your veg - your potato, your carrot, your celery, your courgette - whatever you have on hand - and we're going to grate the veg right into the dish, just making a lovely stack of shredded bits like this and scatter it over the fish.  Add some herbs - that's right, just throw the stems in, no need to pick the leaves but you can give it a chop if you want.  Then we're going to pour on some of this lovely cream, and, for the topping, we're simply going to slice some potato - no need to peel or boil - and we're gonna layer it right over the top.  Then, at the end, when it's all lovely and golden and bubbly, we're going to mash the potato with a fork, right on the pie. Too easy.   We'll serve it to every school child in Britain - just watch the weight drop off.

Gordon: I'll tell you how to make a f***ing beautiful, posh fish pie.  We're going to start with loads of  fresh, white fillets from your local fishmonger - this will be the backbone of your dish.  Check the eyes - they should be clear and bright; if they're cloudy, you know they've been in the f***ing freezer and it's rubbish.  Add some prawns, some butter, some cream, some shallots, top it with mash - keep it fresh, keep it simple.  Poach the fillets and prawns in some stock and vermouth, make a roux, cook some mash with butter, milk and egg yolk, and cook the lot until it's golden on the top and bubbling beneath.  Serve it with some petit pois tossed with butter, and seasoned with salt and pepper.  Simple.  Brilliant.  F***ing delicious.  

He wasn't able to take my call, but directed me to this recipe, compliments of Gourmet Traveller.  

We gave it a whirl.

Hix's version calls for a mix of white fish, salmon, and prawns, and involves both poaching and making a sauce (sorry, Jamie).  

Normally, I like flavors to hit me over the head, but Hix's sauce is subtle and complex, flavored with Dijon mustard, the help of a single anchovy and generous quantities of dill, chervil and parsley.  

The pie is topped off with a spread of mash and a moderate sprinkling of bread crumbs and parmesan.  

A word of caution: keep your mash relatively rustic and dry.  

On my test run, I tried to match the delicacy of the sauce with an equally delicate mash, and went for extra-smooth and creamy, using a potato ricer and lots of milk.  Big mistake.

I wound up with fish mash, as the potato melded with the sauce, when what I wanted was a lid - potato above, fish and sauce below. 

On the second lap, I got the balance right.

The result, now known in our house as Olympic Fish Pie, was a winner.  

We won't be waiting another four years to enjoy it again.  

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