Esquire Eats

Fish Pie

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Another reworked classic from Esquire Food Editor Tom Parker Bowles's new book Let's Eat

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There’s no place for salmon in a proper fish pie. I’m sorry, but it’s just not right. It’s somehow too greasy, too lurid and too, well, salmony, to feel anything but ill at ease.

It’s not that I hate salmon. The wild stuff is a rare treat, rich and magnificent. And there are a couple of decent salmon farmers (Loch Duart, for one) that allow these once-great beasts space to swim and build up their muscles and fins.

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But the vast majority of farmed stuff is pap, pure and simple. Ruinous to the environment, and equally dull on the palate.

Smoked haddock, on the other hand, is the backbone of this pie. Undyed, of course, alongside some good unsmoked fish, for contrast and balance.

A few prawns add life, and queen scallops are a fine addition, too. Even a pot or two of potted shrimps. A good béchamel is essential, and a whisper of booze. But eggs are just gilding the lily. This pie is all about the fish.

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Shopping list (serves 6):

For the béchamel sauce:
50g butter
50g plain flour
2tbsps double cream
White pepper

For the mash:
1.3kg Maris Piper potatoes, scrubbed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6tbsps full-fat milk
50g butter, plus 25g to dot on top

For the pie: 
600ml full-fat milk
½ small onion, thinly sliced
6 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 fresh parsley stalks
1 blade of mace
300g undyed smoked haddock
115g cod fillets
150ml dry white wine
Tabasco
175g small cooked prawns, shelled
1 small pot (about 55g) potted shrimps
24 uncooked queen scallops, about 200g (optional)
A big pinch of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

The Guide:

1 To make the mash, put the potatoes in a big pan of salted water, bring to the boil, then simmer for 20–25 mins, until a knife goes through with ease.

2 Tip into a colander, let them cool down a little, then peel. Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan until the butter melts, then mash the potatoes with the milk. Season.

3 Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.

4 Put the milk, onion, peppercorns, bay leaf, parsley stalks and mace in a large shallow pan, heat to a simmer and then poach the smoked haddock and cod for 5–6 mins, until the fish just flakes when pressed with a knife.

5 Lift out the fish, remove the skin and any stray bones and set aside.

6 Strain the milk through a sieve into a measuring jug; discard the flavourings. If necessary, add a little extra milk to make up to 600ml; set aside.

7 To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat, stir in the flour using a wooden spoon, and cook for 2–3 mins; do not let it brown. Remove from the heat and slowly stir in the reserved milk until smooth. Add the cream and cook for 2–3 mins, adding salt and white pepper to taste.

8 Add the wine to the béchamel and cook gently, stirring, for a further 2–3 mins.

9 Add a big dash of Tabasco. Add the fish, shellfish and chopped parsley and put into a pie dish.

10 Cover the fish mixture with the mash; using a fork, fluff up the top into small waves and dot with a little extra butter. Put in the oven to bake for 20–30 mins, until the top is golden.

Let’s Eat: Recipes from my Kitchen Notebook by Tom Parker Bowles is out now

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