This month has been one for comfort foods, certainly not one for diets, not that I’ve ever gone beyond thinking that it might be a good idea to cut out x or y (usually x = crisps & y = cheese) and planning how I should successfully do so, usually to fall at the first hurdle, whichever shop crosses my path that sells the finest of either. I am not unhappy about that, I’ve never approached diets or the thought of them too seriously, moderation is best in all things (with the occasional lapse of course). Life is for living, might aswell just get on with it and make the most of it, eh? Especially when food gives such pleasure.
Once in school, we made a dish called fish crisp, a baked mackerel dish topped with irish tayto crisps (I kid you not). I was 13 or so, and hated fish at the time. When my mother would grill fish I would leave the house in protest and not return until I had deemed the smell gone. I virtually fainted when I had to skin the mackerel and had to be taken outside for some air but was brought back inside to complete it, much to my horror. I adored crisps but hated fish, how was I to eat the crisps without having even a scent of mackerel from them? It wasn’t to be, there was no way of rescuing them, and save the few crumbs from the bottom of the bag, I had to abandon them. I have no memory of what happened to that fish crisp after, but I do remember the build up in excruciating detail.
I’ve been thinking of that dish lately, along with quite a few others that we made in school, including one white pudding tart that I loved and would love to make again if only I had the recipe. It was one of our teacher’s own so wasn’t in the book but I do recall some carrot, white pudding and some shortcrust, but, that’s about it. I have a few ideas for potential white pudding tarts that could work, but that’s a project for the weekend.
For tonight, I had settled on fish pie – something of the calibre of that comforting and tasty tart. It had been a while since I had eaten fish so I made up for it with 3 types – salmon, prawns and smoked haddock in a smokey and fragrant bechamel with some velvety mash on top. I poached the fish first in some milk, with some peppercorns, coarsely chopped carrots, celery and onion, adding the prawns about half way through as they cook quicker. I then used the poaching milk for the sauce and it was lovely, it had some of the flavour of the veg and the peppercorns and the smokiness of the smoked haddock – very delicate and light. It would be perfect served with greens or peas, I had neither and was too lazy to leave my flat! I split the mixture into two pie dishes about 6 * 3 inches, but really there was so much fish I could have made three. You can also make one big one, of course. Serves 4.
Here’s the recipe in more detail.
1kg potatoes that are good for mashing e.g. maris piper
200g prawns, raw if possible
150g undyed smoked haddock
1 carrot, chopped roughly
1 stick celery, chopped roughly
1 onion, chopped roughly
A handful of chopped parsley
Some extra butter & milk for the mash
Bread, to serve
Preheat the overn to 200 degrees celsius.
Put the salmon and smoked haddock in a large shallow pan and add the milk. Bring to the boil slowly and gently, adding the prawns when you’re about halfway there. Just as the milk comes to the boil, turn off the heat and leave for a few minutes until the fish is cooked through. Strain the milk through a sieve into a pan and keep on a low heat until you’re ready to make your sauce. Remove the vegetables and peppercorns from the fish mixture and throw away.
While the fish is poaching , prepare your mash. Boil the potatoes (peel before or after – whichever you prefer) until you can stick a fork through them. Mash the peeled boiled potatoes with a little milk and butter, season with s&p.
Make a roux by melting the butter and adding the flour. Stir with a whisk or wooden spoon for a few minutes, ensuring that the flour is cooked through. Add the milk a little at a time, stirring continuously to avoid lumps, when about half way through you can add the remaining half. Stir for a few more minutes and season to taste. Add your parsley.
Flake the fish into your pie dish (add the prawns whole). Pour the sauce to cover and top up the rest of the way with mash, smoothing the top with your fork if you wish. Bake for about 25 minutes.
Serve with lots of bread or toast to soak up the sauce.