Fish pie is a homely dish that has a strong British tradition. It is filled with white sauce and cheddar cheese, and is usually baked without a pastry crust normally associated with pies. Instead, it is topped with mashed potato much like a shepherd’s pie, so it is sometimes called a fisherman’s pie and may include other ingredients such as shrimp and hard-boiled eggs.
Usually served during the 40 days of Lent when practitioners have to abstain from eating meat, a fish pie is not only delicious it also provides a substantial nutritional boost when meat is off the table.
This recipe was from my sister who made this when she came back to visit from New Zealand a few years ago. We had managed to get a good price for a whole salmon, so we were treated to a wonderfully rich and flavourful fish pie. Traditionally, fish pie uses white fish such as cod or haddock, you may also use salmon and tuna instead. I find that this recipe is versatile and can be adapted with locally sourced fish such as kurau, tenggiri and tongkol. I really like to use ikan tongkol, or skipjack tuna, because its strong flavour complements the cheese and mashed potatoes. However, it is easy to overcook tuna so do not bake for more than 15 minutes because it will continue to cook even when removed from the oven.
The fish is usually poached in a white sauce, which is basically onion béchamel sauce made with butter, onions, flour and milk. However, so that the fish head, bones and scraps are not wasted, I had made a fish stock by simmering them in milk. By adding this fish stock, the bechamel sauce effectively became fish velouté sauce.
Fresh dill naturally pairs well with fish and I like to sprinkle the herb over the mash, but you may also add them into the velouté sauce. I like to allow the oven to toast them on top of the mash while the fish pie is being baked, giving the kitchen a heady aroma of dill potatoes. You may use chives or parsley instead, which are the traditional herbs for this dish.
If you are able to get them, I also recommend that you add some fennel root when wilting the onions. It imparts an additional dimension of flavour that onions alone cannot achieve. You may also try preparing it with leeks, celery or a combination of these aromatic vegetables and that will give your dish a different flavour every time.
- 1 skipjack tuna fillet, save head and bones for fish stock
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 20g unsalted butter
- 20g all-purpose flour
- ¼ tsp salt to taste
- 250g shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- For mash topping:
- 4 russet potatoes
- 3 cups cold water
- 70g unsalted butter
- ¼ tsp salt to taste
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 5g fresh dill, finely minced
- Peel skins off potatoes and cut them into rough chunks. Boil in water for about 10 minutes until soft enough to break with a fork. Strain out the liquid, and mash with butter while it is still hot.
- Season mashed potato to taste with salt and pepper and set aside until needed.
- Remove skin, fins and bones from tuna fillet, collect together with head and bones for fish stock. Cut fish fillets into 1-centimetre thick slices, season with salt and arrange in a single layer on the bottom of a baking dish. Set aside in refrigerator until needed.
- Place head, bones, and any fish scraps into a saucepan, add milk and simmer over medium heat for no more than 30 minutes. Strain out all the bones from the fish stock in a wire mesh and set it aside until needed.
- For the fish velouté sauce, heat olive oil in a frying pan and add onions to sauté until fully wilted but not brown.
- Add garlic to sauté until wilted. Melt in butter and add flour to cook until it starts to bubble.
- Finally, add fish stock and simmer until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Take the fish out of the refrigerator and pour in the velouté sauce, spreading it out into a single layer all over the fish.
- Spread cheddar cheese into an even layer all over the sauce. Then cover the cheese layer with the mashed potato, either by spooning it in dollops and smoothing it out, or by piping through a star nozzle. Then sprinkle an even layer of minced dill on the surface of the mashed potato.
- Bake in preheated oven at 250°C for 15 minutes until the liquid in the fish starts to bubble and the peaks of the mash start to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving with wedges of fresh lemon.