When we first discussed the theme for our new foodblogging event, the idea was to select dishes
every month that exist all over the world in some incarnation or another, firstly to make it accessible to everyone (what good is an event on edible bush food to the majority of foodbloggers out there?) and encourage participation from a wide audience, thus gathering a vast array of local variations on a theme which would make every edition exciting, exotic and enticing. Then we brainstormed themes that would take us through the year of 2007 and it is only now that I realise that I am stuck on the second round already.
The theme is "pie" and I've wrecked my brains for the last few weeks to find an Austrian variation on the pie theme - but we simply don't do pies. Not savoury, not sweet. In her announcement, Jeanne even goes so far as to allow empanadas or calzone pizzas... anything basically where the filling is covered by pastry or crust of some sort and thus made invisible - but did that mean that strudels or dumplings would be allowed to?
I didn't want to risk it and decided to make an old-fashioned pie... forget about my culinary heritage and lets explore what my country of residence has to offer!
I had my first fish pie when I travelled to Edinburgh to spend a weekend with my foodblogging friend, the lovely Pille. Together, we had a most delectable meal at The Witchery by the Castle and they do a mean fish pie there! As happens too often (a bad character trait I have picked up over years of eating out in fancy-schmancy restaurants and probably share with many foodbloggers out there) I wanted to try one in the comfort of my own home and started researching recipes. The first one I tried was out of Gordon Ramsay's "Sunday Lunch", very tasty indeed, but I found the filling to be more like a stew - tasty morsels of fish and prawns sitting in their own juice, almost like a fish soup topped with a crust of potato mash. This couldn't have been a mistake in the recipe, it's just how Gordon likes his pie to be. Perfectionist that he is, I have never found a recipe of him not to work, so it would seem that we're simply not on a wavelength when it comes to the perfect fish pie. I need a bit more stodge.
The search was on. There had to be another way? The best fish you could possibly get, enrobed by a thick and creamy sauce of some kind... oh yes, that was what I wanted! I compared dozens of recipes, online and off, by celebrity chefs, foodbloggers and the local parish cookbook (yeah, you guessed right, I made that last one up) until I finally came across what turned out to be it. Apart from the usual twists, like using salmon instead of cod and chives instead of dill, I also decided not to cook the salmon and prawns before they went in the dish - I figured that over 30 minutes in the oven would be plenty of time for them to cook and there's nothing worse than chewy fish or seafood!
So here you have it: the ultimate, bestest ever recipe for fish pie. The most indulgent, creamy affair you could imagine. The most perfect marriage of flavours and textures. No kidding. I have witnesses. Jeanne (yes, I uncovered the secrets of my perfect pie to the hostess of this event, that's how confident I am) came round for lunch the other day and we happily enjoyed what were supposed to be eight portions between the four of us... there can't be a better compliment, right?
Luxurious fish pie
650 g smoked haddock
750 ml milk
1.3 kg Vivaldi potatoes (any with a smooth & floury texture will do)
500 g salmon fillet (skinned)
600 g fresh prawns (peeled)
180 g butter
120 g flour
50 g Dijon or German mustard
15 g chives (finely chopped), plus more to decorate
Place the haddock in a pan and cover with 600 ml milk. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Remove haddock, reserving milk for later.
Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cut into small dice. Cook in plenty of salt water until very soft, drain and keep warm.
Flake the cooked haddock, discarding the skin. Cut the salmon into bite-sized pieces.
Prepare a bechamel sauce: melt 80 g butter in a non-stick pot, add the flour and stir until smooth. Over a very low heat, gradually add the milk, whisking until thick and smooth each time. Never stop whisking, or you'll end up with a lumpy sauce. Cook slowly until you have a very thick and smooth sauce, about the consistency of mayonnaise. Stir in the mustard and season with salt & pepper. Fold in the chives. Add the fish and prawns to the bechamel.
Preheat oven to 200 C (fan). Butter a large, oven-proof dish of roughly 40 x 20 cm.
Add the remaining butter to the potatoes, leave to melt, then mash finely. Stir in the remaining milk and work to a smooth purée. Season with nutmeg and salt as required.
Pour the fish/bechamel mix into the dish, then top with the purée. Smooth over evenly, taking care to keep the layers separate.
Transfer the pan to the pre-heated oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until bubbly and browning on top.
Serve with a salad or vegetables on the side.