23 May 2006
There is any number of recipes out there for fish pie, and I've never felt much inclined to join in, largely because my fish pie is not at all sophisticated. I'm not (you should have gathered by now) scared of elaboration in the kitchen, but to me this is comfort food, and I don't want it elaborate. Fond as I am of shellfish, I don't want prawns or clams or - for crying out loud! - lobster in it. I certainly don't want salmon. I don't particularly want varieties of flavour or texture, that's not what it's about. I want a crispy top, smooth mash underneath, and creamy fishiness at the bottom, and that's all. Sometimes I put mushrooms in with the fish, but even that feels unnecessary, indulgent, inappropriate.
So why am I writing about it now? Only because I made fish pie last night and did the mash half-and-half with potato and celeriac, and it's really nice.
Not fussing with quantities, but peel potato and celeriac, cut into chunks and boil till tender. Mash together, any method you prefer (me, I use a ricer, because I don't want lumps), then mix in butter, salt & pepper.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a pan and add flour - plus mustard flour if liked - to make a roux [NB - you can do this with mean quantities of butter and supermarket flour, but your sauce will be coarse; lots of butter and a fine-grade flour - I use Italian OO - will give a better result], add milk a little at a time until simmering & thickened. Cook out the flour for ten minutes; add mushrooms if wanted. Meanwhile, skin & cube a fillet of cod or other white fish, and a fillet of naturally smoked cod or haddock. Add the smoked fish to the pan, stir it in and bring back to the boil; then add the fresh fish, stir it in and remove instantly from the stove.
Assemble in a grillproof dish - fish on the bottom, mash above, smooth it off and run a fork over to make little ridges, and dot with extra butter if you were mean in the mash - and then grill until dark & crispy.
So why am I feeling the need for comfort eating? Because it's my book launch tomorrow, and I'd be nervous enough anyway, but I just discovered last night that an unknown number of people and organisations didn't get the e-mail invitation I sent out, and obviously it's too late now. So half my friends don't know it's happening, it hasn't been broadcast through mailing lists or on relevant literary sites, it's not even on the Lit & Phil's own site. Nobody will come. So I'm getting my depression in, in advance, so as not to be too grumpy on the night. Gloom, gloom...
© Chaz Brenchley 2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.