This is deeply, deeply satisfying. It is also ridiculously moreish, so make sure you are wearing your loosest jeans when you sit down to eat.
There are, of course, almost as many fish pie recipes as there are fish in the sea. The very best of them are separated from the rest by the quality of the white sauce, nail that and it doesn’t matter which fish you use. Here it is kept simple, just a few of the freshest ingredients, cooked and seasoned carefully.
I like to use a mixture of fish fillets: smoked haddock, salmon and hake, and a good handful of prawns. The result is a vivid display of colour, and a tango on your taste buds. You could go further and posh it up by adding langoustines, monkfish and scallops.
Now, where are my baggy trousers?
RECIPE serves 4
250ml fish stock
3 bay leaves
250ml double cream
1kg mixed fish fillets (salmon, smoked haddock, hake, cod etc)
a good handful of peeled raw prawns
50g unsalted butter
2 medium leeks, washed and trimmed, use only the white and light green parts, finely sliced
4 tbsp plain flour
100ml dry vermouth
salt and pepper
2 handfuls of chopped flat-leaf parsley
For the topping:
1.25kg floury potatoes
100g unsalted butter
100g strong cheddar, grated
flaky sea salt
25g Parmesan, very finely grated
freshly ground black pepper
Put the stock and bay leaves into a large saucepan with the cream, add the fish fillets and over a medium heat bring it to just below the boil, ensuring the fish is submerged. Simmer gently for 6 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave it to sit for a few minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the fish fillets and place in a large gratin dish (23cm square, or similar), leaving the fish pieces as large as possible. Remove any skin and bones from the fish, and reserve the cooking liquid for later use.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter with a glug of olive oil (to prevent the butter from burning) and add the leeks with a good pinch of salt. Stir thoroughly, cover and cook over a gentle heat for around ten minutes until the leeks are soft but not coloured.
Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and chop them into large chunks, then place into cold water and bring to the boil. Keeping the water at a vigorous simmer, cook the potatoes until they are tender.
Heat the oven to 190C/ fan 170C/ gas 5.
Sprinkle the flour over the leeks and stir in for a couple of minutes until the flour is invisible and there are no lumps. When the mixture is bubbling and smooth, add the vermouth and keep on stirring for another couple of minutes to make a smooth paste. Now remove the bay leaves from the fish cooking liquid, then add the liquid to the leeks a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently. Bring to a gentle simmer, cook uncovered for 15 minutes, then correct the seasoning.
Drain the potatoes, then mash with 100g of butter, using either a masher or ricer. When smooth, add the cheddar and stir through with a fork until fully incorporated. Season generously.
If you can, don’t add any liquid to the mash. It needs to be fairly stiff when it is spread over the top of the fish mixture.
Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top of the sauce, and gently stir it in, along with the prawns. Now pour the sauce over the top of the fish in the gratin dish.
Carefully, starting from the edges of the dish and working toward the middle, lay the mashed potato over the top of the sauce. Ensure there are lots of peaks and troughs in the mash, so they will catch and brown in the oven. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the mash, followed by a drizzle of olive oil and a good grinding of black pepper.
Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling through. Allow to stand for around ten minutes, then serve with peas, green beans or a simple green salad.