When we visited my brother and his wife a couple of years ago, they treated us to their favourite Nigel Slater fish dish: his French-ish Fish Soup, a tomato and garlic based soup that was truly delicious. However, I had to tell them that I have my own personal favourite fish dish from the Nigel Collection: his fish pie. This is a dish that takes a bit of work, but is not very complicated and usually turns out looking absolutely gorgeous when you bring it to the table. Because it's not an easy recipe to reduce to proportions for two, I generally serve it as a casual dinner when we have friends or family with us. And so yesterday I bought the ingredients for the perfect fish pie: shrimp, smoked haddock, cream and potatoes.
These ingredients go so well together that I believe this recipe alone qualifies Nigel for the title of Genius. I never used to like smoked fish all that much, but dishes like this completely changed my mind. Smoke and cream go perfectly together, the shrimp add a bit of bite and the potatoes keep the whole thing from being too rich and complicated. However, I will warn you: even when perfectly prepared this looks like glop on your plate, but by then your guests will be smelling the pie and looks won't matter a whit. Trust me.
Nigel Slater's Fish Pie (with a few minor modifications by Yours Truly)
800 grams smoked haddock (yes it's orange, but trust me it will taste good - don't skimp!)
800 grams cooked shrimp
800 grams potatoes
3/4 litre milk (roughly)
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1-2 heaping Tbs crème fraiche or cream
freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup (or slightly more) butter
a splash of wine or sherry
First peel and chop your potatoes and set them boiling in water. Peel the shrimp, reserving the heads, tails and skins in a saucepan. Pour a couple of cups of water and a splash of sherry or white wine over the shrimp heads and heat the water to boiling. Stew them on a slow boil for 15-20 minutes and then strain the liquid with a sieve.
While you are preparing the shrimp bouillon, place the haddock in a large, deep frying pan and cover with about two-thirds of the milk. You can add a little water if necessary, to cover the fish. Add the bay leaf and place on a low fire to simmer for ten to fifteen minutes. When the fish flakes easily, remove from the fire.
In a large heavy oven-proof casserole pan or pot (I use a big le Creuset pot), melt the butter and sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of flour. Stir quickly and cook until it takes on a nutty colour, then slowly add some of the milk from the haddock pan (i.e. "make a roux sauce with the haddock milk"). Do not add all the milk - just a couple of cups to start with. Remove from the heat. Flake the haddock in large pieces (just over bite-sized as they will probably break up more as you stir them) and add to the milk sauce. Chop the shrimp in bite-sized pieces and add them to the pot too. Now add a cup or so of the shrimp water and the cream. You'll want the resulting haddock and shrimp mixture to be nice and wet, but not quite a soup. Add the chopped parsley, stir and taste for salt and pepper.
By now, your potatoes should be done. Drain them and mash them with lots of butter. Use the remains of the haddock milk too, but don't make them too soupy.
In an ideal world, you would be able to let this all cool down a bit before the next step, but I usually just steam ahead, always behind schedule. Preheat the oven to 200C/375F. Carefully float spoonfuls of the mashed potatoes on the surface of the pie, covering the entire surface.
Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until everything is heated through (if you let them cool down) and the sauce is bubbling up against the potatoes.
A tip: it is easier to get this pie too wet than too dry, so err on the side of not adding all your haddock milk and shrimp water. Unfortunately, I do not know of another use for the haddock milk, but you can freeze the shrimp water and add it to the next fish soup you make.
The pie in the above photo got a bit browner than I usually allow because the guests were involved in a film and I hated to interrupt. Be ruthless and serve when it's done if you want to get a nice photo. It still tasted very good!
For those who are curious, the original Nigel Slater recipe called for using mussels and adding the mussel cooking liquor instead of the shrimp. Nigel had a few variations on the basic pie, including using shrimp and parsley instead, but he didn't think of boiling the skins and heads to get shrimp liquor. Other variations recommended by Nigel include: tomatoes, anchovies, saffron...but always only one ingredient per variation or you'll confuse the issue. It's a lovely, adaptable soup, perfect for a cool autumn evening!