Monday, April 4, 2016

Fish Pie with Cheesy Mash

“I'm hungry, not tired; I want to eat heaps."
"That's good.  What'll you have?"

"Fish pie," said she, with a glance at the menu.

"Fish pie! Fancy coming for fish pie to Simpson's. It's not a bit the thing to go for here…Saddle of mutton," said he after profound reflection: "and cider to drink. That's the type of thing. I like this place, for a joke, once in a way.  It is so thoroughly Old English. Don't you agree?"

"Yes," said Margaret, who didn't. 

This is just one of many points in the narrative when Margaret Schlegel should tell Henry Wilcox to stuff his saddle of mutton, his cider, his mercantile values, his hypocrisy, and his whole colonialist enterprise up his smug, condescending backside. I'm afraid you'll have to wait for my Forster fanfic - Howards End II: The Revenge - to read that exchange, but in the meantime I present a fish pie I feel certain my socially conscious, forward-thinking girlfriend Meg would have enjoyed. (Although it takes a very different interpretive approach, Sesame Street's appropriation is also worth a look.)

I think of this scene whenever I see fish pie on a menu, which happens quite often in the UK and Ireland, where this comfort food staple is found everywhere, as everything from a high-concept gastropub deconstruction to a podgy Sunday restaurant lunch, to say nothing of the countless variations made by home cooks. (That said, a glance at Simpson's current bill of fare shows that it no longer features in their cavalcade of culinary carnage, which just goes to show that even "Old English" things change, Henry, so STFU.) 

Anyway, I'd been thinking of taking this dish on for awhile, and a recent snowbound April Sunday (Mother Nature really needs to get herself some help) inspired me to dive in. I generally tackle these self-imposed challenges as follows: if it's something my parents, friends, or other family members made/make, I take that as a starting point. If not, I research a few "classic" recipes as models and construct a conflated good parts version to suit our ethics, tastes, and available supplies. 

Unsurprisingly, fish pie recipes vary wildly: some call for all fish - some smoked; some not - while others insist upon a combination of fish and shrimp. A number of versions include various vegetables (onions, leeks, celery, carrots, peas; a few especially worthy souls use spinach, which is taking things too far even for me), while others declare their presence anathema. White sauce? Cheese sauce? Thickened stock? Plain mashed spuds or cheesy? Or how about Nigel Slater's iconoclastic crumble topping? (Heresy!)

Verily, I say unto you that the possibilities seemed endless, but what I wanted was a pie version of my mother's poached fish in white sauce, which was always accompanied by (but not topped with) mashed potato. Ultimately I chose this recipe as a basic guide, and then proceeded to tinker. The result was universally declared to be a huge success, hitting all those reassuring notes that make one rise from the table feeling happily well-fed, well-loved, and that everything will be all right, but without the imperialist wankery that would have accompanied its Simpsonian prototype, had Margaret been permitted to order it.

…a little comfort had restored her geniality. Speech and silence pleased her equally, and while Mr. Wilcox made some preliminary inquiries about cheese, her eyes surveyed the restaurant and admired its well-calculated tributes to the solidity of our past. Though no more Old English than the works of Kipling, it had selected its reminiscences so adroitly that her criticism was lulled, and the guests whom it was nourishing for imperial purposes bore the outer semblance of Parson Adams or Tom Jones.

Quite. (Bite me.)

Fish Pie with Cheesy Mash
The Filling
~ Double recipe good white sauce
~ 2 packages Gardein mini crabless cakes
~ 1-2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1 medium onion, small dice
~ 1 carrot, small dice
~ 2 tsp. dried parsley
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, marjoram, mustard powder
~ 1 sheet nori, lightly toasted and crumbled (optional, if you want more "fishiness")
~ ½ cup frozen peas

~ Prepare the crabless cakes according to packaging directions. While they are baking, prepare the white sauce, and then set the cooked cakes and finished sauce aside to cool.
~ In a large, deep saucepan, heat the oil and sauté the onion and carrot over medium heat for 10 minutes, until softened but not browned.
~ Add the parsley, salt, marjoram, mustard powder, and nori (if using). Stir to combine, and then pour in the prepared white sauce.
~ Raise the heat to high and bring almost to a boil, stirring constantly. When the mixture is nearly boiling, reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 5-7 minutes, until it thickens a bit.
~ Roughly chop the cooked crab cakes and add them to the saucepan along with the frozen peas. Continue cooking another 5 minutes and then remove from heat, setting aside to cool for about 15-20 minutes.

The Cheesy Mash
~ 10 large Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
~ 1.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy or other vegan milk
~ 1 tsp. no chicken bouillon
~ 1.5 cups shredded vegan cheddar (I used Daiya)
~ Dash mace
~ Salt and pepper to taste

~ Cook the potatoes in salted, boiling salted water for 20 minutes, until tender but not falling apart.
~ Drain the potatoes, reserving ½ cup of cooking liquid.
~ Return the drained potatoes to the pot and mash roughly.
~ In a separate microwaveable bowl or beaker (or stovetop saucepan), combine the milk, bouillon, cheddar, mace, salt, and pepper. Heat this mixture to nearly boiling and whisk until the cheese is melted and everything is well incorporated.
~ Add the milk and cheese mixture to the potatoes and mash it all together until relatively smooth. (We're not going for a whipped texture, but neither do we want big hunks of unmashed potato.)

The Assembly
~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and coat a 9 x 13" casserole with cooking spray. Place the casserole on a baking sheet to catch any errant drips.
~ Spread the filling in the casserole dish and top with enough mash to cover, smoothing with a spatula to ensure that it's distributed evenly. (I have no desire to make windows into mens' souls, so suit the depth of the topping to your personal taste. That said, you will almost certainly have some left over to serve on the side. Or not.)
~ Run the tines of a fork through the topping and sprinkle lightly with a little paprika and dried parsley. 
~ Bake the pie for 25-30 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling and the mash is a beauteous golden brown.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. We ate our pie with cubed, roasted butternut squash, noochy kale, and the extra mashed potato for what I must say was a pretty perfect repast.


  1. Ahh this looks so hearty and delicious! Sadly we are Gardein-less here in the UK but there are some curious looking faux-fish products in my local Chinese supermarket so I might give them a go :)

    1. I used the Gardein crabby cakes because I had them on hand, but I also thought they'd suit the dish better than the (delicious) "fishless filets," which are battered to replicate crispy, fried fish and would be wasted swimming - so to speak - in a cream sauce. I'd definitely give the Asian mock-fish a go, and may do so myself next time I have a chance. It's funny how we're always lamenting our lack of access to each other's vegan goodies. I'd give a great deal to have everyday access to Alpro yogurt and Linda Mac sausages, pies, and sausage rolls!