I don’t know about you, but I’m finding all the chatter around Prince Harry’s
book extraordinarily dull. It has been relentless and there has been too little about food. Although I did read a collection of “takeaways” from it which mentioned Meghan being given Marmite crumpets upon first visiting
Buckingham Palace. That bit sounds all right. Although Bovril is always a better shout, isn’t it?
More interesting to me is the subject of fish pie and variations thereof. This
is because the layering of fish among butter, mustard and cream is more complex and nuanced by design than any royal tome.
A classic fish pie might call for salmon, cod, and prawns. Smoked haddock too, arguably. This combination is all very well and by no means do away with it, but this is a dish that readily allows experimentation. If you get the sauce right and are generous enough with the toppings, any fish becomes
suitable – which is to say, lesser-used species, and cheaper ones to boot.
In this cost-of-living crisis, and amidst this endlessly dreary, cold weather, few dishes will soothe and warm you more than fish pie. It is a majestic dish that elevates the likes of whiting and ling which are used in this recipe from Mitch Tonks.
Tonks, who owns the excellent group of southwest-based seafood restaurants Rockfish, as well as The Seahorse – his flagship – in Dartmouth, Devon, is an expert in utilising what’s available; in taking the day’s catch and turning it into something special.
This version, which he calls a gratin – easier to prepare still – uses monkfish and smoked pollock together with the whiting and ling. Monkfish aside, perhaps, these white fish are too often ignored by diners, yet offer much in the way of flavour and texture. Save the cod and salmon for another day.
Rockfish has its own fish box business – the catch is landed in Brixham, vacuum packed and boxed, ready to be sent anywhere in Britain on the same day. Alternatively, use your local fishmonger or even a supermarket fish pie mix. Whichever way you buy your fish, here’s the best way of using it this week.
300g mixed fish (eg monkfish, smoked pollock, whiting and ling) or a shop-bought fish pie mix
100g shell-on prawns (some peeled, some unpeeled)
2 spring onions
25g butter + additional for grating
150ml double cream
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp English mustard
A few black and pink peppercorns
Handful of grated parmesan
Handful of breadcrumbs
Handful of chopped parsley
Pour the milk into a saucepan. Add a bay leaf, a few black and pink peppercorns, English mustard and fish pie mix. Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer.
Chop the leeks finely and add to a dry frying pan – keep stirring to avoid catching on the pan. Once the leeks have softened, add the butter and mix
until it has fully melted. Add the flour and mix.
Keeping the fish in the saucepan, slowly add the milk to the leeks, while stirring, to form a sauce.
Add the double cream, chopped spring onions and a pinch of salt and pepper. Keep stirring as you add the fish and then the prawns.
Transfer the mix into an oven-safe dish, then top with the grated butter,
parmesan and breadcrumbs. Grill on high until crispy and golden on top. Remove from the oven, top with some chopped parsley and serve alongside a crisp salad and some new potatoes.