A British chef’s tips for making perfect fisherman’s pie

Full of chunky seafood and topped with mash, fisherman's pie is a real crowd-pleaser. Source: Getty

When it comes to comfort food it’s hard to beat a hearty homemade fisherman’s pie. The simple British dish typically consists of fish and other seafood bound together with a creamy béchamel sauce (otherwise known as white sauce). As with all good fish pies, it’s topped with a layer of fluffy mashed potatoes and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese for that perfect crunchy, golden top.

There are many variations to the classic dish, some including prawns and mussels in addition to fish, such as salmon or cod. It is common, however to use at least two or three different types of fish and some more traditional recipes also include halved boiled eggs, too.

The origins of fisherman’s pie

Fisherman’s pie is a traditional British dish, although many European countries have their own version. According to Sydney-based British chef Olivia Casson, one of the earliest accounts of the dish dates back to 1110, during the reign of England’s King Henry I. 

Traditionally, fish pie was the perfect way to use up any cheap, unwanted cuts of fish. It became a family favourite around Britain, and spread to other corners of the world as Brits migrated to the Commonwealth nations. For many families, it was an affordable and tasty dish most commonly enjoyed for Friday-night dinners. 

So what’s the secret to pie success?

Fisherman’s pie is surprisingly simple to whip up, but keeping a few tricks on-hand can make all the difference.

The key to a perfect fish pie is in the cooking of the fish. Casson advises to never cook the fish before it’s baked, and for extra texture, she insists on cutting the fish “quite chunky”. If you’re a fan of an extra-crunchy topping on your mashed potato, Casson recommends using a combination of cheddar, parmesan cheese and panko crumbs.

Serve the pie with a side of buttered peas and some crusty bread to soak up all the leftover sauce on your plate. Sounds tasty? Here’s how to do it!

Ingredients

  • 1 kg potatoes, peeled and halved
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 25g flour
  • 450ml milk
  • 1 tsp English mustard
  • 400g of mixed prepared fish or seafood cut into 2cm chunks (salmon, flat head, prawns)
  • 10g chives, finely snipped
  • 100g frozen petits pois (peas)
  • 150g grated cheddar
  • 25g grated parmesan
  • 15g panko breadcrumbs

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. 
  2. Put the potatoes in a saucepan with a good pinch of salt and pour over enough water to cover them. Bring to the boil and then simmer until tender.
  3. When cooked, drain thoroughly and mash with 50 millilitres of the milk and 50 grams of butter. Season with salt and ground black pepper.
  4. Put the remaining butter and flour in another pan and heat gently until the butter has melted, stirring regularly. Cook for 1-2 mins. Gradually whisk in the milk using a balloon whisk.
  5. Bring to the boil, stirring to avoid any lumps and sticking at the bottom of the pan. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes until thickened.
  6. Take off the heat and stir in half the cheddar cheese,mustard, chives, peas. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Stir in the fish and seafood and then spoon into an ovenproof dish.
  8. Spoon the potato on top and sprinkle with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs.
  9. Pop in the oven for 20 – 25 mins or until golden and bubbling at the edges.

Have you made fisherman’s pie before?

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