I have to admit to having a very guilty food pleasure. At some point in the football season, usually when there’s a lunchtime kick off at the City Ground, I like to indulge in a Chicken Balti Pukka-Pie. It just sounds wrong doesn’t it – a cross cultural food mix that surely shouldn’t work? The strange thing is that it does, they are really, really tasty, even if penetrating the stiff, rather anaemic pastry balanced on your knee with a plastic fork is a bit of a challenge.
So it was with this in mind that we first tried Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Curried fish pie’ from his ‘River Cottage everyday’ cookbook. Again, it sounds wrong but with the knowledge that curry and pastry really can work we gave it a go and I would urge you to too.
We had some people over one Saturday and cooked a selection of pies. There were the usual suspects (beef and ale, chicken and mushroom) and we included this to liven things up a bit. At first everyone was dubious, ‘fish…curry…pastry…really!!!’ However, once we persuaded a few doubters to give it a try and word got around that it was nicer than it sounded it ended up being the most popular. Several people asked me for the recipe – so here it is (albeit about a year later).
Hugh FW’s curried fish pie
Meant to serve 4-6 but we seem to polish off most of it between the two of us with a tiny bit of filling left over for the children
- 2 fillets (600g) of firm white fish. Sustainable fish advocate Hugh suggests pollack or coley but I’m afraid I find this hard to get in our local fishmongers so I tend to use (although I do hate to say it) cod
- 200g smoked pollack or kippers. I use smoked haddock (I’m sure this is wrong too)
- 750ml whole milk
- 1 onion, 1 carrot and 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- A few pepper corns
- 75g butter
- 75g plain flour
- 1 tablespoon of oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon of curry powder, or curry paste
- 1 tablespoon of chopped coriander
- Salt and pepper
- 250g of ready-made puff pastry
- A little beaten egg or milk for glazing
First cook the fish. Put the fillets in a pan and add the milk, onion, carrot, celery, peppercorns and bay leaf. Place over a low heat and as soon as the milk comes to a simmer remove from the heat and cover the pan with a lid.
The fish will continue to cook in the milk and should be ready after 5 minutes. After this time drain the fish with a sieve placed over a bowl as you need to reserve the milk to make the sauce. Lift out the fish and put to one side but discard the vegetables, peppercorns and bay leaf.
Now you need to make a white (béchamel) sauce with the flavoured milk. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir well. Cook gentle for a couple of minutes to cook out the flour then gradually add the milk stirring continuously until you have a smooth and creamy sauce. You probably won’t need the whole amount of milk, you’re looking for a consistency like that of thick double cream. For the pie in the picture 650ml was used and it was still a little on the sloppy side. Season well with salt and pepper and then cook on a low heat for another couple of minutes.
Remove the skin and bones from the fish and break it up into large chunks.
Now for the curry flavour. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onion and cook gently for 5 minutes until soft. Sir in the curry powder and cook for another few minutes. Add this curry mixture to the white sauce and then stir in the flaked fish and coriander (being careful not to break it up too much). Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if you think it needs it. Put the filling into a pie dish.
Preheat the oven to 200oC fan.
Roll out the pastry with a rolling pin using a little flour to stop it sticking. Then cut it to fit your dish. Dampen the rim of the dish with a little milk and lay the pastry over the top pressing down at the edges to seal. You can decorate the top if you like with fish cut outs or a criss cross pattern. Brush lightly with beaten egg or milk and place in the oven for about 30 minutes until the pasty is golden and puffed up.
Serve with some sort of green vegetable.
Note: You can also add cooked prawns to the mix just before adding to the pie dish. I also think chopped boiled egg would be good.