I lived in England for two years in my early twenties...I had met my now husband and gone to visit him in England, and found a job and stayed! When friends and family found out that I was moving to London, the number one response I got was "but there's no good food in England!" I would always reassure them that, in fact, English food, these days, mostly just has a bad reputation, and you actually can find phenomenal food all over England these days.
Some of that phenomenal food is really amazing traditional English food. One of our favorite haunts is The Rose and Olive Branch, a small freehold pub in Surrey, close to where my husband grew up. While all of their food is delicious, their pies are really what make them special. From steak, Guinness and Stilton, to rabbit, mushrooms and pancetta, all of their pies are epic. While I had eaten chicken pot pies (arguably the only meat pie to really grab a toehold in American cuisine) before, I became obsessed with all things savory pies.
There are two categories of savory pies, in my opinion. Just as there are many ways to top a fruit pie -- crust, crumble, meringue, cream, etc -- there are a couple of ways to top a savory pie: pastry or mashed potato. While any sort of crust on a pie is wonderful, I'm very partial to the mashed potato topping. And though there are a world of savory pies throughout British cuisine, my favorite is fish pie.
My mother-in-law happens to make a great, simple fish pie, which was how I was introduced to this luscious dish, and I ended up learning how to make it in culinary school. These days, fish pie is our go-to Christmas Eve dish (after all, it eats up a lot of the fishes for the Feast of Seven Fishes!), and we always freeze portions of leftovers for future meals. This dish is a labor of love (and requires a lot of dishes), but is so worth the effort. This fish pie recipe was originally developed for Fulton Fish Market during my time working there, but has evolved since. Use whatever white fish you like, but to me, the salmon and smoked trout are essential.
2 lbs russet potatoes
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp + 1 Tbs kosher salt
½ c flour
½ c + 1 Tbs unsalted butter
1 ea 8 oz portion monkfish
1 ea 8 oz portion salmon
1 ea 8 oz portion cod
2 ea celery ribs
½ ea yellow onion
1 ea bay leaf
1 tsp brandy
1 qt fish stock
1 ea 5 oz package smoked trout
1 c frozen peas, defrosted and drained
¾ c heavy cream
2 ea garlic cloves, smashed
⅛ tsp ground white pepper
6 oz sharp white cheddar, grated
Preheat oven to 375F.
Wash potatoes, dry, then prick with a fork. Rub with the olive oil, and season with a teaspoon of salt, then place right on the oven rack to bake the potatoes, about 1 hour, until fork tender. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool enough that you can safely handle them.
While the potatoes are cooking, make your roux. Melt ½ cup butter along with the flour in a pan, and whisk to combine. Allow to bubble over low temp to cook out the flour, about 10-12 minutes. Do not allow the butter to brown. Set aside the roux until ready to use.
Next, prepare the fish. Trim all dark meat off of the monkfish and cod, and cube into 1-inch pieces. Remove the skin and dark meat from the salmon, and cube into 1-inch pieces. Place in a bowl, and keep in the fridge until ready to use. Open the smoked trout and tear into small pieces. Set aside in a separate bowl in the fridge.
Finely mince the celery and onion. In a pot, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter, and saute the celery and onion together until soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add in the bay leaf and cook for a minute until fragrant, then deglaze with the brandy.
Pour in the fish stock and season with the remaining tablespoon of salt. Bring to a low simmer, then gently add in the fish cubes to poach for about 2-3 minutes, until just opaque.
Set up a strainer over a large bowl, and gently strain the fish and fish stock, being careful to keep both. Discard the bay leaf. Arrange the fish and sautéed veggies in the bottom of a baking dish, along with the peas and the smoked trout.
Pour the heavy cream into a small pot with the smashed garlic cloves and pepper, and infuse the flavors over the lowest heat possible without simmering, about 10 minutes.
When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and scoop out the potato. Pass through a potato ricer or sieve into a pot. Discard the garlic from the heavy cream, and whisk the infused cream into the potatoes over low heat. Turn the heat off and whisk in the cheese, then transfer to a piping bag with a large star tip.
Transfer the roux into the pot that the stock was in, and place over medium heat. Slowly whisk in the strained stock, until sauce is thick, about 5 - 7 minutes. Pour over the fish in the baking dish, and gently fold together. Pipe the potatoes over the top.
Place the baking dish in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, to finish cooking everything through and warm, then switch to the broiler and broil until the potatoes are golden. Serve!