Last weekend's experiment involved something that I very rarely cook (other than a couple of "steaks" baked in the oven for the necessary length of time, sometimes crusted with something like sesame seeds, other times just naked).
Fish. For some reason, I hardly ever cook fish. Or even with fish, although I have occasionally had a craving for pasta with tuna, cream and capers over the last few months.
However, I came across this recipe from the ever-delicious, ever-reliable Nigel Slater, and I had left the tab open for a few days, thinking that I really wanted to make this. Fortunately, there was a family event, namely Peter's Uncle visiting, and I had an opportunity to give it a try.
Despite Greta waking up right in the middle of the tricky part of the bechamel- whisking a sauce whilst holding an eleven-kilo baby in the other arm is tricky, to say the least!
And, of course, I made a few changes, and adapted to what I found in the supermarket fish aisle.
Crumble Crust Fish Pie
1kg firm white fish fillets
500g smoked fish (I used smoked trout fillets)
a little butter for the dish
1 litre milk
4 bay leaves
12 black peppercorns, 2 pink, and a green one
2 packs of dill, chopped
1.5 packs of parsley, chopped
5 leeks- white part only
For the crumble topping:
160g plain flour
150g rolled oats
50g finely grated parmesan
Lightly butter a baking dish or shallow pan, place the white fish in it, skin-side down (if any- my fish had no skin), and pour over the milk, topping up with a little water to just cover the fish. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns and a very fine grating of nutmeg. Place over a moderate heat, turning it down just before the milk boils. Leave to simmer gently for 5-10 minutes, until the fish is opaque and tender.
Nigel says you should cook the smoked fish together with the white fish, but when I opened the packet, I decided that it was already pretty well cooked by the smoking process, so I didn't bother.
Turn off the heat, remove the fish and strain the liquor to remove the bay leaves. Remove the skin from the fish and discard. Break both types of fish into large pieces. Chop the dill and the parsley.
Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and cook till pale biscuit-coloured, stirring almost constantly. Pour in the strained cooking liquid from the fish (adding more, if necessary, to make 1 litre- I had some milk left over, and used this later on), stirring over a moderate heat till smooth. Cook over a low heat for 10 minutes, then with salt and pepper, and stir in the dill and parsley. I was a bit wary of this step, thinking that it would "cook" the herbs and change their colour, but they stayed a nice bright green right through the cooking process.
While the sauce is cooking, slice the leeks thinly, give them a thorough rinse, then let them cook with a chunk of butter in a deep pan, covered with a lid, until they are soft. It is important that they don't colour, Nigel says, and suggests putting a round of greaseproof paper over the top. I didn't bother with that, just cooked them very gently. And I had half a finely chopped onion in there too, as I'd been making guacamole earlier (no spring onions available in the market!).
Gently fold the cooked leeks into the sauce. I then put a layer of the sauce in the bottom of a big Le Creuset pan that I was given for Christmas, put a layer of the white fish over the top (not a solid layer), then more sauce, a layer of smoked fish, a layer of sauce, a layer of the white fish, and then finally a layer of sauce. Over this, I poured some of the milk that was left from poaching the fish, just to make sure that my sauce didn't get too thick as it baked. I only had a few tablespoons of the milk left afterwards, so I didn't mind tipping that down the sink.
Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. To make the crumble, rub the flour, butter, parmesan and oats together.
My pie then sat for a couple of hours before everybody turned up- I put the crumble on top just before putting it into the oven.
Distribute the crumble over the top of the dish, and bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven until crisp and golden, and the filling is bubbling, says Nigel- I think it would be better to cook for about 50 minutes at 200C, as although my topping was nice, I think it would have been better a bit crisper. I reheated some for myself the next evening, and it was definitely improved. I froze the rest, and think it should work well as a freezer dish.
The result was very tasty, but I think I should have had a heavier hand with the black pepper in the sauce. I will probably make this again- it went down very well with the family. Maybe next time I'll add a handful of prawns or mussels, as Nigel suggests. In the meantime, with a green salad, it was deservedly popular.