I am a passionate fan of NY Times Cooking. I love all of the food writers in this section and read each post in detail, carefully saving every recipe I think I might like to cook (which is quite a lot).
But then a sentence by Julia Moskin in “Chicken pot pie for the Modern Cook” stopped me in my tracks. Introducing her fresh approach (sans bechemal/white sauce, sans cream) to that quintessential American comfort food,, she said:
“I have mostly lost the taste for creamed foods, contained or not. Apparently others have as well.”
Now we had just had the most delicious fish pie at our neighbour Sally’s house from a recipe by Nigel Slater – see fish pie crumble – with rather a lot of cream (no bechemal) in the sauce. It was memorable.
And then there is Caroline Barty’s recipe from British House and Garden for a truly easy fish pie, again with rather a lot of cream – but how can you go wrong with a sauce of crème fraich and dry vermouth?
Not every day for sure, but sometimes, just occasionally, for friends, as a special treat?
Maybe if Julia tasted either of these completely delicious creamy pies, she might think again. As with really good ice cream, there are times to abandon worries about cholesterol and calories and just enjoy.
Now Nigel’s recipe is perfection, but as he says himself: “is straightforward enough if you get organised. It is not a dish for the chaotic cook or anyone short of time.”
Caroline’s quick version bakes the fish in a creamy leek sauce topped with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. It is flexible (works with a mix of any firm white fish, smoked or plain), easy to prepare and pop into a hot oven. The original recipe serves 6, but this is how I pare it down for just 2 hungry people (see full recipe below).
EASY FISH PIE for 2
• 12g butter
• 1 large shallot (or leeks – about 200gr, finely chopped)
• 35ml dry white vermouth
• 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon
• 125ml crème fraiche
• 200g cod cheeks (or any firm white or smoked fish or salmon, cut in small pieces)
• 6 small raw shrimp, peeled but with tails left on (optional)
• 20g fresh breadcrumbs
• 20g parmesan, grated (I always have parmesan in stock)
1 Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the shallots (or leeks) and vermouth. Cook over a low to moderate heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat and then stir in the tarragon and crème fraiche. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cool a little.
2 Heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/mark 6. Cut the fish into 2cm pieces and place in a wide gratin dish. Pour over the leek sauce. Mix the breadcrumbs with the grated cheese and scatter over the fish. Cook in the oven for 40 minutes, until the centre feels piping hot.
To serve: small new potatoes, green salad
If you are making this for friends:
Original Recipe feeds 6
• 40g butter
• 2 leeks, washed, trimmed and finely sliced
• 100ml dry white vermouth
• 2 tablespoons anchovy sauce
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon
• 350ml crème fraiche
• 500g salmon fillet, skinned and boned
• 300g haddock, cod or pollack fillet, skinned and boned
• 300g undyed smoked haddock, skinned and bone
• 50g fresh breadcrumbs
• 50g Gruyère, grated