13 Chefs Share Their Fish Pie Tips

13 Chefs Share Their Fish Pie Tips

Who doesn't love a fish pie – a dish that works just as well for a Friday-night dinner as it does for a comforting Saturday lunch. From twists on the classic recipe to mashed potato alternatives, some of the UK’s top chefs have given us their ultimate tips for making fish pie at home…

Tom Booton, The Grill at The Dorchester

“The key to making a double-tasty fish pie is to lightly poach the fish in milk at around 70ºC, until it’s almost cooked. Use that milk to make your bechamel sauce and throw in dill, chives and – most importantly – a generous amount of wholegrain mustard. It makes it super delicious. Don’t add too much milk to your mash – instead add egg yolk and a splash of cream.”

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Adrian Martin, Wildflower Restaurant

“Fish pie was one of the first recipes my mum taught me. My favourite riff on the classic is topping it with boxty, a traditional Irish potato pancake. I slice it really thinly, layer it over the pie mix and crisp it nicely under the grill. Other toppings I play around with are a sweet potato and coconut cream mash finished with aged parmesan. The most important part of the pie is the fish though. Buying the best-quality fish you can afford from the fishmonger is key.”

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Nathan Outlaw, Siren

"Fish pie is a lovely, comforting meal that can be made easily for two or 200 guests. The best combination of fish is equal quantities of cod, smoked haddock and salmon. Stick to this ratio, otherwise one flavour will dominate. Some people use lobster, prawns or scallops but I think that’s just a waste because the flavour gets lost. I always add the classic elements of a tartare sauce to my fish pie sauce; shallots, gherkins, capers and fresh chopped herbs. Oh, and don’t forget the pie needs to be topped with creamy mashed potato and some halved boiled eggs, which should be set but still gooey (six minutes just about does it for the boiling)."

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Gizzi Erskine, The Nitery

“Making fish pie is an event and, because of this, it requires lots of fine ingredients. It’s a dish I would spoil my family with or have in the winter with a handful of mates. I prefer to use smoked fish in my pie because it adds real depth and body to the dish. I would normally use smoked haddock because it’s British and firm, but sometimes I add salmon and cod. The sauce to fish ratio is imperative: make sure each piece of fish is engulfed in the sauce. Let it chill and top with mashed potato – you want around a ratio of about 2/3 base to 1/3 mash. The mash needs to be buttery and it needs to be covered in both cheddar cheese and parmesan before popping in the oven to get crisp and golden.”

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Callum Graham, Bohemia Restaurant 

“When making the base of the fish pie, I’d always recommend making your own stock from the fish bones as it really enhances the flavour. Get your fish bones and fry them in a pan with a glug of olive oil until golden brown. While doing this, fry off some celery, garlic, fennel and shallots. Once soft, add 200ml of white wine along with the bones and top with 1.5 litres of water. Bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes until reduced by half. Using this fish stock to make the bechamel base for your pie will give it a delicious deep, roasted fish flavour.”

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Jason Mead, The Galley Restaurant

“Over a moderate heat, sweat onion, garlic, leeks, celery and butter in a heavy-based pan with the lid on, so it cooks gently without colour. In a separate bowl, dust your diced fish with flour before adding to the softened vegetables. Reduce the heat to low to avoid the flour scorching and stir regularly. After 2 minutes, turn up the heat and deglaze the pan with white wine, before adding double cream and peas. Gently simmer for 3 minutes to allow the fish to cook. At this point, stir in smoked paté or mackerel into your pie to add a hint of luxury. Be careful not to stir too roughly to avoid breaking up the fish. Top with warm mashed potato, grated cheddar and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs and pop under the grill to colour. Expect a lovely grilled crunch to your fish pie.”

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Phil Bayliss, The Crown & Anchor

“The ultimate fish pie is comforting, delicious and suitable for all occasions from weeknights to dinner parties. It begins with the freshest and chunkiest fish you can find. Try to use around four different types of fish, think salmon, smoked haddock, scallops and cod. I always like to put a splash of fish stock in my bechamel sauce before pouring it over the fish and layering it over spinach. Finally, I finish it off with a pommes duchesse top (a purée of mashed potato, egg yolk, butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg).”

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Tom Aikens, Muse

"Make sure you make the white sauce or bechamel thicker than normal, as you will always get some excess moisture coming out of the fish. I like to add finely chopped shallots to the base of the sauce as well as white wine, then use 50:50 fish stock and milk, finished with a little cream. I only add chopped parsley to the sauce, as any other herb is too strong, then add grated boiled egg along with a few pieces of cooked leek and peas. I always part-cook the fish in the sauce at a gentle simmer, as you can judge the cooking better. Smaller pieces of cut fish or pre-cooked things like mussels can then be added at the last minute to warm through. Then you just have to place in the pie dish and pipe on the mashed potato using a piping bag with a starred nozzle. I then egg-wash the top using just yolks, gratinate with a parsley crumb made from brioche, parsley, parmesan and cheddar, and bake for 12 minutes.”

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Kostas Papathanasiou, 5 Social

“Fish pie often ends up bland and overcooked. For me, it needs to have strong, distinct flavours. Making a stock is a key requirement. You can use haddock heads, bones and also roasted lobster or langoustine bones – they give excellent flavour and you’ll have no waste. I prefer to lightly cure the fish in a salt and sugar mix, and use both haddock and salmon. Make a sauce using stock, onions, garlic, white wine and a small amount of cream. A very small amount of smoked haddock or eel can really bring the flavour to the next dimension. To finish I always prefer to top with mashed potato (the richer the better) and panko breadcrumbs before baking in the oven.”

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Dave Wall, The Unruly Pig

“Firstly, only use very lightly smoked, artisan haddock to impart subtlety and not a slug of smokey flavour to the pie. Then poach the haddock in milk and make a bechamel sauce with the same milk. Secondly – a guilty pleasure when I am cooking at home – I use a mixture of parmesan, gruyere and emmental for the topping. Then I add just a few crushed salt-and-vinegar crisps to the cheese mixture before grilling. It’s a game changer.”

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Guy Betteridge, Kimpton Fitzroy London

“Fish pie is one of my favourite comfort foods – there’s nothing better to warm you up on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon. For me, the ultimate fish pie consists of a few simple elements prepared well. Firstly, the combination of fresh, sustainably sourced British seafood: I like to use salmon, smoked haddock and prawns or brown shrimps, all as fresh as possible. To make the best mashed potato topping, use King Edward potatoes, baked in the oven then passed through a fine sieve to remove any lumps. Finish them by adding double cream and one egg yolk for a nice crisp shine.”

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Justine Murphy, MyMuyBueno

“I like to make a simple and mega-fast fish pie. Place four eggs in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove and place straight into iced water. Once cool, peel and quarter. To make the sauce, combine 250ml of creme fraiche with a teaspoon of dijon mustard, a large handful of thawed frozen peas and some finely sliced spring onion. Pour this mixture into a pie dish along with flaked, cooked fish and distribute the eggs evenly. Add chopped parsley and a few grinds of black pepper. Spread mash over the top and score with a fork, then sprinkle liberally with cheddar cheese. Place in the oven for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and golden brown. Serve with greens.”

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Laurie Gear, The Artichoke

“The key to any dish is a great sauce. When making fish pie at home, I always steam off a few mussels in Dorset cider and return the remaining cooking juices into a sauce made from flour, butter, fish or chicken stock, milk and double cream infused with a small onion studded with a couple of cloves and a bay leaf. Finish your sauce with a little grated nutmeg, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Good-quality, non-dyed smoked haddock or cod work best alongside good, structured fish such as halibut, salmon and cod. Prawns and queen scallops will add a touch of luxury.”

Visit ArtichokeRestaurant.co.uk

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