Fish Pie with Oat Topping
Everybody loves a good fish pie, and it is a versatile dish that can be varied with the seasons. Using the oats that are an important crop in the South-East region, the crumble topping used here makes a nice variation on the usual potato or pastry.
Fresh fish from ports like Helvick, Kilmore Quay and Duncannon is easily available in the South-East (and distributed throughout the country), and the combination can be varied - the special mixtures sold in chunks by fishmongers may also be used instead of fillets in this recipe, but be careful not to overcook them.
Smoked fish is especially useful in winter, but don’t use more than half the quantity of at the most, as the strong flavour will overpower other ingredients.
This pie can be assembled and grilled to serve immediately, or prepared ahead then reheated and browned in the oven.
600ml/1 pint milk
225ml/8 fl oz cream
1 bay leaf
900g/2lb mixed firm-fleshed fish fillets
225g/8oz mussels, well scrubbed (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g/2oz butter, preferably unsalted, plus extra for greasing
1 onion, finely chopped
75g/3oz plain flour
175ml/6fl oz dry white wine or cider
2 leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
6 tbsp freshly chopped mixed herbs
100g/4oz fresh breadcrumbs
100g/4oz flaked oats
Grated zest of one lemon
50g/2oz hard cheese, grated (optional)
3 dessertspoons freshly chopped herbs
2oz/50g flaked almonds (optional)
First, prepare the topping: Melt the butter and add the breadcrumbs, oats, grated lemon zest, grated cheese (if using), chopped herbs and flaked almonds (if using). Mix well and set aside.
To cook the fish:
Place the milk in a saucepan with the cream and the bay leaf. Add the fish fillets, bring just up to boiling point and poach gently for 3-5 minutes or until just tender, depending on their thickness. Transfer to a plate with a fish slice and set aside until they are cool enough to handle. Strain the poaching liquid into a jug.
Meanwhile, cook the mussels, if using: cook well-scrubbed mussels briefly in a dry lidded pan until they open. Discard any which don’t snap closed when scrubbing them, or which don’t open when cooked. Remove the cooked mussels from their shells and strain any juices.
Flake the cooled fish into bite-sized chunks; discarding the skin and any bones.
To make the sauce:
Melt the butter in a large non-stick pan. Add the onion and cook gently for 4-5 minutes until softened but not coloured, stirring occasionally. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring continuously.
Pour in the wine or cider and allow to reduce, then add the reserved poaching liquids, a little at a time, whisking continuously after each addition. Reduce the heat and stir in the leeks. Simmer gently for 6-8 minutes until the leeks are softened and tender and the sauce has slightly reduced and thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in the herbs and season to taste.
Lightly butter a large baking dish and add a couple of tablespoons of the sauce. Scatter over the poached fish flakes, and the mussels if using, then spoon the remaining sauce on top to cover completely. Spread the prepared oat crumble topping over the fish mixture and even it out lightly with a fork.
To serve immediately:
Finish under a medium grill; when the pie is thoroughly heated through and the topping is crisp and golden brown, serve from the dish at the table straight onto warmed plates. Offer potatoes and fresh seasonal vegetables or salad to accompany.
To serve if made in advance:
Preheat the oven to 180¼C/350¼F/Gas 4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until heated through and the top is golden brown. (If using a fan-assisted oven, bake from cold at 160¼C/325¼F.)
salmon, haddock or cod (fresh or undyed smoked) and/or monkfish
flat leaf parsley, chives and dill - avoid very strongly flavoured herbs, which will overpower the delicate fish