We didn’t talk about this recipe very much, as our dinner conversation quickly veered into the territory of “What souveniers do you want from China?” (Answer: A panda. Or if that’s not possible, chopsticks) and jokes (Here’s the best one: A panda is eating in a restaurant, when all of the sudden he shoots his waiter and leaves. A policeman chases after him and says, “What do you think you’re doing?” to which the panda replies, “Hey, I’m a panda. Look it up in the dictionary. I eat shoots and leaves.”) I think there’s some good value in the blog today– food AND jokes!
It’s no surprise that a recipe for fish pie was included in “Jamie’s Great Britain.” I think fish pie is as classic a British recipe as it comes. As he says in the introduction, “Fish pie is one of the cornerstones of great British comfort food.”
Fish Pie is definitely classic British cooking. Before we moved here 13 years ago from the United States, we never had a fish pie in our life. But that all changed after I bought a copy of “The Return of the Naked Chef,” Jamie’s second book. “Fantastic Fish Pie” is just that– fantastic. The page in my cookbook has all manner of splashes and stains on it. I have notes from October 2001 on the page, meaning that I’ve been making this dish for 10 years. We all love it. It is firmly in the autumn/winter rotation of dinners here. If you’d like to make it yourself, there’s a link to the recipe here.
So how does this version stack up with the original? It doesn’t stack up, unfortunately. Our view might be tainted by the fact that we haven’t tried
many any other fish pie recipes. (Why branch out when you found one you’ve love?) This version isn’t dramatically different from that one, but where it fails is it doesn’t include the two things that make the original so good: handfuls of spinach and boiled eggs.
The one thing that is different from previous versions is his instruction to buy something other than cod, thus wading into the murky waters of what is “good” fish to buy and what is “bad” fish to buy. He writes, “These days it’s so important to buy delicious but less famous fish like gurnard, coley and pouting, which are just as wonderful as cod but much more plentiful. If you’re going to use cod or haddock, the best advice I can give you is to make sure it’s MSC approved.”
It’s good advice, but when I checked in at my local fishmonger, they didn’t have any of the other type of fish. They did have cod (MSC approved, as per Jamie’s instructions) and the fishmonger also told me that supply levels of cod have increased, so the situation isn’t as dire as it once was. This is one of the many reasons why I like having a fishmonger– she explains to me what’s OK to buy and placates my conscience when necessary.
Would I make “Happy Fish Pie” again? No, I would not. But would I make “Fantastic Fish Pie” again? You bet, as I have done happily for 10 years.
The Same, But Different: Why does Jamie feel the need to make yet another version of fish pie? Well, obviously, he’s got a cookbook to fill. In addition to the well-loved version in “The Return of the Naked Chef” he also included a fish pie recipe in “Jamie’s Ministry of Food” (the recipe for that version can be found on Jamie’s website here). The two subsequent versions of fish pie aren’t dramatically different from the first version in “Return of the Naked Chef”, but in my opinion, the first version is the best. Use that recipe instead.
Cook’s Notes: This recipe calls for twice as much fish as previous recipes — 1 kilogram versus 500 grams in earlier recipes. A kilo of fish is A LOT of fish. Consequently, while I intended to put it all in, as per instructions, I decided not to at the last minute because I knew I could get another dinner out of the remaining 400 grams of fish. It’s up to you. I don’t think it made a huge difference on the taste by cutting down on the quantity.
Also, a word about the timings. Jamie asks you to fry the chopped vegetables (leeks, carrots and celery) for 15 minutes and to turn down the heat “a touch”. Watch this carefully, as I burned my vegetables to a crisp. I think what he means to say is to turn the vegetables down to medium-low so they can get cooked slowly for 15 minutes. Anything higher than that and you’ll have disaster on your hands.