I have a strange history when it comes to fish. Some of the first solid food I had as a littl'un was fish. I used to adore shellfish - I remember greedily gobbling mussels, clams and prawns from my parents' Cataplana on holiday in the Algarve. But at some point, I can't remember why, I stopped liking fish and seafood altogether. For most of my life, I couldn't stomach the thought of the seas' fine produce, save for prawn mayonnaise, batter calamari and tinned tuna. I tried at various points start eating fish again, but it was only when I was in Montreal in 2007 that I plucked up the courage to order a moules frites.
On subsequent trips to Croatia and Portugal, I tried more and more fish and seafood. In Portugal the seafood was particularly good. We stayed in Sesimbra, a fishing village down the coast from Lisbon, where I ate razor clams, crabs, squid, sardines, swordfish.
And yesterday, after much craving, I made my first fish pie. I cycled over to Steve Hatt on Essex Road, which must be one of the best fishmongers in London. The fish is top notch, so fresh that you can't smell a thing, and Steve Hatt's young lads are incredibly jovial and helpful as they prepare your fish. When the guy serving me sussed I was making a fish pie, his eyes lit up and mentioned his envy to his colleague. Such is the love of fish at Steve Hatt's! They also had a great selection of fish and seafood, including the lesser spotted razor clam. I shall have to go back for some another time.
I decided on a Mark Hix recipe for fish pie, as it looked the most sensible and traditional of all the recipes that Google threw up. Start with the basics and then you can innovate! It was quite a process-y meal - lots of different pots and pans, sieves and collanders, but all of it made sense and contributed to a lovely, comforting pie in the end:
I served it with some dressed leaves and some steamed spinach with butter. The mashed potato and the fish elements probably blended together a little too much. This might because I didn't let the fish mix set for long enough. It was absolutely delicious though - just as homely, fresh and luxurious as you'd hope. The way that the recipe suggests cooking the fish (poaching for 2 minutes, then later cooking in the pie) had the fish just right. I used cod, salmon and smoked haddock (smoked by Steve Hatt himself!) and it was the perfect combination. Might have also been nice to have prawns in, but the tweaking and adjusting I can do next time.
The whole experience of making fish pie has definitely upped my confidence in cooking with fish and I am now ready, eager and willing to try out some more dishes. Smoked haddock chowder next? Mmmmm....