Upside Down Fish Pie

I love fish pie, but I think baking in white sauce doesn’t show off nice fish to best effect, and it’s better steamed on top of the potato. If you’ve never tried the combination of chilli, garlic, cream and basil, then hold on to your hat.

To feed four greedy people plus leftovers, you will need:

  • 1kg potato (any variety)
  • 1kg fish (see below)
  • 350mL stock (fish, vegetable, or just hot water)
  • 150mL cream
  • one head garlic (peeled and chopped)
  • one bunch fresh basil (30g if you’re feeling precise, but you’ll only need the leaves)
  • 2tsp chilli flakes (more if you dare, or fresh hot chilli)
  • 15mL vegetable oil + 25g butter

For the fish I use a mix of cod, salmon, smoked haddock, and prawns; the fillets skinned and chopped into chunks. Check for bones and remove if necessary. Avoid heavily smoked or cured fish: tuna and mackerel would be out of place. If the prawns are whole, you can make quite nice stock with the shells and heads.

Peel and chop the potato into pieces no more than half an inch thick. If you’re using baby potatoes, don’t bother peeling, and just halve them.

Heat a large shallow casserole, and melt the butter in the oil, and fry the chilli flakes for around a minute, add the garlic, and keep frying until a pale gold colour. Add a generous pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper. Tip in the potatoes and continue to fry until they’re lightly coloured; probably a few more minutes. Pour over the stock and the cream, but don’t fret if there’s no stock to hand, just use water from a freshly boiled kettle. Crucially, try and arrange the potato pieces in a single layer and make sure there’s enough liquid in the pot for them to be mainly submerged but not drowned.

Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and let the potato cook, stirring from time to time. Depending on the species of potato they will exude some starch and thicken the liquid. You may also need to top up the liquid from the kettle if it’s getting too low.

Once the potatoes are done – test by piercing a piece with a sharp knife; it should offer no resistance – fold in the basil leaves and layer the fish on top. Reduce the heat and cover. The fish should take around ten minutes to steam, but do keep an eye on it. A sure sign is that the cod is starting to separate into flakes.

Serve the whole thing at the table, with some steamed kale and bread to mop up the highly addictive juices.

You could, I suppose, do this with coconut cream, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, purple basil, and a blob of red curry paste.

Addendum, May 2015: unsure about the timing of guests’ arrival, so steamed potatoes first until they were done. One guest was on low FODMAP diet, so garlic and chilli fried in separate pan, and the oil reserved for cooking. (Three birds eye chillis verging on too hot.)


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