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January’s got to be the worst month to start a diet. No matter how good your intentions are, you can't escape the fact that this is perhaps the coldest month of the year and reverting to a flimsy diet that leaves you feeling hungry all afternoon has always seemed pretty strange.
However, it’s boom time right now for seafood, everything from your sole through to your bag of mussels gets a good look-in from almost all the new-fangled diets and seafood dishes become the go-to ‘lighter option’ on menus across the land. But there’s a fish dish that sticks out as the most humble, warming and hearty of the dishes on offer and in these next few frosty months, you’ll do well to make some room for it on your menu…
Fish pie. The mere mention of the word conjures up mental images of a deep dish topped with fluffy yellow mash, a few dark brown crispy bits at the edges, and a pale, herb-flecked fish sauce that’s bubbled and spilled out from underneath.
For a kitchen that’s busy with its fish, building this pie can be an incredibly economic option. Bits of trim, fish cheeks, some picked crab meat, it can all be set aside ready to make a hefty batch of this British favourite. And for those reserving scallop coral, that orange roe on the side of the white puck of flesh, slow cook them and break ‘em down into your sauce. They unleash a savoury, oceanic depth that’s totally unrivalled. Another way to add intensity and richness, is brown crab fat. Make no mistake about it, this sauce is your chance to make your mark on this dish, to take things in your own direction – fresh coriander and some gentle Vietnamese spicing? Or maybe you want to hover in the direction of a New England clam chowder?
For a dish that can be made up of odds and ends from the fish section; a few borrowed chunks of fish here, a handful of prawns there, you can make something that’s more than just the sum of its parts. In fact, you make something that champions the best of what the ocean has to offer in one hefty forkful.
One of the hallmarks of a good and proper fish pie is the contrast in textures. You don't want your chunks of fish to completely give in to your sauce, you need them to hold some firmness. It’s also worth investing time into delivering a decent crunchy top layer on that potato. Some might go for grated cheddar, while others spike the heat at the end of the cooking process to ensure those charred crispy bits.
Whichever direction you take it in, whatever herbs or seasonings you decide to chuck at it, the mighty fish pie remains an iconic seafood dish that begs to be pushed out in the chilling winter months. So do it.