Frankly, I blame the fish pie.
For the delay, I mean.
It’s been almost 2 months since I met Natasha, she of 5 Star Foodie, and her daughter Hannah for lunch.
It’s been so long, in fact, that Bentley’s, where we ate, is no more, having morphed into the Cliff Town House. And while I am more than happy to see an outpost of the Cliff House Hotel come to Dublin, this does mean that the Bentley’s menu is gone from our shores.
Which brings me back to the fish pie.
Bentley’s creamy, mashed potatoey fish pie.
The restaurant’s signature dish and the one that I had to have when I met Natasha, despite the fact that it was the middle of (an admittedly Irish) summer.
And it was good. Heavy and rich but very good.
So I got it into my head that I should make some kind of Bentley’s inspired fish pie to accompany this post. Except that, until last weekend, we were experiencing anything but fish pie weather. Not that I was complaining about that, you understand, but now that the weather has started turning, I find that fish pie and five star foodie lunches have bubbled right back up to the top of the menu.
And, my, what a lovely lunch it was. Though the fish pie was good, the company was even better.
Natasha was as delightful as I had imagined, but it was her daughter Hannah who stole the show. Despite being all of 6 years old, she has experienced her fair share of fine dining, both at restaurant tables and in her mother’s kitchen. Based on her forthright opinions on all we ate, she could certainly challenge her mother for the 5 Star Foodie title and could probably give most restaurant critics a good run for their money.
During the meal, she asked if Bentley’s had a Michelin star, ‘cos it was “kinda fancy.” I explained that it had the involvement of a well known, Michelin star kind of chef, if not an actual Michelin star. And I realised that this was most definitely not the kind of conversation I was used to having with 6 year olds of my acquaintance.
And so, a couple of months later, as I pondered my fish pie, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would pass muster with Hannah. That seal of approval would, I feel, be worth more than any Michelin star.
Fish-A-Leekie Pie (a Fish Pie with Leek and Potato)
As you might expect, this pie takes its lead from the recipe for Bentley’s fish pie, which is included in Richard Corrigan’s fine book, The Clatter of Forks and Spoons. I’ve used a similar creamy white wine and thyme sauce and a mix of smoked and unsmoked fish, as does the Bentley’s pie, though I’ve added leeks and capers and swapped the mashed potato for a topping of potato slices.
While I might mourn the departure of Bentley’s and its fish pie from Dublin, having this in my repertoire will ease the pain considerably.
For the sauce:
- 50g butter
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 medium leeks, white and light green parts finely sliced (about 200g)
- 0.5 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 75ml white wine
- 50g plain flour
- 500ml milk
- 0.75 tsp salt or to taste
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp English mustard (Colman’s)
- 1 tblsp capers, rinsed and drained
- 4-5 tblsp chopped flat leaf parsley, loosely packed
- 1.5 tblsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp malt vinegar
For the rest of the pie:
- 300-350g potato (about 2 medium sized spuds – preferably waxy as they will hold their shape better)
- 250g smoked haddock (or other smoked white fish)
- 250g salmon fillet
- 1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tblsp freshly grated parmesan
You’ll also need:
- An ovenproof dish – mine was 20cm x 20cm x 5cm deep – plus a processor or blender for blending the sauce (an immersion blender is handiest).
The Sauce Steps:
- Place a large, heavy saucepan over a medium heat and, when hot, add the butter.
- Once the butter has melted, add the garlic, leeks and thyme and cook over a medium-low heat for about 5 minutes or until the leeks have started to soften.
- Add the white wine and cook for another 4-5 minutes.
- Add the flour and stir quickly until combined, then very gradually start adding the milk, stirring vigorously all the time. Continue until all of the milk has been incorporated. Don’t worry too much about lumps as you can blend the sauce later.
- Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes.
- Add the salt, black pepper, mustard, capers, parsley, lemon juice and vinegar and stir to combine.
- Remove from the heat and blend briefly (though don’t worry about making the sauce completely homogenous). Taste and check seasoning, adding more mustard or lemon juice if you think it needs it.
- Cover and set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the pie.
- Preheat the oven to 180C
- Scrub the potatoes and, leaving the skins on, cut into approx. 0.5cm slices.
- In a saucepan, bring about 1l of water to the boil, add 1 tsp salt and the potato slices.
- Bring back to a simmer and simmer gently, covered, for 5-6 minutes or until the potato slices are just starting to become tender.
- Remove the potatoes from the heat, drain and leave to sit for about 5 minutes, covered with a tea-towel to absorb the steam.
- Cut the smoked haddock and salmon into approx. 1cm cubes.
- Spoon some of the previously prepared sauce onto your ovenproof dish, add the fish pieces and spoon over the remaining sauce.
- Top with a layer of overlapping potato slices. Drizzle over the olive oil and sprinkle with the parmesan.
- Bake for about 30 minutes – the potatoes should have crisped up around the edges. Serve with some salad and the rest of that bottle of white wine you had to open for the sauce.
- If smoked fish is not your thing, you can certainly replace the smoked fish with with any unsmoked white fish. You can also top the pie with mashed potato or a pastry crust instead of the potato slices if you like.
- Serves 2-3 pie-eaters