Getting kids to eat fish can be a challenge. For a year or so when he was four, my son wanted nothing but fish fingers (the frozen kind, which only average about 60-70% fish). Then he went off them, and refused all substitutes for a few years, until he had salmon at a friend’s house and decided it was okay. I moved him along to halibut, also fairly bland and meaty, and I had some luck making
fish fingers from scratch, but finally decided they weren’t worth the bother. Then I remembered an old favorite, fish pie—supreme comfort food. He went for it, so now it’s a staple for us all, since we love it too.
I like to poach the fish lightly to keep it tender. Prawns add a nice, slightly sweet flavor, and together with the chopped eggs, add some interesting texture as well; in the same way, both flaking and cutting the fish keeps it from seeming mushy.
1-1/2 pounds fish (1/3 salmon fillet, 1/3 white fish, 1/3 prawns)
1-1/2 cups milk
1 onion, chopped roughly
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
several grindings of fresh black pepper
3 eggs, hard-boiled and shelled
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 pounds potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
(The salmon should be unskinned, but it’s not a problem if it’s not. Use any flaky white fish, such as flounder, sole, halibut, either cut as a steak or fillet. Shell the prawns.)
Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Peel the potatoes and cut into 2-inch chunks. Set aside in a bowl of water. (Mashed potatoes made ahead can get gluey; this advance preparation speeds up the process at the end.) Set a large pot of lightly salted water over high heat.
Pour milk into a large saucepan. Add onion, thyme, salt, and pepper, and bring to a simmer over medium heat (small bubbles should be breaking the surface). Add fish to the liquid, which should just cover it, and maintain the simmer for 6 or 7 minutes. Turn off heat, and remove the fish carefully with a slotted spatula or spoon. If the fish has skin or bones (as when it’s cut as a steak), remove and discard. Strain and reserve milk; discard solids.
In a pie dish or shallow ceramic baking dish (a 9x9x3-inch dish is perfect), flake the white fish and scatter on the bottom. Cut the salmon into 1-inch chunks, and the prawns into two or three pieces, depending on their size, and mix with the fish flakes. Chop the eggs roughly, mix with parsley, and scatter over the fish.
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour, and whisk them together for 3 or 4 minutes. Add the warm milk a little at a time, whisk vigorously as it heats up to a simmer, and continue this for several minutes as it thickens. Pour over the fish in the dish.
The set-aside water should be boiling. Drain the potatoes and place in the boiling water. Cook them for 10-12 minutes; test a chunk for doneness—you should be able to cut through smoothly. Drain and mash, or put through a potato ricer (if you do, you could crush the potatoes over the dish onto the fish, to keep the loose “riced” effect; you could also use it as the first step in mashing, for smoother results). Adding olive oil to the mash will also make it smoother. Spread potatoes over the top and rake with a fork, making a pattern that will brown attractively.
Place the dish on a baking sheet and put in the oven. Cook for 20 minutes. Serve by cutting through the potato crust and dishing it up with a large spoon, to obtain the maximum of sauce.