Sunday, January 9, 2011
High School and Fish Pie
The Romans who invaded Britain were very fond of fish, but anything that was enjoyed by the occupiers was avoided with scorn by the British, fish in particular because of its association with the Pagan goddess Venus. Over time, fish was eaten in England and was eaten mainly on Fridays to adhere to the teachings of the Church. It was another of the many pagan customs which were assimilated by the Christian church.
During medieval times British fish pies were often cooked with spices and sugar and covered with a pastry lid coated in icing. Today the pie has evolved into a tasty and much healthier meal.
When I was about 13 or 14, we had a Home Economics class where we were going to make fish pie; which, as seen above, has a long history in English cooking. We were given a list of ingredients to purchase and bring in for the class. As usual, I gave my list to my Mum and asked her to buy me the necessary ingredients. Mum thought she was helping me (and her) out by doing a little something "out of the box"; after all, Dad and her were going to have to eat the creation that I was to cook in class that day, and purchased for me a can of smoked fish in oil.
Horrified to find that I had no fresh fish, but rather a can of smoked fish, Mum assured me that it would be "fine" and would increase the taste of the pie. While a great idea, what she had not counted on was that the class was not one where "experimentation" and "free range" was permitted or given.
At school the next day, I walked in with my picnic basket of ingredients and proceeded to unload on my work space. We were given the recipe sheet and then the teacher did a small demonstration of how to cook the fish. It so happened that my work station was right in front of the class and next to the cooking range she was using. When she finished her demonstration, she began walking around the class to see how we were all fairing. I must have been standing dumb-founded because she immediately honed in on me as I tried to decided what to do with the fish that I had in the can. Pop it in milk and cook it like the others were doing, or since it was already smoked, just flake it and add it?
I was soon told that I would not be cooking that day because I had failed to follow simple instructions from the ingredient list and attempted to "deviate" from an already organized plan. When I tried to explain to the teacher that while it was not fresh, I did still bring fish and could create my own version of the same recipe, I was landed in lunchtime detention.
Not being one who was swayed easily, or one who always walked "between lines", the valuable lesson I learned that day was two-fold; 1) don't take what high school Home Economics teachers have to say about cooking as gospel, and 2) there is ALWAYS an "out-of-the-box" method to cooking, and experimentation truly is key.
After that, I used the classes as my own weekly experimentation grounds. When the teacher gave us a recipe list for a certain dish we were going to create, I added some of my own magic, with secret ingredients I'd slip in when no one was looking, a different spice here, and added ingredient there. The results of each dish delighted the teacher, each week thereafter and baffled her as to why mine was always so "different" from the rest of the class. Of course, she never tasted our food, so she could only go on looks and aroma.
Oh and as far as the fish pie with smoked fish goes, if you want to try to do this, you can either purchase a can of fish that is easy to flake and that has not hardened in the smoking process, or better yet, go to a deli and purchase a whole smoked fish. You can follow the method of popping it in milk and bringing to the boil, but I would be very careful on your timing so that you don't over cook the fish. If you really want to try this method, bring the milk to a boil and immediately turn it off.
The other method, and one that I would recommend more, is to omit the entire process of cooking the fish in milk and simply flake it and put it into the step where you would put in the flaked fish if you are cooking the fish. This will give the pie a rich, smoky flavour. Do not omit the milk as you will need it in making the roux sauce.
Fish Pie is really a version of Shepherd's Pie only made with fish and a roux sauce. It's very easy to make, and it does not take a lot of time.
Cooking is like art, you must be creative and let your imagination have fun. Yes, there will be times when you will create a disaster, but TRY the disaster, does it have anything that appeals to you? If so, then recreate and build on the things that are appealing to you and leave out the rest. If you don't experiment of have a few disasters along the way, then you're not really creating. All perfection must come from trial and error. Be keen, be aware, and above all, use your senses and listen to your heart. When you have disasters, don't cry, embrace them because these are the perfect times for you to learn and learn what not to do.
Let your imaginations, your creative juices, and taste buds flow. Try new things and expound on recipes to add a little of your own magic to them.
If you have recipe ideas that you want to know if it will work out, or want to know if something will pair up well, write to me and ask me, I am always here to help you out too.
1lb fish fillets, skinned and de-boned *cod and haddock are great fish to use*
1 1/2 cups milk (keep extra milk handy in case you need it)
2 TBSP butter
2TBSP white all-purpose flour
1 spring onion, sliced
2 cups carrots, diced
1 cup green peas
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 cup shredded cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1LB potatoes, peeled and cooked
1 stick butter
1/4 cup milk
Salt to taste
1. Boil fish in milk for 7-8 minutes. Remove fish from the milk with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate. Pour the milk into a heat proof jug and set aside. Flake the fish into good size flakes and set aside.
2. Melt the butter in the same pan as you cooked the fish in, and then add the flour stirring continually until flour and butter are well combined. Slowly add the milk from the fish, stirring continually to ensure that it does not begin to clump. If you need to add more milk, use the extra milk now. Keep stirring and cook until the roux sauce begins to thicken. Taste the roux and add salt and pepper to taste (salt-water fish often needs a little more salt that you usually use, but go with your taste buds). Now add the onions, carrots, peas, and mushrooms. Cook for about 5 mins until the carrots begin to soften (add more milk if it becomes too thick, but do not allow it to become runny, you still want it somewhat thick but not too thick that the carrots won't cook). Then add the cheese and the fish, stir in gently to combine all. Pour mix into an oven proof baking dish and set aside.
3. Heat oven to 350*F
4. Mash the potatoes until thick and smooth. Using a large spoon, dollop potatoes on top of the fish mix, and using a fork spread the potatoes creating a design on the potatoes using the fork.
5. Place into a 350*F oven for 20 minutes and then increase the heat to 400*F for a further 15-20 minutes or until the top is browned.
6. Remove from oven and let sit for approximately 5-10 minutes before serving.
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