I am very lucky to have two great Mother in Laws. Norma and Judy are both vivacious, fun, and creative. Norma, Toby’s Mom, is a party girl at heart. She has a breezy, go with the flow attitude, that is down to earth, welcoming, and infectious. Her home is bohemian, comfy, and begs you to stretch out and stay a little longer. It’s filled with quirky finds in thrift shops, curiosities from pound stores (similar to our 99 cent store), and watercolors that she paints. You find yourself supported by mooshy pillows, snuggled under wooly blankets, with a cup of Early Grey tea and Ginger Nut biscuits, watching the BBC. In our time, we have played to a bit of air guitar and disco danced around the house with the music blaring (or is that just me Norma while you laugh at me?). I have spent many a year trying to recreate this energy in my own home. I’m telling you, it’s heaven. I’m almost ready to book flights to London just thinking about it.
Toby’s step Mom Judy is pretty major as well. She and Toby’s Dad, John, live in the West Coast of England. Judy is a master knitter (no, not granny gear. She used to sell her beautiful sweaters to the posh shop Joseph) and a fabulous cook. Hello! I nearly fell over when I had a slice of her freshly baked Brown Bread (the English version of Whole Wheat), and was wowed when I ate her Fish Pie for the first time. Years ago, when Toby and I were freewheeling kids living in London, we decided to get out of town and visit them in Cornwall. We arrived wet and worn after a blustery 4 hour drive in a Citroen Deux Chevaux with wonky windshield wipers and no heating. Toby and I felt like we had died and gone to heaven as we ate her divine fish pie for dinner. Chunks of cod, shrimp, and halibut, nestled in a velvety cheese sauce, and the piece de resistance was a scrummy mash topped with melted mature cheddar. Sensational. This was at least 12 years ago, and it’s still a vivid memory.
Our chariot for the journey to Cornwall
I recently asked Judy for the recipe, and as it was such a long time ago, she didn’t have it. Bummer. She had been adapting it over the years, as most good home cooks do. She did remind me of some of her highlights that I had forgotten: dijon mustard in the white sauce (nice one Juds), King Edward Potatoes, and any combination of sea bass, cod skate, herring, or Icelandic Haddock (from Marks and Spencer for my UK friends). Over the years, my fish pie has become so popular, that it’s on our regular menu rotation, and has also been bumped up to a special occasion dish. It’s a crowd pleaser, and children love it.
Traditional Fish Pie
1-2 lbs of fresh or frozen mixed fish (I buy a seafood blend of bay scallops, shrimp. and squid) cod, haddock, sea bass, skate, and herring are also great options.
1 medium carrot chopped
1/4 cup green peas
1/4 cup corn
half a medium white onion chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons unbleached white flour
1/4 cup mature cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon of dijon mustard
3 tablespoons butter
pinch of nutmeg
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 lb bag of King Edward or Russet potatoes, boiled for 20-30 minutes, or until tender
1 cup milk for mashing (possibly a bit more if your potatoes are too stiff)
2 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup olive oil
sea salt and black pepper to season
1. Boil the potatoes until tender (20-30 min. keep checking). Drain and cool for 10 minutes.
2. Peel the potatoes, and mash in a pot with milk, butter, olive oil, salt and pepper to a fairly sturdy, stiff consistency (you want to keep make sure the potatoes and sauce stay separate in the pie). Cover and set aside.
3. Fish: Saute the onions and garlic. Add the carrot and saute for 2 minutes, then add the peas and corn. Cook another minute. Add the fish. Cook on medium heat for 2 minutes (as not to overcook for the fish), and turn off the heat. Strain off the cooking juices and set aside uncovered.
4. For the cream sauce. In a sauce pan, met the butter and olive oil. Add the flour and stir frequently, then start adding a bit of milk, keep stirring until it gets thick, then add more milk, until you run out of milk. Then gradually ladle in the cooking juices from the fish. Keep stirring until it gets thick, then add the fish liquor, until you run out, At the end, add stir in the cheddar cheese, dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and stir. Cover and turn off the heat.
5. Add the cream sauce to the fish and stir to combine.
6. Using a rectangular baking dish, pour the fish into the dish. Layer the mashed potatoes on top delicately so it doesn’t sink. I scoop out big spoonfuls to cover the fish, then take a fork to spread the potatoes evenly over the fish. Lastly cover the potatoes with a generous amount of grated cheese.
7. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 for 30 min. In the final minutes turn the over to “Broil” and grill the cheese to a deep golden brown for 2-3 minutes.