I love a fish pie, especially its adaptability. As a dish of several elements, it is ripe for little tweaks here and there, and this curried version is light enough to let you taste the fish without straying too far from fish pie’s essence. Curry leaves can be tricky to get hold of (I keep a bag of fresh ones in my freezer), but they add a lovely dimension. Always choose Marine Conservation Society-approved seafood, and aim for a mix of white and pink fish – smoked haddock is obligatory, though. If you skin the fish yourself, add it to the milk during the poaching – it really intensifies the flavour.
Curried fish pie
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr
4 garlic cloves, peeled, 2 roughly chopped, 2 crushed
8 fresh curry leaves (optional)
1kg floury potatoes (such as maris piper or king edwards), peeled and cut into 6cm (2-inch chunks
500ml whole or semi-skimmed milk, plus 60ml extra for the potatoes
2 bay leaves
950g fish mix – 350g undyed smoked haddock (left as a whole fillet), skinned, plus 300g each of coley and salmon, both skinned and cut into 5cm cubes
85g unsalted butter, plus 2 tbsp extra for the potatoes
1cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
8 spring onions, trimmed and chopped
60g plain flour
150g sweetcorn kernels, fresh, tinned, or frozen and defrosted
130g frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed as dry as possible
2 tsp mustard seeds
3 tbsp cream cheese, or creme fraiche, double cream or mayonnaise
For the spice mix
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp pimento (allspice)
½ tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp sweet paprika
2 tsp ground turmeric
Mix all the spices for the spice mix. Bring a large pan of water to a boil, add one of the roughly chopped garlic cloves, the curry leaves, if using, a tablespoon of salt and the potatoes, then cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender. Drain, discard the curry leaves, then cover the potatoes with a tea towel and leave to steam dry.
Put the milk in a heavy-based frying pan with the bay leaves and the other clove of chopped garlic, and warm over a medium heat. Add the reserved smoked haddock skin, then lay in the fillet and poach for four minutes. Turn over and poach on the other side, lifting out as soon as the flesh turns white – about another two or three minutes. Strain the milk into a jug or bowl.
Wipe clean the frying pan, then melt the 85g butter on a low-medium heat with all the crushed garlic and the ginger. Once melted, stir in all but half a tablespoon of the spice mix, and cook for three minutes. Add half the spring onions, stir to coat, then mix in the flour until it is fully incorporated. Cook, stirring occasionally, for four minutes, then gradually add the strained milk, stirring well after each addition to get rid of any lumps. Add salt to taste, if needed, though the haddock should have seasoned it sufficiently.
Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Put all the fish and the sweetcorn in a baking dish, dot the spinach around, then pour over the sauce.
Put the pan you used to boil the potatoes on a medium heat and melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter. Add the mustard seeds and reserved half-tablespoon of the spice mix, cook, stirring, until fragrant, then add the remaining spring onions.
Using a ricer or masher, mash the potato straight into the spiced butter, then stir in the cream cheese (or creme fraiche, double cream or mayo) and the milk, until the mix has an even colour. Spoon the potato on top of the fish and vegetables in the baking dish, then carefully spread it with a fork without disturbing the mix below. Don’t make it too smooth, though – any spiky bits will catch some colour and crispness, and are delicious.
Bake for 30 minutes, then remove and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Slice and serve with peas.