I looked in the freezer at about 4 o’ clock and scanned my options. More often than not I confess that I am not actually prepared to make dinner. I think about food all the time and I read cookbooks and cooking magazines if I have a spare moment but, I’m not really a concrete planner of meals. I go over ingredients and techniques in my head (my form of daydreaming) but never want to pin myself down to one dish over another. During the day, in my head, anything seems possible. Then evening begins to loom and the people I live with start asking the dreaded question “what’s for dinner?” and I need to snap back into reality. If I have nothing at the ready from the shop or in the fridge, the freezer door is my reality and today, as the hour grew late I pulled out the quickest thing – fish! I had 3 pieces of salmon and 3 pieces of tilapia??? I didn’t want to fry it and then have to make a sauce or simmer in a broth and then cook rice or some other starch, along with a vegetable. I wanted this something to be an all in one affair. Throwing the whole dinner in the oven in one dish was an appealing thought this evening so, when asked, I shouted out, “Fish Pie!” The prep at the beginning seems a little daunting but I find that making a quick burst at the beginning and nothing much after that is a good way to go (especially if you are tired). In defense of frozen fish I have to say that yes, of course I would prefer fresh out of the water but I don’t want to have to go to the marketplace every time I want a piece of fish. I don’t live by the dock or in a coastal town so I do the sensible thing…I buy certain kinds of fish from the freezer section. Fish these days is frozen pretty efficiently and I have had more “off” fish from the fish counter than from my freezer. So my advice is….keep a little frozen fish in your kitchen for nights like these.
You will need: 3 pieces salmon (6oz each approx), 3 pieces of tilapia (4-6oz each approx), 1 onion, 3 lbs potatoes, 3 cups milk (2% or whole),3 bay leaves, 1 cup frozen peas, 1 tsp peppercorns, 8 0z unsalted butter (8 tbs or 1 stick), 4 tbs unbleached white flour, 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper.
Peel potatoes and put in pot and fill pot with cold water until the potatoes are just covered. Boil until soft (test with a knife) and then mash with 4 oz (4 tbs) butter, 1/2 cup milk, 1 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper and set aside.
Preheat oven 375*
Rinse fish and reserve on a plate. Put remaining milk (2 1/2 cups) in shallow saute pan (large enough to cook the fish) and add the onion (quartered),
peppercorns, and bay leaves. Turn the pan to medium heat and let the milk come to a very gentle boil. Add fish in as even a layer as possible. Shake the pan gently so the milk covers or washes over the fish. Turn pan heat to low, cover and poach
the fish until just cooked (about 4 to 5 minutes). Remove fish from milk and reserve on a plate. Strain milk into a bowl to remove all the seasonings. Reserve the milk for sauce. Keep pan on low and add the remainder of the butter (4tbs). When it has melted add the flour and stir with a whisk until smooth and has cooked into the butter (about 1 minute). Add the warm milk slowly to the pan and whisk continuously. Add 1/2 tsp kosher salt and some freshly ground black
pepper. Add peas and let it cook for about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off pan. Take a shallow casserole (2′ deep) and butter the sides and bottom thinly. Flake fish (break up slightly) into bottom of casserole in an even layer and then pour sauce over the top of it. Spread potatoes over the top of the sauce & fish. Smooth out with a fork (will leave a nice lined pattern) and add a few thin slices of butter to the top of the potatoes (optional). Cook in oven for 35 to 40 minutes. The top should be starting to look golden and the sauce a little bubbly on the sides. Remove from oven and let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving. I served this with some sautéed spinach, (sautéed in extra virgin olive oil about 3 minutes before serving). Everyone cleaned their plates – the way it should be..