Readers regularly complain of poor results with their fish pies, usually – we guess – because they over-cook the fish before putting it into the pie. The preliminary poaching of the fish in milk should be only very brief, for this is only to cook it enough to facilitate removal of the skin and bones and to rid it of excess water.
People also wonder why their potato topping so often melts into the sauce and this is almost certianly because they have mashed their potatoes with too much added butter or cream. The potatoes for the toping should be mashed almost dry.
Poach the fish in the milk with the bay leaf for 3 minutes. Strain through a colander, reserving the liquid.
In a large heavy pan, make a roux by melting two-thirds of the butter over a low heat, stirring in the flour and cooking gently, stirring, for about 1 minute. Whisk in the strained milk, bring to a simmer and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes.
Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender, drain and mash with the remaining butter only. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6.
Boil the eggs for 7–8 minutes, refresh in cold water, shell and chop. Put into a buttered pie dish.
Flake the fish into large pieces, discarding all skin and bones. Discard the bay leaf from the sauce, then stir the chopped parsley into the sauce and season it with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. Continue to simmer for 2–3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Off the heat, mix the fish and sauce together, then pour and spoon the mixture into the pie dish. Spoon the potato on top, spreading it into an even layer with a fork. Brush the top of the potato with beaten egg mixed with a little milk.
Bake the pie for about 20 minutes, until the top is a good uniform golden colour. (Alternatively, make the fish pie the day before you want to serve it and refrigerate until you need to put in the oven next day.)
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.