Stargazey Pie

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

stargazey pie a traditional British pie made with small, oily fish, whose heads are left poking up round the edge of the pie. Pilchards (see sardine) were the species originally used by the Cornish and Devon fisherfolk who invented the pie, but it was later made elsewhere with herring.

The standard explanation of this odd pie is that the heads of pilchards are uneatable, but full of rich oil which it would be a shame to waste. If the fish are arranged with their heads resting on the rim of a circular pie dish and projecting out of the crust (their tails clustered at the centre), the slope causes the oil to run down into the body of the fish; and when the pie is cut up the now useless heads can be discarded. However, experiments have shown that the amount of oil thus ‘saved’ is close to zero, which suggests that the only valid rationale for the pie is an aesthetic one.