Finally, after a few dismal soggy summer months the sun is out. It is a glorious Sunday today. My flowers are in bloom which really excites me considering I have spent many days tending and caring for my plant and fighting away an army of snails. J is away at university, so I have the house to myself this weekend. Today is his last day of class for this year so I thought I would make him a celebratory dinner and have been shopping for groceries. I thought I’d make him a lovely leg of lamb but I had to go to three supermarkets before I could find a good cut – how bizarre! But for now, I’m back at my favorite pub, laptop in tow, overlooking the beautiful park on this sunny day.
Two days ago, the weather was very different. It was a gloomy end to the week with grey clouds and a very rainy Friday. My friends K, B and I decided that we would have a boys’ night in instead of venturing out to Soho and getting up to our usual Friday night shenanigans. We planned an evening of cooking and wine at K’s place. It was genius, we would get to spend some time together, experiment with food which we all love and have a few glasses of wine in the comfort of K’s home.
I met the boys at Clapham Common and we went to what I think is the ‘gayest’ supermarket in London. All the gays in clapham seen to shop there and you can almost sense this cruisy vibe when you enter. We had our menu planned out. So armed with shopping lists and a trolley we made our way down the aisles. The food shopping was quite quick, it was the wine that took us time to choose. Ultimately, spoiled for choice we grabbed a bottle each and headed to the checkout.
When we got back home, B was quick to get the apron out and we spent the next few hours making a delicious two course meal. The third course got lost somewhere considering we were almost two bottles of wine down by the time we finished cooking. We made a wonderful warm romaine lettuce and broad bean salad for starters and the fish pie for mains.
It was a lovely evening, we got to talk, gossip, laugh and just chill out together. So often we lose ourselves in crowded, noisy pubs and clubs standing in frustratingly long queues to get a drink. Then after all that, you can hardly hear yourself think over the blaring speakers just to find yourself tapping to a background beat, unable to have a meaningful connection with anyone. Then at the end of the night, crawl back home, drunk, tired and ears ringing from the loud music and having spent a ridiculous amount of money. This was a different night. We cooked a meal and were able to truly spend time with each other. The meal, dare I say, was unbelievable and really delicious. Then again, I guess it was seasoned with generous helpings of friendship and love!
My contribution to the evening was a fish pie recipe that I have made a number of times. However everytime I have made it I have improvised and ended up changing the recipe ever so slightly. This time, it was the best version of this dish so I am going to finally write it all down!
You can experiment with this really easy dish. The results are superb and it is just a lovely meal to share with friends.
You will need (Serves 4 people)
• 800 gms of mixed fish, skinned, boned and cut into small bite size chunks (I use a combination of salmon, cod and my favourite – peppered smoked mackerel) You can even use squid, mussels or prawns but you have to be very careful as they can get quite chewy if overcooked!
• 500 ml of milk
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 handful of freshly chopped parsley
• 1 stick of cinnamon
• 1 large white onion quartered. Stick cloves into the quarters
• 1 tablespoon pepper corns
• 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
• 75 gms of butter
• 2 tablespoons flour
• 5 cloves of garlic chopped
• 5 large potatoes peeled and quartered
• 4 spring onions
• olive oil
Place the fish in a saucepan with the milk, the (cloved) onions, cinnamon stick, bayleaves, pepper corns and bring to boil, then let it simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes.
Boil your potatoes till you can put a fork through them. Chop your spring onions. Place the spring onions and potatoes in a big dish and mash adding a glug of milk, 1 tablespoon of butter and a good glug of olive oil. Season your mash and keep aside.
Strain the fish using a sieve but retain the milk as you will need this to make your roux (sauce). Remove the bayleaves and cinnamon from the fish. In a fresh saucepan heat the butter till its completely melted, add the garlic and let it fry for a bit. Then sprinkle in the flour while constantly stirring with a wooden spoon. Don’t let the butter get too clumpy. Now add the strained milk to this mixture. Keep stirring as you pour it in slowly. You should get a lovely rich and silky texture to your sauce. Stir well to remove any lumps from the flour and add the nutmeg and seasoning.
In a baking dish, place the fish and over that sprinkle the chopped parsley. Now pour your sauce all over the fish. Make a top layer with the mash and place it in the oven at 180 (F) for 40 minutes. When the mash starts to brown, take it out. Let it rest for a few minutes but serve hot.