A classic fish pie recipe, made using responsibly sourced seafood from sustainable sources.
Sometimes it feels like the humble fish pie has gone the way of other classic dishes and is now only eaten as a ready meal.
Small amounts of overcooked seafood, of questionable quality and origin, swimming in a bland sauce, and heated in the microwave feels like a disservice to this iconic dish.
You never see it on a restaurant menu and you’ll rarely lay eyes on it in a bar or pub either.
Does anyone make fish pie anymore?
Bite-size chunks of perfectly cooked fish, coated in a silky white sauce, and topped with fluffy mash potato is pure comfort food.
Although making your own from scratch can be a labour of love, it’s the only way to control what goes in it.
The quality, freshness, and sustainability of the fish. The consistency and seasoning in your sauce, and the topping (more on this in a minute)
Coming up, we’ll be giving you a couple of tips on how to make an awesome fish pie.
A list of some of the more sustainable species of fish to use, so you can avoid the usual suspects, and cook with a clear conscience.
As well as, of course, a recipe.
The Best Fish Pie Recipe – What Type Of Fish To Use
Mary Berry only uses haddock in her fish pie recipe.
Gordon Ramsay is more of a traditionalist and cooks salmon, cod, and prawns in his.
Delia does a luxury version with scallops. While Nigel Slater puts mussels in his.
Point is, there are no rules and you can use whatever fish you like.
For me though, the best fish pie recipe should contain seafood with contrasting flavours and textures,
So, ideally, you’ll want to go with a little bit of smoked fish. Along with something firm and meaty. And maybe something oily for a hit of Omega 3.
But at the foundation of most fish pies, you’ll find something white and flaky, with a great flavour, that marries well with other types of fish….. namely cod.
It would be the perfect base for any fish pie recipe except it’s got major sustainability issues.
So, the question is…
Should You Use Cod In Your Fish Pie Recipe?
And the answer is, well, complicated.
Because it really depends on where in the world you live, which fisheries the cod your buying comes from, and even how it was caught.
So, let me explain.
As a very general rule cod caught in the Pacific around Alaska and the west coast of the U.S would be considered sustainable.
As well as cod farmed worldwide in indoor recirculating tanks
In most parts of the Atlantic, it’s a different story.
High consumer demand, years of constant overfishing, and the capture of juvenile fish that haven’t had a chance to breed have all taken a toll on stocks.
Back in 2016, 15 thousand tons of cod were landed at ports in the U.K alone. While around the same amount was imported. (source: seafish.org)
Better management of stocks over the last 10 years means the cod populations in the Atlantic are now in a much healthier state than they once were.
But cod from a lot of fisheries in the Atlantic would still be considered threatened and unsustainable.
If you really want to use sustainable cod in your fish pie recipe then develop a relationship with your fishmonger and ask exactly where the fish he’s selling comes from.
Alternatively, look for cod with the blue MSC (marine stewardship council) label.
The MSC is a non-profit body that certifies fish from sustainable fisheries.
And if you’re not sure where the cod you’re buying comes from. Or you’d rather not use it at all, but still want something white and flakey that tastes great to use in your fish pie, than what’s the alternative?
Well, there’s quite a few actually…..
5 Cod Substitutes For You To Consider Using In Your Fish Pie Recipe
Below we’ve compiled a handy little list of some cod alternatives for you to try. However, some of the species listed can be quite difficult to come by.
You won’t find them in most supermarkets simply because they are not popular and they don’t sell.
So, if you want to get a hold of some your gonna have to ask your local fishmonger to get them for you or make a trip to a larger fish market or wholesaler.
Also known as coley in this part of the world, pollock is a close relation to cod with a slightly off white/grey coloured flesh but a very similar flavour and flakey texture.
Very often smoked (that’s how we’ll be using it in our recipe) you’ll often find it in fish fingers and Mcdonald’s use it in their fillet o’ fish burger.
Look for pollock from the north sea / Atlantic and around the Faroe Islands. Line-caught pollock is considered the most sustainable but hard to come by unless you catch it yourself.
I’m guessing this is one species of fish you’ve probably never heard of simply because it’s not commercially fished and you never really see it down the fish market.
Although fishermen like to use it as bait in crab and lobster pots it does have a growing reputation as a table fish.
Another relation of cod, pouting is a relatively small fish only found in European and Scandanavian waters.
The flesh is pure white, flakey, succulent, and very tasty.
Because it’s not commercially fished there’s not much data on exactly how sustainable it is.
But it grows to maturity quickly, can breed at under 2 years of age, and isn’t overfished so it would be considered one of the better fish for consumers to go for.
Yet another member of the cod family there are a total of 12 species of hake. The one we’re after is the silver hake from the north Atlantic.
With a slight off white colour, hake has a softer texture than cod, isn’t quite as flakey, but it has a mildly sweet flavour that works great in a seafood pie.
There are 2 main fisheries for hake located in the north and south Atlantic.
After years of overfishing, good management has allowed stocks to recover fully in the north Atlantic where hake is abundant and at record highs.
Avoid hake caught in the south Atlantic where populations are still at unsustainable levels.
Long and slender Hoki is also known as blue grenadier or blue hake. It can grow as big as 1.3 meters in length and is found at depths of up to 1000 meters.
Caught in the waters around Australia and New Zealand it has a beautiful white coloured flesh, a sweet flavour, is nice and flakey once cooked, and really succulent because of its high-fat content.
Hoki is almost impossible to get fresh in my part of the world and it usually comes frozen.
Having said that, it freezes really well compared to most other white fish because of its high-fat content and cooks up well once defrosted.
New Zealand fisheries have spent a lot of money in management and monitoring of the species over the last 15 years to ensure its sustainability into the future and reduce bycatch.
Although Hoki has MSC certification it’s kinda like a fish of last resort for me and I tend to only get it occasionally simply because I try to buy local where possible to reduce my carbon footprint.
#5. Haddock, Whiting, And Ling
Other flakey white fish you could consider using in your fish pie recipe includes haddock, whiting, and ling.
I’ve grouped these 3 species together because although they’re more widely available than those listed above they face some sustainability issues of their own. And should be eaten sparingly.
Haddock is a good example.
Although it’s quite plentiful in the north-east Atlantic where it’s considered sustainable it often swims with other types of fish including cod which results in a lot of bycatch and discards.
Whiting suffers from exactly the same problem only worse because of it’s low market value or because it’s caught while quotas are full.
And while there’s little data or research into the sustainability of ling it’s not considered a good fish to go for as it’s often trawled for in deep water.
What About Using Salmon in Your Fish Pie Recipe?
Up until a while ago, I would have been a fan of buying a little bit of salmon to put in my fish pie.
It’s an oily fish so it adds to the nutritional value (omega 3) it also offers a different texture, but more importantly, it gives a nice splash of pink colour to what can admittedly be a bit of a beige dish.
However, the only type of salmon around these days is farmed. Often intensively and unsustainably.
I don’t want to get into the whole fish farming V’s environment debate here.
But it’s safe to say there’s not many wild salmon left in the Atlantic that I can see. And most of the farmed versions are just too damaging to the environment to cook with a clear conscience.
That’s the reason why I now skip salmon and you should too.
It doesn’t taste all that great anyway because, in all honesty, we’ve forgotten what real wild salmon tastes like.
If you really want to use salmon in your fish pie recipe (or for anything else) then get some Alaskan it’s the last sustainable and well-managed salmon fishery left on the planet.
You might be thinking that trout would be an ideal substitute for salmon.
And you’d be right.
But unfortunately, both sea and rainbow trout suffer from exactly the same issue. There’s very few left in the wild and farming them has a detrimental effect on the environment.
The most sustainable choice if you’re looking for a similar fish to salmon is the little known Arctic char.
What Is Arctic Char?
Arctic char is a distant relation of the salmon family with a very similar life cycle.
It returns from feeding at sea to the lakes and rivers where it was born to spawn.
The big difference is that they don’t die afterwards and can breed many times during their long lives, normally every other year.
Found in the cold Arctic coastal waters of North America, Canada, Scandinavia, and Iceland the Arctic char can have a brilliantly coloured red flesh or a more sedated pink hue depending on the time of year.
With a higher fat content than either salmon or trout, it has a similar but slightly richer flavour and a firm texture with a fine flake once cooked.
Why It’s Sustainable
Sustainable wild Arctic char comes from both Canadian coastal waters and the Arctic sea.
Like salmon, it’s also farmed but much more sustainably in onshore tanks where there’s less pollution and no chance of fish escaping.
Farmed Arctic char also need a lot less fish in their diet so there’s less damage to surrounding ecosystems.
Look for Arctic char farmed in Iceland where the whole infrastructure is powered by geothermal energy which is the most sustainable anywhere in the world.
What About Shrimp And Prawns
For me, shrimp or prawns are an expensive but integral ingredient in a fish pie recipe.
Not only do they add a contrasting meaty texture but you end up with bite-sized nuggets of their sweet-tasting richness dotted throughout your pie.
There are so many different species that are imported and exported all around the world that working out which type is sustainable is a tough ask for most people.
So, here’s the deal.
You should avoid any shrimps farmed in the tropics.
Not only do they add to your carbon footprint but farming in some of these areas has had a major impact on the environment.
Although efforts are being made by some to clean up their act. Shrimp farming has been linked to the destruction of mangrove forests, the rape of the seabed to provide feed, pollution, and even slavery.
Instead, look for wild shrimp or prawns closer to home that have been caught in pots and not trawled for so there’s no bycatch.
Some examples of more sustainable wild shrimp if you live in the U.S include Pacific pink shrimp, spot prawns, and great northern shrimp.
Here in Europe, the North Atlantic prawn is considered the most sustainable and it’s what we’ll be using in our recipe.
You could also use any type of shrimp or prawns farmed in land-based recirculating tanks which are considered the best choice and don’t harm the environment.
Now that you’re a bit more clued up on what type of fish to use in your sustainable fish pie recipe it’s time to get cooking.
But just before we do I’ve got a few tips on how to get the tastiest result.
The Best Fish Pie Recipe Ever – A few Pointers
Okay, so putting together a seafood pie isn’t rocket science but it takes a bit of time and planning. And it all starts when you’re out shopping and not in your kitchen.
Buy Fresh Fish, In Larger Pieces, And Cut It Yourself
At the risk of stating the obvious make sure the fish your buying is fresh.
You’ve probably seen pre-cut fish down the market labelled as seafood or chowder mix that you could use.
Such seafood mixes are normally good value, a lot cheaper than buying whole fillets, and fine to use if you’ve got a tight budget.
But I try to avoid them because fish cut up into small pieces deteriorates a lot quicker than fillets that have been left whole and it’s hard to tell just how fresh it is.
Sometimes it’s cut up just a little too small which means you could easily overcook it. And from time to time you’ll find it might contain a lot of belly and tail bits of fish too.
If you get bigger pieces of fish and cut it into large 1-inch chunks yourself you’ll get a fish pie with a bit more texture and the seafood in it won’t overcook and disintegrate as much.
And if you do decide to fo for a seafood mix give it a good look over before you buy and make sure it doesn’t contain too many offcuts.
Should You Pre-cook The Fish Or Add It To The Pie Raw?
To be honest you can do it either way and still end up with a great tasting pie.
Each method has its pros and cons.
Cooking the fish from raw inside the pie shaves minutes off your prep time with the added benefit that the fish is harder to overcook.
Pre-cooking the fish in milk or stock and using the poaching liquor to make the sauce would be considered the more traditional way of doing things and it’s normally the way I like to go.
Because a crucial element of any fish pie recipe is the silky fragrant sauce used to coat the fish. And giving your seafood a light poach beforehand adds another layer of flavour to your pie. Especially if you’re using smoked fish.
The other upside is the mouth-watering aroma that wafts through your kitchen as the fish begins to cook.
If you do decide to cook the fish from raw inside your pie be aware that fish is around 70% water and as it cooks it releases moisture that could interfere with the consistency and flavour of your sauce.
To help avoid this try poking a couple of little holes in the top of your pie to allow steam to escape.
How To Stop Your Pie Overcooking
If you decide to go with the recipe below you’ll be pre-cooking your fish first, assembling your pie, then baking it in the oven
The bake time when you do it this way is quite short because the fish is already cooked most of the way through.
Anything over 30 minutes could give you a rubbery result.
So, for the best outcome and a perfectly cooked pie you need to have the fish, sauce, and topping all warm and ready to go at the same time, assemble the pie quickly, and get it in a hot oven A.S.A.P.
And to help the creamy potato topping glaze up speedily during the short bake make sure you add a few knobs of butter and a couple of rich egg yolks to the mash before popping it on top.
Of course, mash potato isn’t the only topping you could use.
A Few Other Tasty Toppings To Try
I’m a traditionalist and prefer comforting mash on my pie especially in winter. But there are a few other options if you find plain old potatoes a little boring.
Pastry – Is the most obvious replacement for the mash as a topping on a fish pie recipe. I prefer shortcrust but either rough puff or puff works well too. There are some great store-bought versions on the market these days which are a real time saver.
Breadcrumbs – Are an easy and tasty topping, a quick sprinkle and its job done. Try mixing some with a favourite herb, parmesan, or butter for some extra flavour and crunch. Japanese panko or buttery brioche both work well.
Crispy potato topping – This one comes from Delia it takes a little longer but is equally delicious. Imagine a classic rosti type potato sitting atop your pie.
To make it all you need to do is steam some spuds till nearly cooked. Allow them to cool a little before grating them up finely. Then mix them with some butter, a little seasoning, and spoon the mix on top of your pie then bake till golden.
Sourdough topping – If you’re in a hurry then this is the topping for you. Simply cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Toss in some melted butter. Then press the sourdough into the top of your pie before it hits the oven.
Once you’ve chosen your topping it’s time to get cooking.
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