Monday, 16 June 2008

Fish pie and Hot Cross Bun pudding

We had Easter again on the Preseli Hills on Sunday - not the actual choccy eggs day, more a culinary nod thanks to the freezer and a bag of Hot Cross Buns I found lurking in its murky depths.

Easter always means a fish pie and a bread and butter pudding made with hot cross buns. I'm not sure how it came to pass but it's one of those family traditions I have made which are now set in stone (but possibly only inside my own head!)

Anyway the fish pie first. Fish pie is one of those things that it is tempting to throw everything at. I've seen all kinds of fish, plain, smoked, flat, round, whatever, gherkins, capers, bells and whistles (not literally!) but the best advice I can give is KISS! Keep It Simple Stupid!

So just the one kind of firm white fish, some lovely prawns, a fabulous sauce, fluffy mash and cheddar cheese. Anything else is, in my opinion, de trop, but I'm willing to be proved wrong on that.

I begin with a couple of fillets of haddock. Lie them in a roasting tin on top of a couple of bay leaves, almost (but not quite) cover with full cream milk and pop in the oven, Gas Mark 4, until just about cooked (but not quite). The fish will finish cooking when the pie goes back into the oven, so err on the side of caution now.

Meanwhile, make mashed potato. Non-purists may prefer to leave this part, like Delia, to Aunt Bessie. I can't see what's wrong with peeling a few spuds, boiling them and mashing them with a bit of milk and butter, but then I have gardener's hands and nails. If I had a beautiful manicure, then perhaps I'd call on Aunt Bessie (but probably not!) Anyway the thing is the mash must be soft and fluffy, not big dry lumps (like school mash - ugh!). It must sit in big fluffy clouds atop the fish and sauce looking as if it might fall in at any moment. Or, in other words, it needs to be a bit sloppy.

Right. The fish should be done now. If you've got a bag of defrosted raw king prawns (from Tesco - natch!) put them into the hot milk around the fish and they will almost cook. Leave them for a few minutes and they blush a lovely pink. Then drain the milk off into a jug and pop the fish and prawns on a plate, covered, while you get on with the sauce.

Make a basic white sauce with a spoonful of butter (I just dig it out of the butter dish - it's about a heaped tablespoon) and the same of flour. Use the milk from poaching the fish and a little extra to make a nice smooth sauce. Again not too thick, it should be velvety and voluptuous, not so thick you can stand the spoon up in it. Next season with pepper and a little salt, then add the secret ingredient.

I'm not sure where I got this from, it might be my own idea or (more likely) I read it somewhere and assimilated it into the dark recesses of my brain. Anyway, the first time I added this it was to please my two little girls to whom pink is practically perfect, but it was an enormous hit with everyone, male, female, young and old. So add a goodly dollop of tomato puree and whisk it into the sauce. It turns it a pleasing corally pink, but also adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the flavour of the sauce too. It makes it more, um, saucy and I do love a saucy sauce.

Now, flake the fish and break up the prawns (I do this as I'm feeding small children with little mouths. If you've only got adults - or teeny prawns - skip this bit). Put into an attractive dish and pour over the pink sauce. Float clouds of mash on the surface. Astonishingly they don't sink. Smooth over with a fork. Rough it up again. Bits of pink sauce will peek through, but that doesn't matter. Finally grate some lovely cheddar cheese in a nice thick layer over the top, then pop back into the oven, Gas Mark 5, until all golden, bubbling and delicious.

I always serve this pie with a mix of steamed broccoli and cauliflower as they are perfect little vehicles for scooping up the lovely sauce.

For the pudding I use a pack of six hot cross buns. Split, butter and sandwich with some lovely jam. This time I used some of my friend Andrew's gorgeous greengage jam, but, as you probably don't get lovely homemade jammy gifts from Andrew, any good quality jam or marmalade will do.

Layer the buns attractively in your dish, cutting them in half as need be to fill up any gaps. Next grab one of those small pots of double cream, 284 ml I think they are, and pour it into a bowl. Fill the empty pot with some full cream milk and add that too, along with another splosh of milk for luck. Add three large eggs and two big tablespoons of golden caster sugar, whisk and pour over the buns. I sometimes add a tot of whisky to this mix, which is nice too.

Leave it to soak, pour over more of the creamy mixture and repeat until you can't get any more in. Put the dish into a roasting tray in the oven at Gas Mark 4, then pour boiling water into the roasting tin so it comes half way up the side of the bowl. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the custard is almost set. Serve with some cream poured over.