Monday, June 17, 2013

Fisherman's Pie topped with Crispy Capers

I had never had fisherman's pie before living in England, but it soon became a go-to item whenever I saw it on a pub menu. The flavorful base of seafood, onions, and cream, topped with piping hot mashed potatoes, was an ideal dish for warding off chilly fall and winter nights. The hubs and I began making it from scratch, sometimes using a sweet potato topping to change things up. Since our move down under we've fallen out of the habit of cooking some of the cold-weather dishes we used to rely on so often. The chill is in the air, however, on these Sydney winter evenings, and I find myself cooking up casseroles and roasts like we used to in our tiny London flat.
Fisherman's Pie topped with Crispy Capers @ SouthernSpoon blog
fisherman's pie hot out of the oven: fish and prawns in a fragrant white sauce
with leeks and onions, topped with mashed potatoes and salty capers
So fisherman's pie is back on the menu, until it begins to warm up again in a few months. I was delighted to discover that Katie Quinn Davies includes a recipe in her What Katie Ate cookbook, and have used it as my inspiration the past few times I've baked up a fisherman's pie. She tops the mashed potatoes with crispy, pan-fried capers: genius! We love capers, and the hubs finds any excuse to add them to whatever we're making. Though I've simplified Katie's method by sprinkling the capers straight from the bottle onto the top of the pie, rather than frying them up first, the taste really sets this recipe apart from your tried-and-true fisherman's pie. 
Fisherman's Pie topped with Crispy Capers @ SouthernSpoon blog
Fisherman's pie, adapted from the wonderful What Katie Ate cookbook
The celery, onion, leek, and green onion layer on the bottom is glorious; don't leave out the leeks. We use whatever combination of fish we feel like: a few fillets of firm, white fish, a couple handfuls of prawns, or a seafood medley of baby octopus, prawns, calamari, scallops, etc from our fishmonger. I also use milk rather than cream in the pie filling, just to slim things down a bit, though cream in place of half of the milk called for would make a beautifully decadent pie. Be careful when poaching the fish in the milk and cook over very low heat, stirring often, as milk can burn very easily on a thin-bottom pot over the stove (you'd think I would learn the first time...). If you're feeling adventurous, try sweet potatoes on top!
fisherman's pie, perfect dinner for a cold night
If you've never made fisherman's pie, I highly recommend this recipe for a cold night's dinner. Bookmark it away if it's too hot in your region at the moment to contemplate cooking a savory pie for dinner. I've often thought this would be a nice and casual winter dinner party dish if cooked in individual mini-casseroles. The pie also keeps well for a day, and the leftovers are even more flavorful. Enjoy.

Fisherman's Pie topped with Crispy Capers
5 hearty servings
adapted from the What Katie Ate cookbook

5-6 medium potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
3 fillets firm, white fish (such as Basa)
1 1/2 cups raw prawns (shrimp), peeled and deveined, tails removed
3 cups milk (divided use; any fat content will do)
freshly ground sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 long sticks celery, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large leek, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
4 green onions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon capers

Preheat oven to 200C / 400 F, and lightly grease a (4 qt) casserole dish with oil. Set casserole dish aside.

Chop the potatoes into large pieces and place in a large pot of water. Bring the potatoes to the boil over high heat, then turn down to medium and simmer until a blunt knife cuts through the potato easily, about 10-12 minutes. Drain potatoes, return to pot, and mash with a fork or potato masher. Add a pinch of freshly ground pepper, a dash of freshly ground sea salt, and gradually drizzle in 1/4 - 1/2 cup of milk, whipping to combine and adding additional milk only as necessary, until thick and creamy. Set the mashed potatoes aside to use as your pie topping.

Meanwhile, in a medium pot over low heat, poach the fish in 2 1/2 cups of milk with a pinch of freshly ground pepper and a small pinch of freshly ground sea salt. Watch careful and stir often to make sure the milk does not burn on the bottom of the pot. Cook until fish is done and flakes easily with a fork (about 8-10 mins, this will vary depending on the thickness of your fish fillets). In the last couple of minutes that the fish is cooking, add the raw prawns, and cook until they turn pink. Remove the cooked fish and prawns from the pot to a chopping board, and reserve the milk for the white sauce filling. Roughly chop the cooked fish and prawns. Set aside. 

Make the sauce: Return the pot of reserved milk that was used to cook the fish to low heat. Whisk in the tablespoon of cornflour, whisking constantly for a minute until it is completely dissolved. Add the mustard, parsley, oregano, and basil. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes on low to let the herbs flavor the sauce. This white sauce will thicken up a little bit, but will remain fairly thin. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and leeks and sauté for about 5-6 minutes, until leeks begin to soften and break apart easily. Add the green onions, and saute for a further 4-5 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic, and sauté for another 2 minutes, stirring often to ensure the garlic doesn't burn. Remove from heat. Scrape the leek-onion mixture into the bottom of the prepared casserole dish, spreading the mixture evenly over the bottom.

Top the leek-onion mixture with the chopped fish and prawns, then pour the white sauce evenly over the fish. Spoon the mashed potatoes over the top, roughing up the surface a bit so that it's not a smooth layer. Place casserole in pre-heated oven and bake at 200C / 400F for 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, remove casserole from oven and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon capers. Return to oven and continue to bake at 200C / 400F for another 10-15 minutes, until the edges are bubbly and the mashed potatoes are beginning to turn a bit golden brown in places. Serve immediately.

Will keep in the fridge for up to one day.  


  1. ☋ I've never eaten a crispy caper before in my life. Now is the time! ☊

  2. Capers make everything better! Enjoy.


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