You'll be hooked on fish pie
Delicious and nutritious: A seafood pie is quick and easy to prepare
ST PATRICK'S Day is nearing and while thoughts do turn to pints of the black stuff and having the craic, I think of food, and what wonderful Irish dishes I have fallen in love with over the last 14 years of living here. And two really stand out to me: Irish seafood chowder and traditional brown soda bread. A third would be Irish cheeses, but that is an obsession worthy of another column . . .
It was on a wet, blustery October weekend in Doolin, 14 years ago, that I tasted my first bowl of steaming seafood chowder served with homemade Irish brown soda bread. I have been hooked ever since. This dish is so quintessentially Irish that it does deserve a whole column. Possibly even a song. And not far off is the traditional fish pie. While there are many versions, I love the very creamy, rich fish pie a la Ballymaloe. To this recipe I have added my own twists, but it encapsulates everything I love about a good fish pie.
As a 'blow in,' all I can give you is my experience in eating many a bowl of homemade chowder and trying to recreate my favourite versions. These are some of the things that I like in my chowder, and good news, they are packed with nutritional benefits. Chowder is an easy, tasty way to get your recommended two portions of oily fish a week. Here are some great ideas to make it even easier and more versatile.
Top Tips For Making Chowder and Fish Pie:
• Seafood Chowder Packs are available from fishmongers and supermarkets with a selection of diced salmon, smoked fish and white fish. These are ready to use, economical and a convenient short cut to making this already super quick dish.
If they are on special offer, buy a few packs and freeze them. This way you will always have the fish on hand for a healthy, speedy meal.
• Prawns are lovely in a chowder and I favour the frozen ones. The small pink prawns, called 'Boston' prawns are fine. Just make sure they are hot through but don't overcook as they will turn to rubber. Three to five minutes should do it. For a real treat get big, juicy tiger prawns. Available frozen from your fishmonger or Asian market. These can be cooked from frozen or defrosted by running under a cold tap until all the ice is rinsed off.
They are cooked through when they are pink and firm, it only takes minutes. Local prawns are available too, just ask your fishmonger.
• Frozen vegetables are a great standby if you don't have fresh vegetables to hand.
For chowder use frozen sweetcorn, peas and carrots. These are lovely and sweet and work perfectly in a chowder. Frozen veg is frozen within two hours of harvesting so is packed with goodness. I always have some in the freezer. Frozen veg also saves on waste as you won't end up discarding surplus fresh veg that you haven't ended up using.
• Fish stock can be ever so iffy to buy, worst case scenario it's grey and stinky fishy.
It can be difficult to find a good fish stock and unless you eat a lot of fish, you're unlikely to make your own from the bones. I recommend Pure Brazen, an Irish company, who produce fresh stocks that are gluten free, low salt, additive free and taste delicious. For stockists see their website www.purebrazen.com
• Potato gnocchi are fantastic as little dumplings in stews and soups. You can make your own or get the shop-bought ones. Pop them into the chowder and simmer for 10 minutes. They become melting and soft and the starch helps to thicken the chowder for an extra luxurious texture. Not traditionally Irish, but a great Pantry Pal to add something special.
• Fresh herbs finish off a chowder perfectly. You can use a mixture of herbs or just your favourite one. I love using chives, dill or flat leaf parsley. Tarragon is an interesting choice for a different twist. Add the herbs for the last few minutes of cooking or use as a garnish.
• Cream in my opinion is essential to finish off a good chowder. You don't need much if you are using good quality ingredients but it really does bring all the flavours together. The smoked fish gives the creamy liquid a gorgeous taste so you don't need to season heavily with salt.
• Mashed potato is the ideal topping if you make a really thick chowder and you want to turn it into pie. Pour the chowder into a baking dish and spread over the mashed potato. Top with grated cheese, freshly grated nutmeg or a sprinkle of paprika. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes at 200°C until golden and bubbling.
• Puff pastry is another great chowder pie topping. Defrost if using the frozen variety. Roll out and place over the pie. Brush with some beaten egg for a golden crusty finish and poke some holes to allow the steam to escape. Bake for 20 minutes at 220°C until golden and flakey.
• Baked potato will never be the same again with a chowder topping. It really is a match made in heaven. The creamy sauce oozes into the potato and the flaky fish and juicy prawns go so well with a fluffy oven baked jacket potato. You can make double the chowder or fish pie filling and freeze for emergency baked potato topping as a quick meal.
All recipes from 'Delish' by Rozanne Stevens. Available from good bookshops and www.rozannestevens.com
Follow me on Twitter @RozanneStevens