I spent a few days back in London last week and one of the first places I headed for was Borough Market. It's one of the most renowned markets in London for artisan prepared food, and fresh organic produce, and it's well worth a visit if you happen to be in London any time of the year, especially for food lovers.
After wandering around for an hour or so and drooling over some of the wonderful food and produce on show, I popped into Wright Brothers for a Fish Pie and a glass of Chablis. For me, a well-made fish pie is the ultimate comfort food. Good quality fresh fish, prawns, spinach and peas all bound together in a deliciously cheesy bechamel sauce; a classic fish pie is a great recipe to have up your sleeve for any occasion.
After you’ve secured yourself some super fresh fish and prawns, a fish pie is basically all about the sauce and one of the first sauces I learnt to make at culinary school was a classic béchamel. It was, and still is one of those benchmark recipes that all good cooks should master as it opens the door to an endless stream of classic dishes from Gratins, croquettes to lasagnes etc. It also forms the base of countless other wonderful sauces such as Nantua, Soubise and Mornay.
A well-made Mornay sauce is still one of my favourite sauces. It’s basically a béchamel sauce flavoured with grated Gruyère and Parmesan cheese and occasionally enriched with egg yolks. It is traditionally used to coat dishes to be glazed under the grill or browned in the oven, including poached eggs, fish, shellfish and vegetables. Mornay may sound a little intimidating to make, but I promise you that it’s a nice way to ease yourself into the world of sauces.
The secret to a well-made béchamel is to make your milk as flavoursome as possible. If you infuse an onion studded with 2-3 cloves, a couple of bay leafs, herbs and spices long before you need to make the sauce, the milk will have so much more flavour and you can then worry your Roux.
A Roux is basically a mixture of melted butter and flour that binds and thickens the sauce. Begin by melting the butter gently - don't over-heat it or let it brown, as this will affect the colour and flavour of the sauce. As soon as the butter melts, add the flour and, over a medium heat and using a small pointed wooden spoon, stir quite vigorously to make a smooth, glossy paste. Now begin adding the warm infused milk a little at a time and stir again vigorously. Then, when this milk is incorporated, add the next amount and continue incorporating each bit of liquid before you add the next. When about half the milk is in, I prefer to switch to a balloon whisk and start adding large amounts of milk, but always whisking briskly. Your reward will be a smooth, glossy, creamy sauce. Now turn the heat down to its lowest setting and let the sauce cook for 10 minutes, whisking from time to time as a Béchamel is easily burned. Once you have the béchamel you can add the grated cheese to turn it into Mornay. I also love this sauce with cauliflower or broccoli and baked in a hot oven. It’s also the perfect sauce for macaroni, penne pasta or this classic, cheesy fish pie. I guarantee you; it will have your guests coming back for more time and time again!
CLASSIC FISH PIE WITH SAFFRON CRISPY POTATO TOPPING
You can make a nice fluffy mashed potato for the topping, but I also love the texture of grated potatoes as it gives the final dish a deliciously crisp topping.
Ingredients: serves 6
400g salmon filet, skinned & cut into large chunks
300g fresh cod fillet, skinned & cut into large chunks
200g peeled prawns
300g fresh baby spinach leaves, cleaned
200g cooked peas
A few parsley stalks
1 bay leaf, torn
6 whole black peppercorns
½ small onion, peeled and studded with 3 cloves
30g plain flour
180g Gruyère, grated
A pinch of saffron
salt and freshly milled black pepper
Bring the milk slowly to the boil with the onion pierced with the cloves, bay leaf, parsley stalks and the peppercorns. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes before straining. Then melt the butter in a medium saucepan, stir in the flour and saffron. Cook over a low heat for 2-3 minutes. When smooth, start adding some of the strained milk. Stir until smooth, and then add more milk until the sauce is silky smooth. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring from time-to time to ensure the flour is cooked through. Add the grated cheese and season with salt & pepper.
Place the salmon, haddock, prawns, spinach & cooked peas in an earthenware dish. Pour the saffron-mornay sauce over the fish.
CRISPY POTATO TOPPING
60g melted butter
120g grated Parmesan
Boil the potatoes without peeling for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Peel and grate the potatoes. Place the grated potatoes in bowl and add the melted butter and seasoning.
Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5.
Sprinkle the potatoes over the fish and cover with grated Parmesan.
Bake in the oven and cook for 30 minutes until the crust is nice and crispy.
PENNE PASTA WITH CHICKEN, MOZZARELLA AND FRESH HERBS
Ingredients: serves 4
300g dried penne pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
50ml white wine
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, diced
300g fresh baby spinach leaves, cleaned
1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
300ml mornay sauce
100g mozzarella, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil, cook the penne pasta 10 to 12 minutes, until al dente, and drain.
Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat, and sauté the onion, green bell pepper, and garlic until tender. Stir in the chicken, and cook until almost done. Add the white wine and mornay sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes and stir in the pasta, chopped herbs, spinach and mozzarella. Season to taste and serve.
Simple and delicious, cauliflower cheese is also classic comfort food and a wonderful accompaniment to practically any main course.
Ingredients serves 4
1 head of cauliflower, broken into large florets
35g plain flour
100g mature Mahon cheese or cheddar, grated
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 190C/170C Fan/Gas 5.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over a high heat. Add cauliflower florets, and cook for about 3-4 minutes, until the cauliflower is almost tender, but still firm. Tip into a colander and leave to drain well.
To make the sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook over a gentle heat for 1 minute. Over a gentle heat, gradually add the milk, a little at a time, stirring well between each addition. Cook slowly, stirring continuously for 5-6 minutes, then remove from the heat. Stir in the mustard and two thirds of the cheese and set aside.
Arrange the cauliflower in an ovenproof baking dish. Carefully pour over the sauce, ensuring the cauliflower is completely covered. Scatter over the remaining cheese and bake for 25–30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and bubbling.