Classic New England Fish Pie Recipe




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fish pie in a casserole dish with piped mashed potato crust

My Classic New England Fish Pie Recipe starts with flaky white fish, leeks, parsnips and peas in a creamy white sauce, topped with a cheddar-y horseradish and buttermilk mash ~  it’s hands down the most comforting meal I’ve had all year.

Fish Pie in a black casserole dish

If you haven’t had a classic potato topped New England fish pie you’ve really been missing out.  We first fell in love with them when we lived in London decades ago, they were on the menus of all the cozy pubs, and we’d buy frozen pies at our local market to make back at home in our little flat.  We kept on loving them after we moved to coastal Maine and then New Hampshire where every mom and pop fish market had their own special recipe.  Some were elegant with salmon and shrimp in a rich creamy white sauce, others were humble fishmongers’ trimmings from the day’s catch, made with mayo and Ritz cracker crumbs.  

But here in Los Angles homey fish pies aren’t common, and I’d almost forgotten the joys of this ultimate comfort food food.  A great fish pie is everything!

Ladling fish pie into a casserole dish

What kind of fish for fish pie?

  • I like to keep it simple and use cod, halibut, or salmon.
  • Lots of people love to add some shrimp into the mix.  You could make a schmancy version with lobster.
  • If you’re on a first name basis with your supermarket fishmonger you might ask if they have any ‘fish pie’ trimmings in the back ~ that is, little odd bits and leftover pieces of various fish.  It makes the ultimate fish pie!  You’ll need about a pound.
  • For an authentic pie you might want to combine regular fish with some smoked fish, which adds a ton of flavor.  Look for smoked fish in the refrigerated section of your supermarket near the pre-packaged meats like salami.  

a plate of fish pie with Brussels sprouts

One of the givens of most fish pies is the mashed potato crust, making it the fishy equivalent of a cottage pie, or shepherd’s pie.  It can be thick, thin, swirled, piped, or flattened, but it’s always lightly crisped in the hot oven, and utterly delicious.

The simple secret to creamy lump free mashed potatoes

  • The secret is so simple ~ cook your potatoes until they are falling-apart-soft.
  • When you don’t cook your potatoes enough, there are bound to be lumps.  But when you cook them until they are super soft and falling apart, they’ll whip up beautifully.
  • I like to use my stand mixer fitted with the balloon attachment to do large amounts of potatoes like this.  It’s hands free and mess free (I don’t get bits of mashed potato all over the walls the way I do when I use my hand mixer.)

making mashed potatoes

How to pipe mashed potatoes

If you’re making fish pie for Sunday dinner, or for company, this extra step is very pretty, and worth the little extra effort.

  • You’ll need a large piping bag, or a gallon zip lock bag.  
  • Also a large piping tip, I used the Ateco 828 star tip  (The larger the piping tip the better when it comes to mashed potatoes because occasional lumps can clog smaller tips.)
  • Start with creamy lump free mashed potatoes.  You want a fairly firm texture so it will hold the piping shape.  Let them cool slightly before piping so you can handle the bag comfortably.
  • Insert the tip into the bag.  If you’re using a baggie, snip a corner off to fit the tip.
  • Fold over the top third of the bag to make a collar.
  • Spoon the potatoes into your bag, then unfold the collar.  Twist the top to push the potatoes down toward the tip.
  • With a smooth twisting and squeezing motion pipe your mashed potatoes in any design you like.  
  • Do a test squeeze or two first to get used to the motion.  Refill your bag as necessary.

 

How to pipe mashed potatoes

brushing mashed potato crust with melted buttter

I like to brush the potatoes with melted butter once before they go in the oven, and then once more during cooking, it just helps them get nice and golden brown.  It gives them a slightly crisp crust, too. Note: purists will call me out on using horseradish in the mashed potatoes, but please try it, it’s soooo good!

Alternative crusts for fisherman’s pie

  • you can use pie crust or puff pastry for the top
  • sliced cooked potatoes arranged shingle style over the pie, be sure to brush liberally with butter
  • shredded hash browned style potatoes

A fish pie topped with mashed potatoes, just out of the oven

Make this dreamy fish pie for the people you love…then sit back, enjoy, and let them do the clean up, you deserve it!

fish pie in a black casserole dish with spoon

More comforting casseroles from the archives…

fish pie in a casserole dish with piped mashed potato crust
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4.5 from 6 votes

Classic New England Fish Pie Recipe

My Classic New England Fish Pie Recipe has a base of fish, leeks, parsnips and peas in a creamy white sauce, topped with a cheddar-y horseradish and buttermilk mash ~  it's hands down the most comforting meal I've had all year.
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Yield 8 servings

Equipment

  • casserole dish
  • large pastry bag and large piping tip (optional)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb fresh cod fillet, skin removed (or other fish like halibut or salmon)
  • 2 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and black pepper
  • 6 Tbsp butter, divided
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 2 leeks, peeled, washed, and sliced
  • 3 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup frozen peas (don't defrost)
  • 3-4 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp prepared horseradish, or horseradish cream

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350F
  • Put the milk and bayleaf in a saucepan over medium heat. Cut the fish into 4 or 5 pieces and add to the milk along with 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a gentle boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for a few minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside.
  • In a large pot melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and saute the parsnips and leeks for about 10 minutes over medium heat until softened. Stir often and don't allow them to burn.
  • Strain the fish and reserve the milk. Set both aside.
  • Add the flour to the parsnips and leeks and cook, stirring, for a few minutes, and again, don't let it brown. Slowly pour in the strained milk, stirring constantly, until smooth. Continue heating until the mixture thickens and almost comes to a simmer.
  • Add the fish to the pot, breaking it into large chunks as you add it. Season with salt and plenty of fresh cracked black pepper to taste. Stir in the frozen peas. Cover and set aside on the stove top to keep warm.
  • Meanwhile cook the potatoes in plenty of salted water until completely soft. Drain them and whip with 2 tablespoons of the butter, the cheese, the butttermilk, and the horseradish. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Be sure to get out all lumps.
  • Turn the fish mixture into your baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes. You can pipe them on (see inspructions in the blog post) or just spoon them on. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and gently dab over the mashed potatoes with a silicone brush. If you like you can brush again during cooking.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden browned and bubbling.

Notes

What to serve with fish pie ~

Fish pie can absolutely be a meal in itself, but if you want to add something to it, here are a few suggestions: steamed Brussels sprouts, green beans, asparagus, broccoli, or a crisp salad.

fish pie pin

Fish pie is such a classic that all the famous chef’s, especially from Britain, have weighed in with their special versions:

 

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10 Comments

    Leave a Reply

  • Reply
    Debbie
    October 21, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    5 stars
    This was excellent! The subtle flavors of the parsnips and the horseradish really put it over the top. I used smoked cheddar because I had no smoked fish and liked the idea of a smoky flavor and it worked perfectly. I did not pipe on the mashed potatoes, because, well, I was lazy!

    • Reply
      Sue
      October 21, 2019 at 2:49 pm

      Love your idea of using smoked cheese ~ brilliant :)

  • Reply
    Susan @ The Spice Garden
    October 18, 2019 at 4:26 pm

    This is such a pretty dish and SO much classier than my mother-in-law’s fish pie! her recipe calls for chunks of parboiled potatoes, chunks of cod, chunks of onions, chunks of Cheddar cheese, chopped parsley and chopped basil in the classic creamy milk sauce. A staple winter time Friday night meal at the family farm.

    Yours is dinner party worthy!

  • Reply
    donna quigley
    October 18, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    5 stars
    Hi Sue, this is so morish.
    Can it be made a few days in advance and frozen if made with the spuds ? ? ? and not the pastry? Donna

    • Reply
      Sue
      October 18, 2019 at 4:31 pm

      Yes you could!

  • Reply
    Nancy
    October 18, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    I really dislike parsnips, what veg could I substitute?

    • Reply
      Sue
      October 18, 2019 at 3:49 pm

      You can add carrots, or celery.

  • Reply
    Mary
    October 18, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    Love Fish Pie but who would have thought to put Horseradish in the Potato! Yum! That will happen next time we have one. In fact, what a great idea for a Cottage Pie. Can’t wait for the next time I do Mash for a pie.
    Thankyou Sue. :))

    • Reply
      Sue
      October 18, 2019 at 3:51 pm

      The horseradish really makes this crust, and yes, for sure, it would be great on a cottage pie too :)

  • Reply
    Tricia B
    October 18, 2019 at 9:40 am

    5 stars
    Wow this is my kind of dinner! We had the most incredible fish pie in Ireland once, and I’ve wanted a recipe to try and replicate that wonderful meal. I must try this – and Ed will be thrilled. Bring n the horseradish, sounds fantastic to me!