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.
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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
Make this dreamy fish pie for the people you love…then sit back, enjoy, and let them do the clean up, you deserve it!
More comforting casseroles from the archives…
- Classic Moussaka Recipe
- The Best Cottage Pie Recipe
- Broccoli Cheese Casserole
- Instant Pot Pork Chops in Creamy Mushroom Sauce
Classic New England Fish Pie Recipe
- casserole dish
- large pastry bag and large piping tip (optional)
- 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
- 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 and variations
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 is such a classic that all the famous chef’s, especially from Britain, have weighed in with their special versions:
- One of Jamie Oliver’s many versions includes spinach.
- Mary Berry makes her’s with boiled eggs.
- Delia’s is made with smoked fish.
- Nigella’s is pure and simple.
- Nigel Slater’s has a unique crumb crust.
- Ottolenghi get’s creative, of course, with a sourdough crust.