Ultimate fish pie, from when I had a crush on Gary Rhodes and his spikes

Jess Murphy: Plus two winter salads – kale with raisins and pine nuts, and beet with capers

Fish pie.

Fish pie.

 

I grew up smoking eels, kahawai (Australian salmon) and mussels in old fridges out in our back yard. In Wairoa everyone seemed to have some kind of broken down contraption, normally a coat hanger that also doubled as the radio aerial. (You can also use tin foil, and tin-foiled batteries kept the Walkman’s cassette blasting out the tunes for a little longer back in the day.)

November is Food Month in The Irish Times, with food-related articles in all our sections, plus reader events, competitions and exclusive content at irishtimes.com/foodmonth
November is Food Month in The Irish Times, with food-related articles in all our sections, plus reader events, competitions and exclusive content at irishtimes.com/foodmonth

At Kai, our restaurant in Galway, we use a portable Swiss smoker that David bought at Freeny’s fishing and tackle store, on Shop Street, one Christmas Eve, and we knock great crack out of it smoking beets, spuds, goose and duck. But when it comes to the proper job of smoking fish on this gorgeous little island, there is one lady I turn to. Tucked away in Castletownshend, near Skibbereen in Co Cork, her name is Sally Barnes. The last day we visited her Woodcock Smokery was in late summer. We sat around the range, having the chats and eating freshly smoked mackerel. It seems like a dream now in this cold, grey November. 

Sally’s a big deal in slow fish, doing everything by hand. There are no short cuts. This is not your orange-road-cone-coloured smoked fish; she makes big-flavoured, fleshy, smoky white fillets of joy. We use her amazing haddock in our fish pie, coupled with boiled hen’s eggs and lashings of Kylemore Farmhouse Cheese, from Loughrea – the ultimate fish pie. It’s an old recipe from Gary Rhodes; I had a crush on him and his spiky hair in the early 2000s. 

I have huge respect for farmers. My mum was one; we reared highland cattle. Last year she sold the farm, and it was bitter-sweet for me. It’s a 27-hour journey to get home, and I always looked forward to cutting hay, picking avocados and walking over the railway bridge for ice-cold beer in 35 degrees. Sadly, those days are gone now.

FISH PIE

Fish pie.
Fish pie


Ingredients
Serves four
400g smoked haddock, cut into chunks (we use Woodcock Smokery)
400g ling, skinned and cut into chunks
200g double cream
400ml whole milk
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
Clove of garlic, smashed (Drummond House elephant garlic is best)
2 bay leaves
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and roughly sliced
2tbsp parsley, roughly chopped
2tbsp lovage, roughly chopped
4-5 scallions, thinly sliced
100g butter
50g plain flour
Pinch of nutmeg
1kg potatoes, peeled and chopped into small chunks
50g Kylemore Farmhouse Cheese (or any strong Cheddar)
Salt and pepper

Method
Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas 4. Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook till tender. Drain and mash with half of the butter and 20ml of the double cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

In another small pan, put the rest of the cream, the milk, onion, bay leaves and garlic. Set over a low heat and, once simmering, add the fish and poach for 6-8 minutes. Remove the fish from the liquid and put it in a suitably sized casserole dish. Save the poaching liquid.

In a wide saucepan melt the remaining 50g of butter. add the flour and cook the roux for 1-2 minutes, slowly add your poaching liquid and stir continuously until your bechamel sauce is nice and thick. Season with salt and pepper and add the nutmeg.

Add the parsley, lovage and scallions to the fish in the casserole dish. Pour over the bechamel. Spoon on the mash and fluff with a fork. Put the cheese on top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes until golden brown.

SIMPLE WINTER SALAD: KALE WITH RAISINS AND PINE NUTS

Kale salad.
Kale with raisins and pine nuts


Ingredients
200g curly kale
45g sherry-soaked raisins
65g toasted pine nuts
20g butter
Squeeze of lemon juice  

Method
Put the raisins in a small ramekin and cover with a tablespoon or two of sherry, let it sit until the raisins are plump; overnight is best. Strip the kale leaves from any tough stems and tear into bite-sized pieces. Wash the kale with plenty of salty water to extract the creepy crawlers, unless you like the extra protein. I had grasshoppers in mine once.

Heat a large saute pan over a medium heat, then add the butter and olive oil. Slowly cook the kale down. Once soft to the bite, add the raisins and cook for a further minute. Put on a serving plate with a sprinkle of pine nuts to garnish and finish with a squeeze of lemon.

GOLDEN BEET SALAD WITH CAPERS

Beet sald.
Golden beet salad with capers


I think beetroot gets an uncalled-for hard time. It’s seriously underrated. People call it boring, earthy and unpleasant. It’s also renowned for being a bit of a nightmare to prepare, since it takes a very long time to boil or roast, and it stains so badly. On particularly bad days it gets completely doused in strong vinegar and pickled for ever. Poor old beetroot.

The good news is it can be so pretty. There are a variety of great colours. It’s a very flexible vegetable, since it can be eaten raw, boiled or roasted, and eaten hot or cold. If you put a bit of goat’s cheese with it, this makes a very acceptable main course.

Ingredients
1 bunch (300g) beets, tops and roots
Olive oil, about 2tbsp
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
Some capers; 1tbsp is good. I like a lot more

Method
Heat the oven to 200°C/fan 200°C/gas 7. Line a 9-inch square baking pan or cake tin with a big square of foil, large enough to completely enclose the beet roots. Lightly rinse the beet roots to remove any really clumpy dirt and pat them dry. Place them in the foil square and lightly drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Fold up the foil and crease to seal. Bake the beets for 60 minutes or until they can be just pierced with a fork. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, chop the beet greens into bite-size ribbons. In a large skillet, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook on low for about 5 minutes or until the garlic is golden and fragrant. Add the chopped leaves and stir to coat with the garlic. Cook on medium-low for about 10 minutes or until the leaves are soft and tender. Remove from the heat.

When the beets are cool, rub them with a paper towel to remove the skin. Then chop into pieces and toss with the cooked greens. Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or cold.

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