Fish has been a hot topic of debate for the past few weeks due to Channel 4’s collection of The Big Fish Fight programmes that looked at the issues around commercial fishing and fish farming today. I felt both guilty due to my love of anything fish or seafood related, and slightly smug since I have been avoiding cod for years, I didn’t watch any of it as I’m not a big celebrity chef fan.
Instead I took the opportunity to read up on the subject, finding both Mark Kurlansky’s Cod and Tom Fort’s The Book of Eels, to be an excellent source of information without personality fighting the facts. I also took advantage of the fact that since the issue of fish was being talked about to try and see what types of fish are sustainable and where I could source them without having to get up and hit Billingsgate at 4am.
Therefore I was immediately interested when Sainsbury’s sent us some information about the sourcing and sustainability of their fish, whether on the wet fish counter, ready packed or in own brand products. I do quite a bit of my shopping with Sainsbury’s as I’m a big fan on their online delivery, but rarely buy fish or meat from them. I just assumed that they would be a bit vague about where the fish came from and should probably be avoided. But having noticed my two local fishmongers being increasing monosyllabic about the provenance of certain fish as while raising prices steeply, I was keen to see what the supermarket had to offer.
Sainsbury’s very kindly couriered us some complimentary samples of both coley and dab to try. Having only had coley deep fried before I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it this time to sample the flavour and texture. February’s Olive Magazine had a fabulous recipe for fish pie jacket potatoes and since it would showcase the fish and allow me to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition to stuff a potato…
Using the magazine recipe as an inspiration, I got cracking. Two monster sized spuds went in the oven and the hefty skin on piece of coley fillet poached gently in a pan of milk along with a bayleaf or two and a parmesan rind. Once cooked and nicely flaky, I took it out and checked for bones. I didn’t find many and the few I did, slipped out easily enough. The original recipe suggests just using the fishy milk and flaked fish to fill the potatoes, but I just knew I would spill this all over the kitchen and decided to whip up a quick bechamel instead.
Since I loathe smoked fish, I added that umami base note with a splash of anchovy ketchup instead and once the sauce was made, a large spoonful of capers. I then mixed in the flaked coley and a few chopped frozen king prawns into the sauce and allowed to cool slightly. I also removed the potatoes and allowed them to do the same.
Once cool enough to handle (or hungry enough to burn my hands and not care), I scooped out the very middle of the spuds with a dessertspoon, leaving an outer edge of flesh to stop the potato collapsing and spilling that amazing filling. I then mashed the scooped out potato with some butter and seasoning, before filling the spud up with fishy fabulousness and topping with light creamy mash and popping back in a very hot oven for 20 minutes to crisp up and warm through.
I served these with some buttered kale and was blown away by how good they were. Chefs often suggest getting the best mash around by baking potatoes and scooping their middles out and I have to say they are right. Light, silky and oh so creamy, the mash worked perfectly with the firm flaky fish filling while the capers added a whole new level of deliciousness. The coley was delicious, far preferable to cod for me, especially in this kind of dish. I devoured my spud in record time and deliberately didn’t let on that there was a spare so I could scoff it for Sunday lunch without having to share.
These are amazing, better than a regular fish pie to this potato lover. Plus they are quick, easy and save on washing up compared to a standard fish pie. You could bake the potatoes a day or two in advance, then do the fish on the day and fill from cold to save your hands and the extra 30 minutes or so cooling the spuds takes. Something about the individual portions adds a real charm to these too and I bet kids would love them.
I’ll be making these again, especially with a bit of broccoli in the sauce and some sauteed leeks on the side. I’ll also be looking more closely about Sainsbury’s fish counter again in the future as it’s great to have more options when trying to be an ethical consumer. I’m definitely a coley convert now!