- Food & Drink
We always ate fish on Good Friday. Mostly in the form of fish pies, although a few goujons and beer-battered fillets also appeared on the table as the years ran along. I was in my 20s when I found out why we ate fish on Good Friday: we were fasting. If eating breakfast and lunch as normal, having fish for dinner, and then a few rounds of buttered hot cross buns counts as a fast. Which is doesn’t. Not really. Although a debauched medieval monk would appreciate the looseness of our interpretation.
Our fish eating was part of a zombie ritual. A lingering taste of Catholicism, stripped of piety and meaning, and served up with a mashed potato crust. Much like celebrating Easter itself. Or Christmas. We knew the stories and, at Christmas, we sang the songs (much to the distress of everyone in earshot). But believe in them? I’m not sure we genuinely had faith in the festivals we were celebrating.
I love rituals, even hollow ones. So I carried on eating fish on Good Friday after I left home. Again, mostly as fish pies. They’re so easy to make, and so delicious. My favourite recipe is this Bumpkin one, which I’ve adapted because it doesn’t contain something I consider essential in a fish pie: boiled eggs. They’re especially important in an Easter fish pie, where they symbolise the new life that’s surging in the cold, spring soil.
I’ve also added cauliflower to the mash. Not for reasons of allegory or metaphor. But just because I like it.
A Fish Pie for Good Friday
1 cauliflower, weighing around 500g without the leaves
1 bay leaf
2 medium eggs
100g butter plus 1 tbsp
2 garlic cloves
300ml dry white wine
200g frozen peas, defrosted
150ml double cream
450g mixed chopped fish, such as salmon, cod, haddock, smoked haddock, pollock, scallops or prawns
A fistful of sprigs of dill
1 Put a large and a small pan of salted water on to boil. Pull the leaves off the cauliflower (you can sweat them in butter to serve alongside the pie). Chop the cauli into florets. Peel and chop the potatoes into very small chunks. When the water is boiling, add the cauli and potatoes to the pan. Add the bay leaf and cover. Simmer for 20-25 minutes till the veg are very soft.
2 When the small pan of water is boiling, carefully add the eggs to it. Simmer for 8 minutes, then lift the eggs out and pop them in a bowl of cold water to cool. Heat your oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas Mark 4.
3 Trim and finely slice the leek. Melt 1 tbsp butter in a pan and add the leek. Season with salt and pepper, cover and gently cook over a low heat, stirring now and then, till the leek is soft but not coloured. While the leek sweats, peel and crush the garlic. Stir in the garlic and cook and stir for 1 minute, then pour in the wine and simmer till the wine has reduced by three-quarters.
4 Stir in the cream, peas and fish pie mix. Bring up to a simmer, then take off the heat. Finely chop the dill, stalks and leaves. Stir them into the fish pie mix. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Ladle it into a deep ovenproof dish. Peel the eggs. Halve them and nestle them into the fish pie mix.
5 The cauliflower and potatoes should be soft by now. Drain them and drop them in a food processor. Chop in the butter, season with salt and whizz to make a smooth purée (you can just mash it all together with a masher in the pan if you prefer). Spoon the cauliflower purée over the top of the fish pie mix. Put the dish on a baking tray (it will inevitably overflow). Bake for 30-40 minutes till the pie is golden and bubbling. Serve straight away.