What do we all want for our children? Good health, strong bodies, intelligent minds, loving disposition. Fish for dinner two days a week will take care of the first three. The fourth……? Still trying to work that one out! There are dishes I come back to again and again because they work. They feed and nourish my family, who relish the first portion, and, having relaxed and chatted at the table, will then enquire… “Mum, is there any more of that left?”
I had almost forgotten that this fish pie from Darina Allen was a family staple when my children were growing up until it was requested recently. Like most households, our kids ate fish without comment until they went to school and began succumbing to the peer pressure of friends who wouldn’t touch it. We began hearing about fishbones and fear and “I don’t like it”. Some strategic thinking was required. I decided to make a fish dish for dinner on the day they had swimming class, and that it would be ready before we came home, starving. It worked! As we walked through the door, the smell from the pre-set oven would greet us and by the time the togs and towels were hung up and the table set, dinner was ready. Once the precedent was established, we moved from the various fish pies onto other fish dishes, but this one was the pioneer, the fish pie that broke the mould.
Gratin of Hake with Bacon, Tomatoes and Dill
- 1¼ lbs (560g) hake/ haddock/cod fillets, skinned
- 4-6 ozs (110-170g) streaky bacon rashers (rindless)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 10 ozs (285g) very ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded, flesh cut into ½ inch dice (or one can of quality chopped tomatoes)
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- pinch of sugar
- 1 dessertspoon fresh dill (or a mix of parsley, chives, fennel and lemon thyme…what ever you have growing in your garden or windowbox)
- ½ oz butter
- 1 oz (scant ½ cup) soft white breadcrumbs
- 4 ozs (1 cup) Gruyere or Cheddar cheese, grated.
Ovenproof dish 81/2 x 10 inches ( 21.5 x 25.5 cm)
- Cut the rashers into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the rashers, fry until crisp, remove and sprinkle over the base of the ovenproof dish. Sweat the onions in the oil and bacon fat for 5-8 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut the fish into four portions and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put the onions on top of the rashers and arrange the fish fillets on top. Season the diced tomato flesh with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar and add the herbs. Spread this over the fish, cover the whole dish with tinfoil and bake in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas 4, for 30-40 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the buttered crumbs. Melt the butter, stir in the crumbs, turn out onto a plate, cool and mix with the grated cheese. When the fish is cooked sprinkle with the topping and allow to brown under a preheated grill for 5 minutes approx, until crisp and golden. Serve garnished with flat parsley.
- To prepare ahead, make the fish dish, place in the oven and set the oven timer to finish as you walk through the door. Prepare the buttered crumbs in advance too.
- Baked potatoes are a perfect accompaniment to this dish and as long as you choose spuds which aren’t too large; when wrapped in foil, they will bake in 30-40 minutes and be ready with the fish dish.
- Frozen peas are an ideal match as they look so pretty, they’re ready in five minutes and most kids (especially hungry ones) love them. A bowl of green salad works well too.
- Turn the grill to max setting. Spread the buttered crumbs over the fish dish and brown for up to five minutes. Take care that it doesn’t burn….you know your own grill and its vagaries. Use a kitchen timer if necessary.
Every week I get a text message from Kish Fish in Dublin alerting me to their weekly special offers. Hake was on offer recently so I bought it for the freezer. Fish is an essential component of the diets of pregnant women, children and adults. High in protein, trace elements such as Selenium and Vitamins B3, B6 and B12, it’s brain food. The oily fish such as herring, salmon, mackerel and tuna contain Vitamins A, D, E and K and ought to be eaten once a week at least. As our nation becomes more and more obese, fish in our diet is an important instrument of prevention. Since protein is filling and takes longer for the stomach to digest, it makes you feel satisfied quicker and for longer. Fresh oily fish is the best dietary source of the long chain fatty acids EPA and DHA. These have innumerable benefits in building healthy tissues ( especially brain and nerves) and helping prevent a lot of common diseases such as heart disease, arthritis and others. To include salmon in a fish pie, try this recipe from Bord Bia
I could go on- the sea is, after all, ‘our great sweet mother” according to James Joyce. It’s also ‘the finest of all fast foods’ according to Nigel Slater, who goes on to say that it takes less time to pan fry a fillet of fish and toss a salad than it does to call by a Take-Away or a Petrol Station on your way home. Bord Bia has a cornucopia of good fish recipes on its website…..well worth a visit for non-stop inspiration.
To make life easier, make two fish pies at the same time and freeze one. I’ve had this Gratin of Hake at Book Club, at family gatherings, at neighbourhood Pot Suppers and it’s always well received. When you see the empty dish once everyone’s had their fill, you’ll know why on many levels, Fish Pie is a No-Brainer.