This past weekend friends came out to celebrate my birthday, we are generally pretty enthusiastic party givers for birthdays etc., but this year I wanted a quiet affair. Winter birthdays are good for ice skating, walks in the woods, fires and fish pie. My father would make a Stargazy pie for special occasions, it's one of those dishes that has become legend in the food/memory part of my brain, so when the NZ'er asked 'what shall we cook for your birthday?' my response was 'dad's pie and sticky toffee pudding'. I did go for a walk in the woods and I played Scrabble by the fire with two very competitive Geminians and one Lovely lady. The ponds aren't frozen enough, yet.
My father loved to entertain, the kitchen was always a hive of activity, on the weekends there was a constant stream of villagers. The house was a cozy two up two down, the dining room had an assortment of watercolors, paintings and driftwood sculptures by local artists on the walls, along with my art school creations hanging next to some rather more well known artists. The fishing trophies were in one corner and the gigantic money tree plant in the other. My dad and my step mum cooked up a storm for their friends; the professor, the postman, the hairdresser, the fisherman, the builder of bridges and the artists, they could all be found sitting at my dad's table.
He was a larger-than-life character but he will always be remembered for the contributions he made to the community he loved, one of his famous phrases was 'there's room for everyone in this village' it's become my motto too, and I like to share it with the folks I meet on my travels!
I share his love of food, hands in the dirt, growing vegetables, cooking for friends and fishing (not too much deep sea tho'). He was a far better cook than me, didn't take short cuts, but his Stargazy pie wasn't the real Stargazy pie, that has pilchard heads peering out of pastry, he made a traditional fish pie and placed jumbo prawn tails around the outside edges of the dish, it was pretty and it was a dish with a fanfare.
You will see from the photo that we went with a more whimsical design......when my back was turned the NZ'er took it upon himself to make a departure from the tails around the edge decoration, and went with a random pattern, it seemed too controlling to remove the crustaceans from their potato burrows and reposition them, even for a birthday girl.
He was an Aquarian too, so it was fitting to make my father's signature fish dish on my birthday, a dish that originated in Cornwall, and that's where I was conceived!
1 small onion peeled and thinly sliced
8 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 parsley sprigs
12 oz cod fillet
8 oz smoked haddock (finnan haddie) see note.
3/4 pint milk
12 oz tail end of salmon
2 slices lemon
2 1/2 lb potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 oz butter
1 oz flour
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
7 oz cooked shrimp
6-8 tablespoons milk
large shrimp tails, about 18 (save the heads for stock)
1 egg beaten
Put half the onion slices, four peppercorns, one bay leaf and one parsley sprig into a large frying pan, and add the same into a saucepan. Add the cod and the haddock to the the frying pan and pour in the milk. Put the salmon into the saucepan and barely cover with water, add the lemon slices. Bring both pans to the boil, remove from heat cover and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
Cook potatoes in boiling water for 20-25 minutes, drain and mash well, beat in 2 oz butter and enough milk to make a smooth creamy mixture, but you still want to keep it fairly firm, season with salt and pepper.
Strain the milk from the cod and haddock into a jug, there should be about 3/4 pint. Remove salmon from saucepan and discard cooking water, and also remove the flavorings from both pans. Break all of the fish into large flakes discarding the skin and any bones, set aside.
Melt 1 oz of butter in a large pan stir in the flour and cook over a low heat for about a minute, gradually stir in the strained milk, stirring continuously, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for about 2 minutes, remove from heat and season with black pepper, stir in the lemon juice, parsley and grated nutmeg and gently mix in the flaked fish and the prawns, pour into a large shallow ovenproof dish. Spoon the potato mixture evenly over the filling, place the large shrimp tails around the side of the dish.....the tails should bend outwards. Brush the potatoes with the egg and cook in oven for a bout 35 minutes or until golden brown and heated through.
*A note about smoked haddock, (finnan haddie) it's very hard to find out here or even in New York, I found Stonington Seafood via Chowhound, they have a great selection of smoked products, I will definitely be going back for kippers.