Breaking free from borscht: Russian smoked fish pie

‘Russian food – well, that’s borscht, isn’t it?’

The look on Ash’s face was a mix of horror and dismay. Whilst he’ll eat beetroot if required, he is certainly not in its fan club, and memories of a Russian housemate stinking out the house by boiling beetroot were adding to the feeling of dread. Miranda’s Australian background means she’s more in tune with beetroot and its benefits, but even she wasn’t all that excited about the thought of this particular meal. However, we both had to make our peace with the fact that it’s Russia’s national dish and that’s the challenge we set ourselves when we started this project.

Fortunately for us, we were saved by Diana Henry and her lovely book Roast Figs Sugar Snow, which contains a recipe for Russian smoked fish pie with cream cheese pastry. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, we did say that if we had an appropriate recipe on our bulging shelves, we’d use it – so smoked fish pie it was! We were saved – and more than a little relieved. The book tells us that Russians love pies, so we were happy to play along.

Smoked fish pie with cream cheese pastry

For the pastry:
115g cream cheese
115g butter
2 large egg yolks
200g flour
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

For the filling:
100g long grain rice
Salt and pepper
400g fillet of cod (or any other white fish)
275ml milk
125g smoked trout, broken into bite-sized pieces (although we couldn’t find any so got mackerel instead, which worked fine)
125g smoked salmon, roughly chopped
325g mushrooms, roughly chopped
70g butter
30g flour
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp sour cream
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

1. For the pastry, beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer, then add one of the egg yolks. Stir in the flour, salt and baking powder and bring together into a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
2. For the filling, cook the rice until al dente, season, and set aside.
3. Put the white fish in a pan, season and cover with the milk. Heat until simmering, then cook for about 5 minutes. Remove the fish from the milk (reserving the milk) and put it in a bowl with the other fish.
4. Sauté the mushrooms in 35g of the butter until nicely coloured and quite dry. Season and add to the fish.
5. Melt the rest of the butter and add the flour to make a roux. Cook over a low heat for a minute, then remove from the heat and gradually add the milk used for cooking the fish. Stir well after each addition of milk until smooth. When all the milk has been added, put the pan back on the heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly as the sauce thickens. Season and let simmer for 5 minutes so that the flour gets cooked. Add the lemon juice, sour cream and parsley, then carefully combine the sauce with the fish and mushrooms.
6. Spread the rice over the bottom of a buttered gratin dish (8×10”), then pour the sauce on top. Leave it to cool a little.
7. Preheat the oven to 200C.
8. Roll out the pastry to fit the dish, wet the edges of the dish and press it down. Trim off the excess pastry and use to decorate the top. Make a few slits in the centre of the pie to let the steam escape, then brush the top with the remaining egg yolk.
9. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180C and cook for a further 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is golden and cooked.
Serves 4

805a Ingredients for fish pie compressed

806a Mushrooms compressed

807a Sauce compressed

808a Sauce and fish mix compressed

809a Assembling pie compressed

810a Filling compressed

811a Pie and pastry compressed

812a Pastry compressed

813a Egg wash compressed

814a Cooked pie compressed

815a Pie dinner compressed

We’re both fans of fish pie – especially Ash – and this one was a particular treat. English fish pies are usually topped with potato, and this cream cheese pastry proved to be a lovely alternative. The addition of smoked fish gave the pie a depth that a typical English version wouldn’t have, and balanced the creaminess of the sauce well, meaning it didn’t have the clagginess that is sometimes present. That said, it still isn’t the lightest of dishes, so pairing it with some steamed tenderstem broccoli worked well.

Fish is more expensive than other meat, which means that we don’t eat it as much as we otherwise might, but this is still a meal that will be on our list to make again. Each portion didn’t turn out to be that costly, even with the luxury inclusion of smoked salmon. And although it was a little time-consuming and dirtied a lot of dishes, it wasn’t in any way difficult. Our only disappointment is that we forgot to buy any Russian vodka to have with it!

Ladies and gentlemen, that (for the time being at least) concludes our exploration of European cuisine. Next stop, North America and a whole new world of culinary delights!


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