Fish Pie Marinière

Fish Pie

Making the most of Moules

A great fish pie is a thing of beauty, and I humbly submit this to be a great fish pie, a perfect blend of hearty British comfort food and Gallic flair. This is the kind of dish where you need to make double quantities as you know people will keep going back for “just one more spoon”.

To my mind any fish pie worthy of the name must contain, at a bare minimum, three varieties of fish – white, smoked and oily. Prawns are another non-negotiable addition in this household for their flavour, colour and textural contrast. It is a sad fish pie indeed that denies the diner the quiet joy of unearthing a plump prawn or two.

So far, so conventional. What sets this recipe apart however is the inclusion of a kilo of Moules Marinière. Cooked ever so briefly, the meat is removed from the shells and included with the fish mixture, whilst the cooking broth is strained and used as the basis of the sauce, enriched with cream and the cooking liquor of the smoked haddock.

This is not the healthiest recipe in the world, certainly not the cheapest, and it takes a fair bit of work, but everyone deserves a treat once in a while.

Using a sustainable, relatively affordable white fish like Pollock or Coley rather than Cod as your white fish base reduces costs (and ethical guilt) a little and using the mussels to bulk up the fish content is very cost effective. You can see full listings of sustainable fish here.

Whilst this dish does take a fair while to prepare, none of the processes involved are particularly taxing. I approach it in four stages: Preparing the fish, preparing the sauce, preparing the topping and assembling the dish. With a glass of wine in hand and a good soundtrack this can make for a thoroughly satisfying Sunday afternoon.

I like to serve this with lightly crushed peas flavoured with tarragon, but any green veg of your choosing will make a pleasing accompaniment, just make sure you don’t need anything more than a fork or spoon to eat it with – this is box set binging sofa food at it’s best!

A few notes on the recipe:

My recipe contains chopped boiled eggs which I know are a controversial inclusion for some. These poor deluded souls deserve our compassion and understanding, try to forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Other than the haddock and mussels (which are as cooked as lightly as necessary to extract their flavour for the sauce) the rest of the fish goes into the pie raw. I don’t understand recipes that advise pre cooking your fish, 30 mins in a hot oven is more than long enough to ensure the fish is cooked through

As a final note embedding a few mussels, hinge side down, in the pie topping for the final 5 mins in the oven is an idea I have appropriated from Bistro Union, who do the same with their (very good) fish pie using cockles, clams or sometimes mussels.

Fish pie 2

I make no apology, it’s a great idea! The mussels themselves aren’t that great to eat but their rich, briny juices leech into mash potato topping to great effect. It also makes a fairly frumpy looking dish into a bit of a show stopper when you put it down on the table.

It’s the little things.


Cooking time: 2 hours at a leisurely pace
Serves: 4-6 people


For the pie filling:

1kg Mussels
300g Smoked Haddock (Undyed)
300g Salmon Fillet
500g White Fish fillets – Pollock, Coley, sustainable Cod etc
250g Raw King Prawns
550 ml Whole Milk
8 Black Peppercorns
2 Bay leaves
1 glass white wine
1 shallot
2 cloves of garlic
75g butter
70g flour
3 Preserved Anchovy fillets
1 Lemon
150 ml Double Cream
2 Tsp Wholegrain Mustard
Couple of dashes Worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp Capers, drained or rinsed
Pinch of grated nutmeg
3 Eggs
Small bunch curly leaf parsley
2 Tbsp Chopped fresh Tarragon
2 Tbsp Chopped fresh Dill
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pie topping:

1kg Desiree or Maris Piper Potatoes
25 g butter
1 x Egg yoke
Pinch of grated nutmeg
50g each of grated Gruyère and Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the crushed peas:

600g frozen peas
25g Butter
1 shallot
2 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp Tarragon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Prepare the mussels:

Remove the mussels from their packaging in your sink and rinse them with cold running water, do not submerge them. Do an initial sort. Any with broken shells? Toss them. Any that are open and don’t shut when you give them a sharp tap? Toss them.

For the rest, first debeard them – that weird seaweedey looking stuff (byssal threads) hanging out of the shell? Give it a good yank down on the hinge of the mussel to remove it. They can be tenacious, hang in there. Next try and remove any barnacles from the shells with the back of a knife using a brisk shaving motion.

Finally give your mussels a good scrub and rinse again in cold water. Store in a paper lined bowl in your fridge until ready to cook.

A note on mussels:

I have seen countless recipes that say soak your mussels in cold water for an hour or so before cooking. This is complete and utter nonsense, do not listen to them. This is no doubt a throw back to the days before UV depuration systems. All commercially available mussels will now have been through this process before they reach you, all you will achieve by soaking your mussels in fresh water is drowning them. 

Prepare the smoked haddock:

Remove any pin bones from the smoked haddock with tweezers, place the fish in a saucepan (you may need to cut it in half) with the milk, peppercorns, bay leaves, a couple of sprigs of the parsley and fish skin if using (see below). Bring to just approaching boiling point and remove from the heat. Leave the fish to infuse in the milk with the aromatics for at least 30 mins.

Remove the smoked haddock and put to one side. Strain the infused milk into a bowl and set aside.

Prepare the rest of the fish:

Remove any pin bones from the fish fillets with tweezers. If your fish fillets have their skin intact remove with a sharp filleting knife and add to the smoked haddock pan. Cut the fish fillets into even cubes – not too small, maybe 3cm. Place the prepared fish along with the raw prawns in an oven proof dish – I use a 30cm terracotta cazuela. When the smoked haddock has cooled completely add to the dish as well. Refrigerate until needed.

Make the Moule Marinière:

Sort through your mussels and set aside 10 or 12 nice looking ones to use for the pie topping.

Finely chop the shallot and garlic cloves. Place 25g of the butter into a saucepan with a lid that will accommodate the remainder of the mussels, heat over a medium flame and when foaming add the shallot and garlic, stir regularly – you don’t want them to colour, just soften. Add the wine and mussels, turn the heat up to high and put the lid on. Cook for two mins or until all of the mussels just start to open, remove from the heat and as quickly as possible strain the mussel broth into a separate bowl, set aside.

Leave the mussels to cool then remove the meat from the shells, they should be sightly undercooked. Add the mussels to the rest of the fish in the oven dish.

Make your sauce:

Add your infused milk from the smoked haddock along with the strained mussel broth to a saucepan and gently heat through.

In a separate saucepan heat the remaining 50g butter over a medium flame, when it begins to foam add the anchovy fillets and stir well until they begin break up and dissolve, add the flour and stir well to combine to make a thick roux.

Gradually incorporate the infused milk/broth a little at a time to the roux, stir well with each addition of liquid. About half way through swap your spoon for a whisk, add the remaining liquid and whisk well.

Add the wholegrain mustard, Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg, cream some freshly ground black pepper and a small pinch of salt and cook over a low heat for 5 mins, whisking regularly – don’t let it catch.

In this time bring a saucepan of water to a rolling boil, carefully add your eggs, cook for 5 mins and remove from the saucepan and allow to cool a little.

After the sauce has cooked for 5 mins remove it from from the heat, if the sauce is too thick let it down with a little more milk and whisk well to incorporate.

Zest half of the lemon and add to the sauce along with the juice of around a third of the lemon. Finely chop the remaining parsley, tarragon and dill and add to the sauce, stir well and taste. Add a little more seasoning if necessary. Leave to one side to cool a little.

Assemble the pie filling:

Peel and roughly chop the hard boiled eggs add to the oven dish containing your fish along with the capers. At this point it is a good idea to make sure everything is evenly distributed so each serving will get a little taste of everything. Pour over the now slightly cooled sauce, again ensuring it is evenly distributed. Ideally your dish will be around 2/3 full. Set aside.

Make the pie topping:

Pre-heat your oven to 200°C.

Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. Peel and quarter the potatoes, and once the water has come to the boil add to the pan. Boil until tender enough to mash, 15-25 mins depending on your potatoes. Drain and mash, season with salt and pepper, a pinch of nutmeg and beat in the butter and egg yolk.

When the pie filling has cooled spoon the mash on top, spread evenly then rough up the surface using the tines of a fork in whatever pattern you desire. Sprinkle over the cheese, dot with butter.

Place in the oven and cook for 25 mins. After this time remove the pie from the oven and embed your reserved mussels, hinge side down in the surface of the pie as in the pictures above. Return to the oven and cook for a further 5 mins.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little whilst you make your peas.

Make the crushed peas:

Finely chop the shallot and garlic cloves. Place 25g of the butter into a saucepan on a medium heat, when foaming add the shallot and garlic, stir regularly – you don’t want them to colour, just soften. Add a splash of water and stir well to emulsify a little, add the frozen peas, stir well. Cook for a couple of mins until thoroughly defrosted and heated through. Add the chopped tarragon a pinch of salt and pepper and crush the peas roughly with a potato masher and give a final stir.


By the time your peas are cooked your pie should have cooled sufficiently to serve.

There is no easy or refined way to dish this up, so I prefer just to take the whole lot to the table and let people serve themselves…it makes it easier to get seconds as well!

Bon Appétit!

Fish Pie 3

P.S. – A note on leftovers

Should you be lucky enough to have some leftovers you can of course just reheat the pie. It will be perfectly OK, though it may be a little dry and the fish a little overcooked. Another option I like is to take a couple of spoons of left over pie and peas and mash them together before forming them into small patties and frying them in a little oil – fish pie fishcakes!


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