The idea for this rustic fish and fennel pot pie came to me in a dream, and unless you are Sigmund Freud (you're not, are you?), I'm not going to bore you with the details. Somewhere in the dream, I was planning a menu for La Vigilia, the traditional Italian Christmas Eve feast of seven fishes, which in real life I don't celebrate, so I'm sure it wasn't real.
One of the dishes on my imaginary menu was a fish pot pie, and if I were making this for La Vigilia, I'd stuff it with several kinds of fish, and perhaps some shrimp or scallops, too. A brightly flavored bulb of fennel will make a real difference, but if you don't like the anise overtones of fennel, swap in celery instead.
Fish and fennel pot pie
From the pantry, you'll need: butter, onion, chicken broth (or white wine), all-purpose unbleached flour, parsley, mild red pepper flakes, thyme, kosher salt, fresh black pepper, refrigerated pie crust, egg.
3 Tbsp butter
2 cups finely diced potato, any type (skins on or off), or leftover cooked potato
1 small bulb fresh fennel, trimmed and diced (reserve the fronds), or 1/2 cup diced celery
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1/2 cup chicken broth or white wine
Pinch of mild red pepper flakes (or more, to taste)
1/4 tsp dried thyme (or 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper
1-1/2 lbs cod chunks, completely defrosted if frozen
3 Tbsp all-purpose unbleached flour
1 cup milk
1 refrigerated pie crust
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp of water
First, make the filling: In a large, deep-sided sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat the butter over low-medium heat. Add the potatoes, fennel and onion, and stir to coat the vegetables with the butter. Cover the pan, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are just tender and the other vegetables are translucent.
Pour in the broth (or wine), and scrape up any stuck bits from the pan. Season with red pepper flakes, thyme, salt and black pepper.
Mix in the fish; it should begin to cook instantly from the heat in the pan. When the fish is half cooked, sprinkle on the flour, and stir to incorporate it. The fish and vegetables should get a bit clumpy as the flour cooks. This will take just a minute or two. When the flour is all incorporated (and no longer white), pour in the milk, and stir well. The sauce will begin to thicken as you bring it to a simmer.
When the fish sauce is thickened (not like glue, but like a nice white sauce), remove the pan from the heat, and set aside.
Note: at this point, you can let the sauce cool to room temperature (15-20 minutes), and continue with the recipe. Or, cool the sauce completely and refrigerate for several hours or overnight, until you are ready to bake the pie.
To finish the pie: Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Transfer the fish and vegetable filling to a deep pie dish or small casserole dish. If your filling has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature before adding the crust. Unroll the pie crust, and stretch it over the edges of the dish. Press the crust against the sides of pie dish, so there is a nice overhang. Trim any extra. (Remember, this is a rustic pie, so the edges need not be perfect).
With a sharp knife, make a steam hole in the center of the pie crust. Add a few random slits here and there, just as you would on a fruit pie. Use a pastry brush to paint the crust with the beaten egg mixture.
Set the pie on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes, until the crust is browned. Remove from the oven, and set aside for 10 minutes to let the filling regroup.
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