Saturday, 21 January 2012


Herrings, Johnson's fish market, Old Portsmouth

After an interesting morning in the Naval Museum archive library, researching my radio play, I headed down to the fish market in Old Portsmouth in search of supper.

Fishing boat Old Portsmouth

On the Camber in Old Portsmouth is Johnson’s, a traditional fish market. 

Fishing pots Old Portsmouth

After the catch-Fishing nets and rope 

Johnson's Enterprises, Portsmouth's original fish market, is literally on the quay side. The water laps just metres away, fishing boats and ferry's glide past regularly.  It is a great place to buy fish. 

Big glass fronted cabinets are crammed with ice displaying a range of seasonal fish.

The boxes of sardines and herrings caught my eye instantly.
The sardines made me think of warm Mediterranean suppers. Lulling me with thoughts of summer that I was nearly seduced into buying some.

Sprats, Fish Market Old Portsmouth

 But as the biting wind blew in off the steely grey Solent I had a reality check and realized that what worked on a sultry Spanish evening probably wouldn’t prove as popular on a damp dingy January night in England

I was taken with the lemon sole and gurnard form Looe.
Then there was the beautiful looking mackerel... I was spoilt for choice!

However, as my feet went from damp to soggy then freezing, I realized that all I really wanted was the ingredients for a good fish pie. 

Darren, the manager, helped me pick a selection of fillets of coley, haddock and smoked haddock , then de skinned, boned and chopped the fish ready for me to cook.

Darren, filleting fish, Johnson's Enterprises, Old Portsmouth

How easy was that?!

I had been tempted by the plaice but he recommended waiting another few weeks for the best local fish to come in, telling me to enjoy the fish pie!

It’s great to have someone with his knowledge of the fish and sense of humour. To have the sea near by, well that's just an added bonus. I love the sea what ever the weather or season. The fact  that I can get great fish, thereby having the ingredients for a fresh wholesome supper that all the family will eat means I will definitely be back soon.

That was the easy bit.
 I now had to decide what fish pie I was going to make.

 There are so many recipes out there all claiming to be The ultimate or The easiest or The best...

All the celebrity chefs have their own version:

Jamie does a great one with grated carrot and cheese
Sophie has prawns and a celeriac mash
Nigella adds boiled eggs and cheddar.....and there are so many more..

All good but chez nous, the prawns often get picked out by someone in our house...
boiled eggs don't receive a warm welcome either and the celeriac mash was voted too strong a flavour for the fish below.

Instead we have tried a mash mix with sweet potatoes which looked pretty and went down well. On a plus side sweet potato is a great source of vitamin A so gets my vote as anything that boosts teen vegetarians vitamin and mineral intake is a bonus and to be encouraged.

So in the end I opted for a simple fish pie perfect for a cold winter evening. 


Serves 4
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20-30minutes

Pre heat the oven to 180


The basics:
1 onion
500g mixed fillets of fish- I used coley, smoked haddock and haddock. It is a very good idea to make sure you do have some smoked fish to add flavour
2 leeks
 350 ml Milk
1tbsp plain flour
2 Bay leaves
Optional extras I have been known to put in; a tin of sweet corn, handfuls of spinach, or peas.

For the mash
500g  Potatoes
500g  sweet potato
splash of milk for mashing

Olive oil to fry. Salt and pepper to taste.
You need a saucepan, frying pan and deep pie dish for cooking.


1.     Peel potatoes and cut into small chunks and the sweet potatoes then put in a saucepan of water and boil until both are soft. Approx 15 minutes.
2.     While this is boiling chop the onion finely, and slice the leeks into circles. Then fry in a glug of olive oil until soft.  
3.     Put the milk, bay leaves and fish in a large saucepan and simmer gently to infuse the milk with the flavours of the fish for about 5 minutes- while the onions are frying.
4.     Stir in the flour to the onion and leek mixture and stir well until  a paste like consistency. Then add the milk gradually, stirring to avoid any lumps in the sauce. Don’t put in the bay leaves.
5.     When all the milk has been added turn off from the heat and add the fish.
6.     At this stage if you like prawns you can add prawns into the mixture.
7.     When the potatoes are soft drain them really well then mash them until soft and fluffy. You can add a splash of milk and knob of butter to create a smooth texture.
8.     Put the fish mixture into a pie dish and spoon the mash mixture over the top. Place in a pre heated oven for 20-30 minutes to brown.

Fish Pie served with mange tout and peas

It is great with peas and mange tout. 

HMS WARRIOR, Portsmouth.

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