There are three components of fish pie that keep the dish close to British hearts.
A silky, rich béchamel sauce, meaty chunks of perfectly cooked seafood and a well-seasoned, often cheesy, crust of volcanically-hot mashed potato on top.
If your mouth isn’t a well of saliva right now, then you’ve clearly never had a good fish pie.
And it’s thanks to such creamy indulgence and simplicity that the dish is the epitome of top tier comfort food.
But as evidently popular and well-known as this humble heart-warmer is now, the beginnings of fish pie remains as much a mystery as the deepest corners of the sea.
History of fish pie
The origin story of fish pie is largely built on guesswork rather than solid evidence.
One plausible line of thought suggests that the meal derives from Roman influence and was developed after Julius Caesar’s military expedition to Britain in 55 BC.
Although Roman diets largely consisted of vegetables, legumes, grains, eggs, cheeses and fruit, fish was also eaten and allegedly consumed by the Romans on Fridays in honour of Venus, the goddess of love, beauty and fertility.
Historians regard this custom, and the Christian tradition of eating fish on Good Friday, as the ignition for Britain’s obsession with seafood.
Lent is another Christian custom which had a profound influence on our fish consumption and is also said to have played a part in the evolution of fish pie.
According to Steve Dunn, associate editor of Cook’s Illustrated, fish pie probably originated as a Lenten meal made with seafood scraps, eaten as a substitute for meat.
More traditional pastry-based fish pies have been documented as a meal enjoyed during Lent too; in the 14th century, King Edward III allegedly received pies with 100 herrings in them during the fasting period from the people of Yarmouth.
Other early forms of fish pie include eel and carp varieties which appear in John Murrell’s 1615, A New Booke of Cookerie and the lamprey pies devoured by King Henry I, who allegedly died from overeating them.
Perhaps not the cheddar-topped, haddock-stuffed meal families enjoy today but certainly an important step toward the current edition.
One potential predecessor of fish pie which hasn’t been mentioned thus far is Stargazy pie, a traditional Cornish dish steeped in unusual folklore.
Five hundred years ago, on a cold and stormy eve in the Cornish village of Mousehole, the sea was so violent that no fish could be caught for the community.
Unable to watch the village starve, fisherman Tom Bawcock braved the elements and brought home a catch so large that no one went hungry.
According to the legend, seven types of fish were used in the pies made: sand eels, horse mackerel, pilchards, herring, dogfish, ling and an unknown seventh fish.
Modern versions of this pie are made with eggs and potato, complete with seven fish heads poking out the crust.
What to serve with fish pie
If you are wondering what to serve with fish pie, a perfect combination would be a white wine sauce, and smoked applewood mash with a choice of nutritious veggies (we recommend green beans).
Filled with flaky chunks of premium salmon and white fish, Hey Fresto!’s version of fish pie oozes with flavours of the sea and is finished in a creamy, white wine and leek sauce.
Moving away from the dishes of English kings and Cornish villagers, our fish pie is topped with an incredible smoked applewood mash, complete with a dill and lemon crumb.
Take a look at this mouth-watering meal in more depth and savour the taste of this classic.