A firm River Cottage favourite. It ranks up there with fish pie for comfort food but, as it’s a bit more stylish and doesn’t have any potato in it, we serve it as a starter course. Be careful not to overcook the fish, it really only takes about 5 minutes.
Four to six people
- 250g plain flour
- 125g cold organic butter, cut into small cubes
- Pinch of salt
- 1 egg yolk, plus beaten egg for glazing
- About 100ml cold milk
- 1 smoked pollack fillet, about 200g
- Up to 1 litre whole milk
- Knob of butter
- 2 English onions, finely sliced
- A large handful of young spinach
- 100g mature cheddar, grated
- 250ml double cream
- 2 medium eggs, plus 2 medium yolks, lightly beaten
- Salt and pepper
To make the pastry, put the flour, butter and salt in a food processor and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk, start the processor again and start adding the milk in a thin stream. Watch carefully and stop adding the milk as soon as the dough comes together. Tip out of the processor, knead a couple of times to create a smooth ball of dough, then wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 170/gas 3/ESSE dial reading MODERATE. Roll out the pastry thinly and use to line a 25cm-diameter tart tin with a removable base. Leave the excess pastry hanging over the edge.
Prick the base in several places with a fork. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry looks dry and cooked. Remove from the oven, brush the pastry with beaten egg, then return to the oven and bake until golden (about 5 minutes). This helps to seal the pastry and prevent any of the tart filling leaking out. Trim off the excess pastry with a small, very sharp knife. Leave the oven at 170/gas 3/ESSE dial reading MODERATE.
Put the pollack in a pan and pour over enough milk to just cover it. Bring the milk to a simmer. Taking care not to let the milk boil, cook the fish just until it will come apart in flakes – about 5 minutes. Remove the fish from the milk and leave to cool. Don’t discard the milk – strain it and set aside.
While the pollack is cooling, heat the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and add the onions. Fry gently, without letting them brown, until soft. Drop the spinach into a pan of boiling water and cook until wilted. Drain and, once cool enough to handle, squeeze dry and chop.
Flake the pollack into a bowl and add the grated cheddar, onions and spinach. Mix well, then put the mixture into the tart case. Mix 250ml of the strained fish poaching milk with the cream and eggs. Season with salt and pepper and pour over the pollack mixture.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until set and browned. Serve warm or cold.