Friday 7 May 2010

County Galway Cottage Pie

Okay, I know this is not bread. Not even remotely. But it does go in the oven, and it is traditional, simple, and most importantly, delicious. 

It also comes with a little bit of a story.

In the more rural parts of Ireland, many roads have significant stretches that are not lit at night. At. All. Combine this with the fact that further north along the western coast, all of the road markings change to Gaelic (if the road is even marked). So you may find yourself driving in the dark, across what seems to be - as near as you can tell in the dark - a huge rolling pasture with a single narrow path paved through it. (Well, part of it is paved anyway.) All you have to guide you is the reassurance that you can't have possibly taken a wrong turn, because this was the only road on the map.

So here we were, driving blindly forward towards the tiny, dim glow ahead. After a time we came to the town. (Which, much to our relief, was in fact the town we were trying to get to. This is no small feat when you have passed no signs of civilisation for the past hour!) And as we drove through this town, my mum spotted a restaurant that - surprisingly for such a late hour - appeared to still be open.

The inside of the restaurant was not what I'd anticipated. It was very quiet - there was no traditional session music like there would be in a pub, and there were actually only two other people in the place. It also was not homey or quaint like what I would expect in a small coastal town. I was sceptical, but it was really our only option for hot food. Also it was a seafood restaurant. They had to have something good. I ordered, as the menu called it, "baked cod," or something equally ambiguous.

When it was brought to the table, though, it was not just plain fish. It was a sort of pie, with mash potato on the top. And inside was...cream sauce? With fish? I was now very sceptical. I could not think of a single example where fish plus milk seemed like a good idea. But I took a bite, and my mind was changed completely. It was rich, and warming, and completely delicious. Here in this empty, unwelcoming restaurant, I had discovered a brand new comfort food that tasted like it could have come from a cottage kitchen.

And here is the recipe for you.

Cod Pie

(Note: This recipe makes a serving for one person. Measurements are approximate. Increase recipe for the number of individual pies you wish to make.)

For each pie you will need:

One small glass or ceramic baking dish (holds about a cup of volume)
One small cod fillet
One potato, sliced up but not peeled
Thyme, parsley, salt, and pepper


Heat the oven to 218 C/ 425 F. Place the potato into a pot, cover with cold salted water, and bring to a boil on high. Boil until tender, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the cod into small pieces and lay them in the baking dish. Pour a little milk and cream over until the fish is about half-covered - enough to thoroughly moisten and flavour the fish, but make sure it won't bubble over the edge. Add some fresh thyme and parsley, and generous amounts of salt and pepper.

Mash the potato with a knob of butter, a little cream, and milk, and season with salt and pepper. Spread the mash in a layer over the fish. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the potato begins to turn golden. Garnish with freshly snipped scallions, if desired.


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