Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fish Pie with Sand and Sea Foam Topping (and Fish Stock)

(Warning: long recipe, thus long post!)
So I am recounting my Winter Feast adventures. We had:

·     Pumpkin soup

·     Fish pie with Sand and Sea topping

·     Lardy cake

The main, Heston's Fish Pie with Sand and Sea topping, requires a number of elements and was probably the most challenging Heston Blumenthal dish I've made to date. This will be a long post, you may want to get a cuppa.

To start, it requires fish stock, so I'll discuss that first then move onto the main event. I'll note at the outset I don't usually cook much fish beyond salmon or seafood, so the whole experience was kind of educational.

Fish Stock

This was an annoying dish to make, and not due to Heston, but due to an inconsistent fishmonger who I ordered everything through, but then neglected to tell me they didn't have it all in when I called prior and then was put out when I didn't want to take half the ingredients one day, then come back the next day for the rest, and then again for the stuff needed on the actual day of the party. Apparently I'm odd for not wanting smelly fish heads and bones in my fridge overnight.

Okay, so let's assume you have a lovely and reputable fishmonger, and get on with it.

Chop up your fish bones. (And heads, in my case). This was kind of awkward to do. Heston states you should also remove the gills if you are using heads as they can make it bitter. So, if you are using heads go Google how to remove gills. Be a little weirded out, but manage their removal anyway. I was given snapper "frames". (Frames? I suppose its a better euphemism/term than 'carcass'...)


Soak them in water (presumably to get any remaining gunk off). Mmm.. Fish juice.

Prep the long list of vegetables, finely slice.

Rinsed, clean fishy-parts.


Slowly cook all the veggies for twenty minutes.

While that's happening fry your fish bits in a pan. This was a bit .. unpleasant. I don't know why it bothered than doing the same with chicken wings, but it did. Maybe it was the eyes looking at me that did it...


Okay, so then the booze, I mean wine and vermouth goes in the veggies to get boiled off. (Incidentally, I found out that Cinzano was vermouth. I did not know this. I stuck a sticky note on the bottle so I remembered for next time.)

Then in goes the fish bones and water. (I didn't stage this photo to look like Jaws deliberately, honest!)


Then usual cook, then turn it off and let it cool. Prep your herbs and lemon zest.


Optional : During this interval, you may go to your fishmonger to pick up your ordered 500g of mussels. (This will be your third visit due to the mussels not being in yesterday). Then find out they only sell it in 1 kg bags. And they refuse to sell you half a bag - despite ordering 500g and you being in yesterday to pick up the other stuff for the stock. Go home without in a very cross mood, being so pressed for time - people coming over tonight - that you decide to skip the mussels. Have a wonderful husband you listens calmly to your plight and volunteers to drive out to a different fish place after sourcing the required mussels so that you can get on with the other bits of dinner. Hurrah.

Take the lid off the now-cooled pressure cooker, and heat it up again. Add in your mussels, herbs and lemon zest and cook until the mussels are done.

Strain the liquid through muslin layers in a colander, then refrigerate for later.



It was moderately seafood-fishy in flavour and scent. In fact, if I hadn't made it, I would have expected it had more than just two kinds of seafood in it - load of flavour. Certainly better than the basic fish stock I have purchased in the past. I don't think I was as wowed by this as the chicken stock, but that may be personal preference at work.

The colour comes from rather a lot (1/4 teaspoon) of saffron. Or at least it seemed a lot to me. I could certainly taste the saffron (I'd consider maybe a bit less next time). That said measuring 1/4 teaspoon of saffron was interesting, because its strands, it doesn't exactly sit nicely on the spoon to be measured, so maybe it is a 'difficult to measure accurately in small proportions' thing?

It also was more gelatinous than I expected from fish stock. But not in a bad way.

Fish Pie with Sand and Sea Topping

What a mammoth undertaking.

Here is a summary of the steps:


  1. Make the stock. (Done!)
  2. Cure the salmon
  3. Make confit onions
  4. Make the sauce
  5. Make the sand
  6. Prep sea foam
  7. Make Pommes Purees (potato topping)


  1. Mix together ingredient
  2. Put on topping, grill
  3. Put on sea foam and sand

Yeah. There’s a lot going on. I did some steps out of order for reasons of ease of prep and which would keep best during the day. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Cure the salmon

Get up early and get the salmon going, because it needs most of the day to cure. So I bought skin on salmon, only to realise of course, I needed it without skin. This is the result, it all came off but not quite as elegantly as I might have liked. Oh well, it’s going in a pie, no one will see it anyway. (And realistically, no one is likely to complain about the non-perfectly smooth salmon pieces, are they?)


Then its into its salt & sugar blankie and into the fridge. Curing salmon always feels like magic. You barely do anything, but it comes out so altered. In a good way. Maybe it’s the salmon equivalent of a yoga retreat. (I’ve never been on one, but that’s what I imagine anyway).


Get ready for the rest of the day. A highly necessary step, in my opinion. 

Prep Sea Foam Liquid

This is a clear liquid that you will foam up just before serving, containing rather a lot of ingredients .

One of these, it turns out is unavailable (locally at least). Konbu, my not-very-local specialist Japanese supermarket person tells me, isn’t able to be imported anymore. Because of the nuclear reactor fall out. Oh. (blink) Fair enough then.  

She did sell me some dashi stock powder sachets though. However, on getting it home, I realised it had a bunch of other stuff in it. I decided not to use it, mostly because I was concerned that all that extra enhancers/sugar etc might stop it foaming, and I wasn’t going to risk it. (I’ve since used it in making extra tasty sukiyaki though!)

So we melt some (lots) of butter and cook shallots and garlic. 
Then add more of the vermouth and wine from the stock making, and reduce it right down. 
Then add in fish stock, water and parsley. I also skipped the shiitake mushrooms as I was kind of unsure if the recipe called for fresh or dried kind, and decided to skip them. In hindsight, given the other ingredients, I suspect it was the dried kind. Heat it up, let it cook monitoring the temp annoyingly for the half hour. (Erg. Micromanagement of temperature is not my favourite thing. But then I was in the kitchen anyway…) 

Once that’s done, it’s strained through muslin (and then throw your muslin in with the others from the stock in the bucket with water and napisan in the laundry. Do this, it kept my laundry from smelling like fish and meant I could deal with it later). The liquid is put aside for later finishing and serving.

Confit onions

Okay so while the sea foam is reducing, you can get the onions doing their thing. Some multitasking is really pretty much required with this dish. Confiting the onions means covering them in oil and then cooking until they are done. The oil isn’t hot enough to be fry the onions and the oil cooks right through. It’s a very different texture. Despite this, they don’t seem particularly oily once draining. 

Nice golden onions. Yum. 

Cut them in half once they are cool and stick them aside for later.

Make some sand

The “sand” is deep fried panko.

You just heat up an awful lot of oil and then fill it full of panko. Panko are Japanese breadcrumbs – they are much light and coarser than usual breadcrumbs, with and very satisfying crunch. Cooking... getting browner....
In the recipe photo, it looks quite dark brown – too dark to look like sand to me, so I went for more of a golden colour. Drained, they looked pretty good, and tasted nice and crunchy.

Sauce making

So you cook onions and garlic in butter.

 Add in the vermouth and white wine to deglaze, then boil to reduce it down.
(Excuse the steam)

Then in with that fish stock, milk, cream and smoked fish (recipe calls for haddock, I had to use cod since that was the closest I could get here).
 Simmer, simmer. It smelled great. 

Off the heat and let it infuse.    

Then straining away all that stuff to get the little bit of sauce. 
Hmm. At this point I made an executive decision, and decided not to thicken the sauce with agar agar as stated. Really, I thought the sauce was just the right consistency, and I didn’t want to mess with it, as there really wasn’t that great a quantity of it. So I didn’t add the agar-agar, or blitz it or put it through a sieve. I just put it in a cereal bowl for later. It just didn't feel like much sauce.

Finish prepping the cured salmon

Okay, the salmon is finished curing. You can see how wet the salt and sugar mix is, having drawn out all that from the fish.

This is washed, dried and chopped into nice chunks to go in the pie. Fabulous texture.

 So we’re prepared for the assembly-and-heat stage ready for serving.

Pommes Puree

This is a whole own recipe of Heston’s in it’s own right, with extras added. Frankly, this is the bit I did least well of the dish – I didn’t cook the potatoes enough, and so the resulting puree was a bit more granular than I’d like, rather than silky as it should have been.

Heston notes you can pre-cook the potatoes earlier, and then just heat them up when required. I did this, and I’m not convinced this was the best idea. I had to heat the potatoes up again to get them through the potato press (Thanks to fellow foodie who let me know this, while I struggled with it). 

Possibly, this was just because they weren’t falling-apart enough, but not entirely. 

If doing this again, I’d do the potatoes when I needed them. The potatoes are twice cooked, with rinsing off in between to remove excess starch, then cooked again to falling apart. I think this second cooking is where I didn’t cook them enough. They weren’t uncooked or anything, just not super soft.

Then its pressed into loads of melted butter, and milk, with horseradish sauce, seeded mustard and Worcestershire sauce mixed in to make the mashed potato flavoured pommes puree.
(I did mix it more than this, but forgot to take a photo. )

Mix up the pie

So the various pie ingredients (smoked fish, prawns, peas, those confit onions, the cured salmon, herbs, etc. ) are mixed together, heated up, and cooked slightly.

Then placed in your fabulous new anniversary present pie dish. (Or you know, the pie dish you use at your house.) 

Cover with potato, make an attempt at wave shapes (and try not to be disappointed at how little they look like waves, despite kind encouragement at cheerful onlookers) and pop it under the grill while you cheer yourself up by making foam.

Prep your sea foam

So you reheat the liquid you made earlier, and add in the soya lecithin. (Word to the wise: don’t mispronounce it at the health food store when you go to buy it, or they may treat you too like an idiot and look at you blankly before saying “Oh you mean soya Lecithin.”) Look at dubiously, uncertain how this is going to become foam like without one of those whipping cream air-filled things you used to see in second hand stores before they all got bought up by food bloggers/hipsters.

Then aerate it with a hand blender and get giggly at how fun that was and how well it worked. Ignore the bemusement of your guests. (Sometimes an open plan kitchen-dining isn't a good thing.)


Put panko sand on half with a generous quantity of foam down the gap. Serve it at the table, so everyone can ooh and ahhh appreciatively.  (The potato waves did look better in person, though nothing like the beautiful ones in the photo.)

Lessons learned:

  • ‘Falling apart’ potatoes means exactly that.
  • Don’t do fish pie as well as other complicated entrée and mains. It’s a lot of messing about.

Guest opinions:

This was very well received. The sea and sand topping really did add to the dish (though I ended up serving extra foam on plates, because everyone wanted some, and it was hard to serve a mix of toppings equally). Pretty much everyone opted for seconds.

An interesting observation, and not without merit, is that it is like a really amazing reconstruction of fish and chips – complete with pickled-onion substitute, crunchy fried texture and potato. And it does have those elements, though I can say with certainty this was better than any fish and chip dinner I’ve had. A very popular dish.


This was a great dish, with a lot of great flavours, contrasting texture - a wonderful dish. It was also a crazy amount of things going on, lots of little individual elements to prepare and keep track of. I’d consider making it again, but only with very simple entrée/dessert pairs, the three dishes I chose to make really wiped out the best of two and a half days to prepare. It is also kind of pricey with all the elements added in.
That said, a great dish. I’d say on par, if not slightly ahead of the chicken with sherry dish I made previously. And I think the best course of the night. (Though some of the guests might have liked the pumpkin soup better. It would be close.)

Next post: Lardy cake. Or "lahdidah cake" as my daughter called it.


  1. That looks incredible! I'm not really a fan of most fish pies (they're usually kind of gluey in my experience) but I think that would be delicious.

    Also: how does one pronounce lecithin? I don't want those health food shop staff judging me!

  2. I love your longer posts! Fantastic write-up as always :)

    This looks like a massively daunting recipe. Huge respect to you for tackling it. It looks like it's essentially the same as the very long In Search of Perfection recipe (and from the second series too, where things get *really* complicated. The stock alone looks like more work (and cost!) than a regular meal.

    From what I've seen the Perfection and HaH recipes both take their cue from Heston's famous Sound of the Sea dish served at the Fat Duck. I know Auldo left that dish until the very end of his Big Fat Undertaking. If you have time to read it there's literally tons of similarities: http://thebigfatundertaking.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/57-sound-of-the-sea/

    We had the exact same problem with our potatoes when we did the mash potato topping (just for a Shepherds Pie thing though, http://www.insearchofheston.com/2011/03/shepherds-pie-on-steroids-recipe/)When we looked it up in Perfection book 2 it seems that he first simmer, that locks the starches in, also makes the potatoes much tougher. Our mash was really grainy as well. And murder to rice / sieve!

    Looks like it was well worth the effort. Looking forward to your Lardy Cake write up, we were thinking of doign it and the Whisky Ice Cream this Christmas.

    P.S. @Clementine - in the Perfection 2 episode Heston seems to pronounce it "Lessey-thin". Hope that helps, and that I haven't tainted your pronunciation with my northern accent ;)

  3. Thanks! I think sometimes its best just to get into things and not pysch yourself out into thinking it's difficult. Really, this dish was just a lot of steps rather than high difficulty.

    I wish now I'd thought to play the ocean sounds!

    Still, the flavour from each element - including the foam - was really present and noticable. I was worried about there not being enough sauce but it was fine. (Definitely not gluggly Clementine!) And on, on the plus side, you can prep ahead several of the elements, so that helps.

  4. This sounds like a fish pie that I'd like to try. I'm not a huge fan of fish pies on the whole but I do like fish n chips! Wonderful exposition of how you tackled this dish - you have more patience and diligence in your smallest finger than I have in my entire body!