Slow Carb, No Cream Fish Pie

I could probably meter the adult chapter of my life in fish pies.

The first is a famed one from Sydney. So much so that it’s become somewhat of a culinary cautionary tale.It’s a stern yoke for any chef that tends the burners at The Boathouse at Blackwattle Bay. The Boathouse is a spot with a glinting side view over the harbour, sparkling oysters and a canny way with crustaceans. There are plenty of innovative things on the menu. Yet probably 50 per cent of diners will order the snapper pie. Because that’s what you do. It’s a delicate dance of a dish. Snapper is a gentle fish, which when over cooked can take on a pappy texture, like boiled pages of a book. The solution here is to place the segments of fish raw in a bath of soubise sauce; a gloriously rich melding of golden onions, fish stock and cream. It’s topped with a puffed pastry crown and then baked. By the time the pastry has puffed, the fish has just-cooked in the sauce. It’s served with mashed potatoes, smoked tomatoes- and- bear with me- truffle oil. A noxious thing at times, but here it brings a whiff of elegance- and a suggestive afternote of tangled sheets and drawn curtains.

The Boathouse was where The Hungry One and I went on one of our first grown up dates, a decade or so back. We were both reaching out so hard to be adults. His face was a little longer and leaner then, chiselled by thrice weekly spin classes and martial arts. Mine was much fuller, cushioned by a clutching love of carbs. We dressed up, we put on our best manners. We shared a pie and were more smitten with each bite. That recipe became our dinner party staple; what we would pull out and make whenever we wanted to impress people. We’d lean on frozen puff pastry and my tweezers to pin bone the fish. We’d smoke the tomatoes using a fry pan filled with rice and a dumpling steamer. At some stage we started replacing the mashed potatoes with smushed peas. The pastry cap was harder to give up.

The second fish pie is at the close of that arc. It’s the fish pie at J.Sheekey’s in London.

It was one of the last things I ate before we left, nearly a year ago now. I remember sitting at the bar next to my friend Alex. We were tucked away near Leicester Square, closeted between the sex shops of Soho and the theatres and their matinee musicals. I tried to find some way of making myself comfortable on the stool, my 32 week pregnant belly, awkwardly jutting out. I was caught, between the life we’d revelled in, of elaborate meals and travel and what was coming next. I wasn’t quite ready for it- the prospect still caught in my craw a little- but the timeline was no longer mine. It was way beyond my control at that point. We toasted to some great shared years and tucked into the pie. That’s a dish which carries comfort in every bite, heavy with cream and heady with smoked haddock, salmon and cod. There were flecks of green from the parsley but the best bit sits on top; a downy pillow of mashed potato, raked with cheesy breadcrumbs- like trailing your fingertips through a rough and sandy shoreline.

Someone asked me the other day if I miss London. It’s beyond that.

The first night it turned cold in Sydney, the air nipping at my nose at 3 am I woke convinced I was on the 35 bus, tootling over London Bridge. I was flustered, because I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to Neal’s Yard Dairy before it closed to buy the wedge of Ticklemore cheese I was craving.

I then stumbled into the dark to feed an ever-hungry child. Meanwhile in my head I groped for London like a phantom limb.

There are dishes that are perfect for times and places in your life. The fist two fish pies are those.

There are others that are ripe for when you’re caught somewhere in between. This is that fish pie.

This is a pie that shuns the need for heavy cream-based sauces to coddle you. Instead, there’s a nifty trick. Sauteed fennel, when blitzed produces a silky texture. Muddled together with a light chickpea flour bechamel it gilds the fish perfectly, while providing both an aniseed tang and a deceptive lightness. There’s a mix of seafood inside. You could carefully curate your collection- making sure that it’s all pin boned and skinned; salmon, a firm fleshed white fish, some mussels and rings of squid are all lovely. Or, if you’re a little pressed for time, you could cheat and buy 500 grams of marinara seafood mix (though make sure it isn’t bulked out with that hideous pencil eraser eque seafood extender). Then the rest takes a slow-carb route (a wagon I’ve happily hitched myself to once again, after the indulgences at my mother’s place in the last few weeks). The topping is a fine mix of pureed cannellini beans and mushed peas. There’s a sprinkling of parmesan for additional flavour and flaked almonds for crunch.

The topping gets gently pressed over the top of the fish and sauce, the almonds and cheese go over the top of that. It should be baked for around forty minutes at 190C/375 F, until the crust is bronzed and the centre piping hot. Add a little truffle oil if you feel so inclined.

Once upon a time a fish pie was something to be shared at well set table, wearing shoes chosen to be worn while sitting.

This is a pie that was baked barefoot and finished while a baby was bathed and settled. It was consumed from the floor at the coffee table. Around us was the debris of ‘Where’s the Green Sheep’, stacking blocks and stuffed bears.

But there was still wine to be drunk and plans to be hatched. And for now, it’s a pie that suits us fine.

Slow Carb, No Cream Fish Pie

Serves 2-3 (with a green salad)


1 fennel, finely diced, tops reserved
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chickpea flour
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup/ 125 ml milk
500 g of mixed, pin boned and skinless seafood (a mix of salmon, a firm flesh white fish, raw prawns and rings of squid is nice)
1 handful of parsley, roughly chopped

1 x 400 g tin of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
130 grams/ 1 cup of frozen peas
20 grams of parmesan, grated
1/4 cup of flaked almonds

To serve: truffle oil (optional), salt, pepper and a sharply dressed green salad

Here’s how we roll

1) Preheat the oven to 190C/375 F.

2) Sautee the diced fennel in the olive oil until soft and translucent- around 10 minutes. Use a high powered blender to blitz until you have a smooth puree.

3) Use the same saucepan to make a bechamel. Start by melting the butter and then add the chickpea flour, stirring the two over a medium head until you have a blonde roux. Add the milk and stir it all well together until the sauce thickens to a custard consistency, being sure to work out any lumps. Add the fennel puree back into the bechamel and stir well to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

4) Place the mixed seafood in a 23 cm pie dish. Toss with the choppped parsley.

5) Pour the sauce over the top of the fish, being sure to leave at least half a centimetre clear at the top of the pie dish (to prevent over flow when baking).

6) To make the topping roughly blend together the drained cannellini beans, fennel tops and peas until you have a rustic puree.

7) Gently press the pea and bean puree over the top of the fish and sauce. It doesn’t need to cover all of the pie- gently does it.

8) Scatter the parmesan and the flaked almonds over the top of the pie and bake for 35-40 minutes at 190C/375 F, until the top is bronzed and the centre is piping hot. Serve with a drizzling of truffle oil (if you fancy) and a sharply dressed green salad.


  1. Hi Tori, I follow your blog regularly and have enjoyed your travel guides and recipes very much. I see from the photos here you used a Thermomix for this recipe – did you cook the béchamel and fennel in the Thermomix?

    • Hi Mark! Lovely to hear from you- Sharp eyes! Yes- I use it for vegetable purees quite a bit these days- so I chopped, sauteed and then blended the fennel puree in it.I chop the fennel on 7 for 8-10 seconds, then add the olive oil and cook at 100 c for eight minutes, on a speed of 4, then blend at 10 for about 20 seconds. I used to do those things in a sauce pan and with a stick blender, but this does make it all a little quicker. I suppose I could have made the bechamel also- but I find it quite quick to do on a stove top, so I made the bechamel at the same time as the fennel was sauteeing in the thermomix. I also use it to blend the peas and the white beans. It’s a bit of a life saver at the moment…

      • Thank Tori. The Thermomix is quite the lifesaver! We also swear by your white bean puree as a substitute for mash. Looking forward to the new book.

  2. Once again, I must remember your handy slow carb tips for making bechamel!

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