Clontarf is the suburb on the north side of Dublin where Seamus Mulhall grew up.
“In the ’60s and ’70s, everything was tied to the Catholic Church,” he says. “All the schools were named after saints. Prayers were the first thing the teachers said before any lessons were taught, so the church had a big say in everything we did. It was a blasphemy to eat meat on a Friday so we all had fish, as a sort of penance. My mother would take the bus out to ‘Howth,’ a quaint fishing village on the north side of Dublin, to buy fresh fish so she could make fish pie. It became something that we all looked forward to on Fridays: Even our schoolmates would hang out just so they could have some of my mum’s fish pie. So now at the restaurant we do a fish pie on Fridays. It is becoming a sort of tradition: We see the same people on Friday nights. Thank you, Saint Francis.”
Makes 1 large or 10 small pies
For the sauce:
4 cups fish stock
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups heavy cream
Salt and finely ground white pepper
For the filling:
8 ounces peas
4 medium potatoes, diced into thumb-size pieces
1 tablespoon butter
4–5 medium carrots, peeled and diced
10 ounces sole, cut in 2-inch pieces
8 ounces halibut, cut in 2-inch pieces
8 ounces scallops, cut in 2-inch pieces
6 large prawns, cut in 2-inch pieces (original 4 each)
2 sprigs tarragon
For the pies:
4 pounds puff pastry (Seamus likes the prepared dough from La Farine Bakery, which is sold in 2-pound blocks.)
Egg wash (Make by whisking together 1 egg with 2 teaspoons water.)
10 6-ounce ceramic ramekins (or 1 large ceramic soufflé dish)
To make the roux, start by bringing the fish stock to a simmer in a heavy pot. Meanwhile, melt the stick of butter in a large skillet and sweat the onions, being careful not to brown them. Add flour and reduce the heat. Stir with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes and then slowly stir in the wine, a cup at a time. The roux will thin out as you add liquid, but it thickens as it cooks. Start adding the fish stock a cup at a time, stirring with a whisk. Add heavy cream a cup at a time until all liquid is in the pot. The roux should be the consistency of a thin custard. Season with salt and white pepper. Set aside.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, then blanch the peas, strain them out, and set aside in a medium size bowl. Simmer the diced potatoes in the same water until soft, then strain them out and add to the blanched peas. Melt the tablespoon of butter in a smaller pot, add some of the water you used for the potatoes and a pinch of salt, then simmer the diced carrots until soft. Strain and then combine with the peas and potatoes, and divide half of this mixture among the ramekins (or place in the soufflé dish).
Now sear all the fish to golden brown, break it up into bite-size bits and distribute over the vegetables in the ramekins or soufflé dish. Top with the rest of the potatoes, carrots, and peas, and then pour the creamy fish sauce over everything. Do not fill to the top. Sprinkle some torn tarragon leaves over top.
Roll out puff pastry to ⅛ inch thick. Using a bowl as a guide, cut a circle from the pastry that’s about an inch bigger than the diameter of the ceramic dish, then stretch pastry over top (trying to keep it from touching the fish mixture), pulling it a half inch down the sides of the dish all around and pressing pastry with your finger onto the sides of the dish. Brush with egg wash. Refrigerate for about a half hour while you preheat oven to 350º. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden.