I was very pleased to receive Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen as a gift a couple of years ago. I haven’t seen any of the TV programmes on which this book is based but I have very much enjoyed reading the recipes, exclaiming over how pretty she is and coveting her vintage yet chic vibe. It’s probably a good thing that I haven’t seen her in action as I would probably be totally besotted. Her cooking is French classic with a modern twist; simple yet flavourful and I have bookmarked quite a few of her recipes to try.
This recipe for a Gratin au Poisson Fumé or Smoky Fish Bake came highly recommended by my friend C who gave me the book and rightly so. Rachel Khoo’s method of making béchamel is genius – taking the roux off the heat before adding the milk has resulted in a lump-free sauce every single time.
My only protest would be at the meagre quantity of fish – it is my opinion that 200g to feed up to 6 people is so stingy as to border on the penurious. At the weekend, we were 4 for lunch and I used 320g of smoked haddock fillets and 240g of lightly smoked salmon plus about 18og of raw prawns/shrimps (but these are full of water and cook down to nothing really) and there was perhaps a small serving spoonful left in the dish at the end of the meal. Normally, I buy a 320g Fish Pie Mix from Sainsbury’s (my Local didn’t have any so I had to improvise with the fillets), but even then I tend to add an extra couple of salmon fillets and a packet of prawns to the mix. The thought of under-catering makes me feel quite anxious!
This is a lovely dish, comforting but not heavy in the way a fish pie can be and full of those deeply savoury, smoky fish flavours which marry so well with creamy sauces. A spoonful of grain mustard is also nice stirred into the béchamel while it cools as is a little chopped tarragon. You can also prepare it ahead so that all you have to do is pop it in the oven when your guests arrive. We had the gratin with roasted beetroot and a green salad using the delicious produce from my Sutton Community Farm veg box. Rachel suggests that leftover vegetables from a roast dinner can be added to the béchamel too, but I like to keep it simple with the fish and potatoes and usually serve it with a bowl of peas and a green salad.
I have to apologise for my rather uninspiring photo of the finished dish. I had two ravenous teenagers as well as my friend J round and I don’t think any of them would have been able to contain themselves while I got arty with food styling. I managed to get a quick shot of it when it came out of the oven and that’s it. There wasn’t even enough leftover for me to style a plate but rather than not post it at all, I had to share as this is such a delicious recipe!
Put the potatoes on to boil
Gratin au Poisson Fumé (Smoky Fish Bake)
from The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo
- 750g (8-10 medium ones) potatoes, peeled and already cooked – you can use left over roast potatoes (if such a thing exists!)
- 200g smoked haddock, skin removed (I used 320g smoked haddock; 240g lightly smoked salmon fillets; 180g raw prawns/shrimps) or use a pack of 320g fish pie mix and a couple of salmon fillets
- a handful of chopped parsley
- a handful of grated cheese – use up odds and ends of cheeses like Mature Cheddar, Comté, Gruyere or Parmesan
- a small handful of halved cherry tomatoes – my addition to the recipe
- 30 g butter
- 30g flour
- 500 ml milk (lukewarm – 2 mins in the microwave worked for me)
- bay leaf
- ½ an onion (I used a shallot)
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 clove (didn’t use)
- If you don’t have any cooked potatoes, peel the appropriate amount and cut into thirds. Place in a saucepan of cold, salted water with a couple of bay leaves. Cover and set on the hob. Turn on the heat and set a timer for 20 minutes. They should be cooked enough by then – enough to get a knife through but not falling apart. They will continue to cook in the oven. When the pan comes to a boil, turn down the heat to low and set the lid askew. Drain in a colander and set aside.
- While the potatoes are cooking, you can start the béchamel. Melt the butter in a large saucepan (because you are going to add the fish and potatoes to the béchamel before turning it all out into a dish) over medium heat. Add the flour and beat well until you have a smooth paste. Take off the heat and leave to cool for a couple of minutes.
- Gradually add the warm milk, whisking constantly. Place the pan back on a medium heat and add the onion, clove and bay leaf. Simmer for 10 minutes whisking frequently. If sauce becomes too thick, whisk in a little more milk. Finish sauce by removing the onion, clove and bay leaf; stir in the nutmeg and season with a little salt and some white pepper (or black if you are not bothered by the dark specks) Leave to cool slightly. (If you are making this ahead, let the béchamel cool completely)
- Pre-heat oven to 180 C/ 350 F, unless you are making this ahead.
- While the béchamel is cooking and cooling, I skin and slice up the fish fillets into 1 inch cubes; slice the potatoes into 1 cm rounds; grate the cheese; halve the cherry tomatoes and chop the parsley.
- Add the chunks of fish and the prawns to the béchamel and mix gently. Add the potatoes and most of the parsley (reserve a little to sprinkle on at the end) and mix again.
- Pour into an oven safe baking dish, scatter over the cherry tomatoes and the grated cheese. At this point, as long as the béchamel is cool/cold, you can loosely cover the dish with cling film and pop it in the fridge until you are ready to cook.
- This mix does bubble up as it cooks so if your dish is very full, place it on a baking tray to save having to clean the oven later.
- Cook for 25 minutes (35 minutes if fridge cold) or until the top is golden and sauce is bubbling.
- Scatter over the reserved parsley and serve after the dish has had 10 minutes or so to settle.
- Great with a bowl of peas and a green salad.