Fisherman’s Pie Infused with Irish Red Ale

Cooking with Beer by | Mar 2017 | Issue #122
Photo by Sean Z. Paxton

This month I wanted to highlight Irish beer cuisine and showcase a recipe that uses Irish Red Ale as a base flavor component. Irish Red Ale is a very approachable brew, with malt-forward flavors ranging from a slight caramel, biscuit, or toast-like flavor, to a touch of yeast giving a dry-ish, crisp finish, and grassy hop undertones that add balance and a counterpoint to the malt. This particular combination of malt, hops, yeast, and water makes for a wonderful cooking medium, and when used with classic Irish cuisine, it’s capable of giving your guests a taste of history and heritage.

Fisherman’s Pie
Each delicious bite of this dish is filled with comfort and nostalgia. Similar to a shepherd’s pie (made with lamb) or a cottage pie (made with beef), this seafood pie recipe uses an Irish Red Ale to first lightly poach the seafood, and then to create a delicious sauce that is topped with mashed potatoes and baked. It can be made in advance, or baked in the oven just before guests arrive ready to indulge in an Irish feast.

Serves: 6 guests

2 lb white fish, such as a sole or flounder, bones and skin removed
1/2 lb shrimp or prawns, peeled and deveined
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black peppercorns (or more to taste)
8 oz Irish Red Ale
1 tbsp fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, chives, tarragon, or dill
1 leek, cut in half, washed and sliced
2 lb potatoes (ideally a starchy variety like Yukon Gold or Russet), peeled and cut into sixths
2 tbsp sea salt
8 tbsp Irish butter, such as Kerry Gold
1/2 lb mushrooms, white button or crimini, cleaned and sliced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cream, heavy or whipping

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish, add a splash of oil and coat the bottom and sides with a paper towel. Layer the fish filets evenly over the bottom of the dish. Arrange the peeled prawns over the fish. Season the seafood with salt and pepper. Add the sliced leek in another layer, and sprinkle with the fresh herbs. Pour the Irish Red Ale over the top. Lightly shake the dish, to help the beer settle between the filets. Seal the dish with aluminum foil and place into the oven for 15 minutes. Over time, the seafood will be lightly poached, with the prawns turning a shade of pink. The temperature of the beer should be about 150°F. Remove the casserole dish from the oven, strain the beer broth into a measuring cup, and reserve for the sauce. The volume will be greater than when you started, as the seafood will release some of its liquid. With a fork or tongs, gently flake the fish to break it apart and better mix in the prawns. Set aside uncovered, and increase the oven temperature to 425°F.

As the seafood poaches, peel the potatoes and add them to a pot filled with enough cold water to cover them by an inch. Add the salt, place the pot over high heat, and cook the potatoes until they’re tender, about 15–20 minutes. When the potatoes are done, drain the water and add them back to the hot pot, helping evaporate any remaining water. Mash the tubers with a potato masher or potato ricer until smooth, then add 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 tablespoon of the beer stock, and 1 tablespoon of cream. Lightly season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of butter. Once melted, add the mushrooms and lightly season with salt, sautéing until their liquid is released and they just start to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add some of the poached leeks to the mushrooms during the last 2 minutes of cooking. Transfer the mushrooms to the casserole dish and arrange evenly over the seafood.

In the same sauté pan, add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and melt over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to create a roux. Cook the roux for 3 minutes to activate the flour starch, but don’t let it brown. Pour in the reserved beer stock and the cream, whisking continuously to prevent any lumps from forming. Bring the sauce to a simmer, adjusting the heat and seasoning if needed. Cook the sauce for 5–6 minutes, and then pour over the seafood.

Lightly stir the sauce into the fish with a spatula, keeping most of the filets intact. Level out the filling. Either scoop the potatoes out of the pot, distribute them evenly over the filling, and lightly press a fork’s tines into the filling to create ridges in the surface of the potatoes, or place the potatoes into a piping bag fitted with a pastry star tip and squeeze it over the filling to make a decorative topping with tiny ridges that will brown when baked in the oven.

Place the Fisherman’s Pie back into the oven for 15 minutes, until the filling starts to bubble around the sides and the top of the pie begins to brown in spots. Remove from the oven, divide the pie into bowls or plates with a wide rim, and serve immediately.

Recipe Variations
• This recipe can be made into individual servings by cooking the seafood, making the beer stock, and then dividing the seafood into separate ovenproof containers. Mix in the sauce and top with the potato crust. Bake the containers at the same temperature and time.

• Add a touch of curry, which works well with the seafood and potatoes, for a degree of Indian fusion. Add a lobe of sliced turmeric to the potatoes while they cook. Then add a teaspoon of curry powder to the roux.

• Other seafood can be substituted for the prawns, such as scallops or oysters. The fish can also be smoked first, such as smoked salmon or trout, which can be lightly flaked and doesn’t need to be poached in the oven to prevent it from overcooking.