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Cooking Blog

Visit our blog to read about Michelle Barry's adventures in cooking and eating Irish cuisine and to learn about new products and upcoming events. 


Filtering by Category: Fish

“Mama’s Food”: Phyllo Crust Fish Pie

john barry

This morning I overheard Paul and Emmett talking. Paul asked Emmett what he liked to eat and Emmett said “Mama’s food.” I played it cool and pretended not to notice but I felt a wave of happiness and pride wash over me.  I love that “Mama’s food” is an actual category of food to him.  It’s a bonus that he thinks it’s good.  That  it’s what he likes. Most of the parents I know, myself included, feel pressure to be feeding our children the “right” things and so often it seems like an uphill battle in a world full of convenience foods and toddler palates - not to mention busy work and activities schedules.  

When they are very young, it’s easier to control what they eat but that becomes more and more difficult once they are out in the world.  Even at age three, they notice what their friends are eating, what snacks everyone brings to school. They want to go to McDonald’s.  And I’m not going to lie. It’s hard to feed a family. Real food. Night after night. It takes planning, dedication and as much organization as even this Type-A-Lawyer-Mama can muster. And  believe me, perfection is not the standard I’m holding myself to here. I don’t beat myself up over putting a frozen pizza in the oven when I get home late from work, ordering Thai food or calling it “everyone just eat whatever you can find in the fridge night”. I’m not nuts about things like whether everything is organic or how many servings of fruits and vegetables they are getting each day.  I just want food to be a source of sustenance, pleasure and joy for them - eating it, cooking it and sharing it with the people they love. I’m satisfied with feeding them enough home-cooked meals that “Mama’s food” is a category.

Cooking at home requires the ability to adapt recipes so that they can be made with ingredients you already have or are easy to find, on sale, etc. This fish pie is something that I created in order to use some smoked trout that was hanging out in my fridge.  After reading a handful of recipes for fish pie (there's one in Irish Country Cooking, the book I recently got from the Paddy's and blogged about here) and cullen sink (Scottish fish chowder) I felt prepared to embark on my own take. Instead of using a pie crust or puff pastry for the lid, I decided to use the phyllo dough I had in the freezer. Fewer trips to the store, more cooking in the kitchen.

Here goes…

Phyllo Crust Fish Pie

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, Irish if you have it

2 leeks, washed and thinly sliced

2 large yellow potatoes, cubed

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

⅓ cup white wine

2 cups whole milk

8 oz smoked trout

About 6 black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1/2 roll chilled phyllo

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan or dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. Add leeks, potatoes and garlic, and turn the heat down so that the vegetables and garlic release some moisture but do not brown.  Cook about five minutes until leeks begin to turn translucent. Remove leeks, potatoes and garlic and set aside.


Turn the heat back up to medium-high and add white wine, scraping the bottom of the pan.  Allow most of wine to evaporate and stir in milk, smoked trout, peppercorns and bay leaf.  Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer gently for 7 minutes. Remove fish. Once cool enough to handle break trout into large flakes discarding bones and skin.

Strain the milk through a fine sieve and return the liquid to the pan.  Add the potato-leek mixture, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are just cooked through. Strain the milk again, this time leaving the milk in a separate pan or bowl, and set the potato-leek mixture aside with the trout.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the pan.   Add the flour and cook gently for 1 minute.

Gradually whisk in the milk and bring it back to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Stir in the smoked trout, leeks, potato and parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Pour into a pie or casserole dish and chill for 1 hour or longer, overnight is fine.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Unroll defrosted roll of phyllo. Run a clean kitchen towel under water and wring it out.  Use the towel to cover phyllo that is not being used so that it doesn’t dry out.

Take your fish chowder out of the fridge.  

Melt the remaining butter (you can also use olive oil or even spray oil).  

Brush one sheet of phyllo lightly with melted butter or oil and place over the chowder.

Do the same with the next piece, rotating it so that it overlaps the first piece.  I just sort of throw them on there.  Keep brushing then layering your phyllo like this to cover the top of your dish.  

Repeat this process with about 10 sheets or half of the roll.

Cut an opening for steam to escape.

Bake for about 40  minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden and chowder is bubbling underneath. Start checking your pie around the 20 minute mark and cover loosely with foil if the phyllo is getting too brown (mine didn’t need to be covered and I had it in there for the full 40 minutes).

While Emmett's my big fish lover, Isla is into robust, savory foods like blue cheese, extra sharp cheddar, spicy sausage etc.  She loved this one - I think it was the smoked trout.    

Family Dinner: Fish

john barry

The Barry dinner table: All cleaned up for a photo. This is where it all goes down. 

The Barry dinner table: All cleaned up for a photo. This is where it all goes down. 

I’m determined to have family dinner with real, home cooked food most nights. I’ve read a lot of articles lately that describe family dinner as a thing of the past and downplay its importance. It’s probably true that family time doesn’t have to be around the table but still, family dinner is important to me. I grew up eating both breakfast and dinner with my family and I want to do the same now that I have a family of my own. My son already expects it. The other day when he walked in and I was upstairs instead of in the kitchen he gave me a funny look and said “You’re not cooking dinner?” Of course, all kinds of thoughts started racing through my mind. Mostly, what am I teaching him about gender roles that he always expects me to be cooking when he gets home?  But also, isn’t it nice that he expects a home-cooked meal every single evening? Isn’t it nice that dinner is part of his daily routine? That he loves to drag his little sister to the table shouting “Dinnertime!!!”?  So I resolved to be mindful of what I’m teaching my kids about gender roles but not to stop cooking. Also, for the sake of honesty, my little guy does ask me “if we are having friends over” whenever he sees me cleaning.

Long Grove Irish Days. The free Irish dance lessons were a huge hit with my tiny Irish dancers. 

Long Grove Irish Days. The free Irish dance lessons were a huge hit with my tiny Irish dancers. 

Now that I'm back at work, fish is my weeknight weapon. It’s so hard to cook a proper meal (and wait for a proper meal to cook) at the end of a long day when everyone is tired and hungry.  But fish cooks in minutes and the whole family, thankfully, LOVES it.

When we were in Ireland, I noticed that a lot of people don’t eat fish or shellfish despite the natural abundance of seafood in the region. I thought this was quite odd and probably just my (mis)perception of things. But recently I read that, for the last few centuries, the Irish have indeed eaten well below the European average of seafood.  This is thought to be due to the association of seafood with religious fasting. In addition, Ireland has historically had a primarily cattle based economy and seafood, especially shellfish, was associated with being poor. Of course all this is changing now as so many of us are growing to appreciate the natural bounty of the region and Irish chefs continue to embrace and popularize local food products. Lucky for me, because I intend to keep seafood on my regular weeknight rotation and am always looking for new recipes.

I made this one up with the help of Arctic char on sale at my local Whole Foods, my garden and my sweet baby who slept for even longer than the 20 minutes it took me to throw this one together.

Arctic Char with Almond Gremolata

Feeds 2 adults and 2 hungry toddlers or 3 adults; A slightly larger filet would easily feed 4 adults

For Gremolata:

A handful of roasted, salted almonds (or whatever nuts you have on hand, pecans, pistachios or walnuts would all work well)

½ shallot, diced finely

1 handful of Italian flat leaf parsley

1 handful of basil leaves

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (I used a new high quality EVOO that I just bought from the Olive Tap, right next to Paddy’s on the Square. They have such a nice store, check out next time you are in Long Grove.)

Juice and zest of one lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

For Fish:

1 Arctic char filet (about 1lb)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Prepare the gremolata by dicing the shallot finely, chopping the nuts and herbs to your desired coarseness/fineness and placing in a small bowl.  Add lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Stir and set aside.  

For the fish, heat a large skillet or saute pan to medium high and add vegetable oil until smoking. Season the filet generously with salt and pepper and place it in the hot pan skin side down for 2-3 minutes until crispy and golden on the bottom.  Flip the filet and cook about 2 minutes more until fish is cooked through, taking care not to overcook the fish. I try to make sure the internal temperature of the thickest part of the filet does not go over 145F but this comes down to personal preference. I always eat the thickest part because my husband prefers his cooked just a little bit more.

Someone found a mirror. 

Someone found a mirror. 

We ate this so fast I didn’t even take a photo - which is why I chose to post more photos of Irish Days instead (which was SO MUCH FUN!). Too bad because Paul even commented on how pretty it was.  If you would like a visual, I know I always do, it looks something like this, which was actually my inspiration for the dish. 


Dinner in Minutes: Salmon with Capers and Dill

john barry

I get really excited when I find a recipe that contains nothing but ingredients that I always have around. Even more so when the recipe is quick enough to make on a weeknight - which for me, means it has to be super-quick. I have to confess that I miss taking more time to make dinner and not feeling rushed, but “the days are long and the years are short” so I know that dinner won’t always look and feel like an episode of “Chopped”.  For now, dinnertime is a whirlwind and recipes like this one save the day.  The prep (i.e . getting the ingredients out of your fridge/cupboard) takes less than 5 minutes, and the cooking times in the recipe were spot on for me.  Paired with broiled zucchini, a lentil salad that I made earlier in the week and rice made in my programmable rice cooker (I set it in the morning and rice is ready by dinner - yay!) the entire meal took only 15 minutes to prepare from start to finish.  Clean up was a breeze.

I’ll be making this again and again. I think it’s worth noting that Rachel Allen doesn’t mention the suddenly ubiquitous “brown butter” anywhere in the recipe.  I assure you the butter the salmon cooks in turns an irresistible and nutty tasting brown but no buzz words are needed to sell this recipe.  

Salmon with Capers and Dill

From Rachel's Irish Family Food: 120 Classic Recipes from My Home to Yours by Rachel Allen.

4 tablespoons butter, diced

4 salmon fillets (with the skin left on, if you wish)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice mixed with 6 to 8 tablespoons water

4 teaspoons chopped fresh dill (I used 3 teaspoons dried dill)

10 minutes until dinner. Seriously.

10 minutes until dinner. Seriously.

Place a frying pan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add a couple of pats of butter, very quickly followed by the salmon, with the skin side down. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown underneath. Turn over, season with salt and pepper, and fry for another couple of minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through. (The timing will depend on the thickness of the salmon fillets and heat of the pan.)

Crispy skin and all that lovely brown butter. I wish you could smell this. 

Crispy skin and all that lovely brown butter. I wish you could smell this. 

Add the capers, along with the remaining butter, and lemon juice mixture and boil for 1 minute. Season to taste, adding more lemon juice or water, if necessary. Transfer the salmon onto warmed plates, stir the chopped dill into the sauce, and pour over the fish to serve.

Knives down!

Knives down!