Thursday, 6 October 2011

Red Gurnard Fish Pie with Broccoli

What are gurnards? I am aware that a great many people will be wondering precisely this when they see the title of today's recipe post. Even those people who are familiar with them may not know how to cook gurnards, or in fact that they are even edible. Gurnards are certainly not the most attractive of fish and it is for perhaps this reason above all that they were never truly considered a good eating fish until fairly recently, in light of the publicity surrounding fish sustainability.

I have long since intended featuring gurnard on this blog, in the name of eating sustainable fish, if nothing else. The principal reason why I have never done so is simply that I could never quite describe them as one of my favourite eating fish. It always surprises me when food writers describe gurnard as having little or no real taste. I think it has a moderately powerful flavour and one which is fairly unique. It may well be one of those things which you either love or hate.

The reason why I have finally made the effort to provide a gurnard recipe suggestion comes in the wake of a fishing trip made by a friend to Loch Etive, in the West of Scotland. I was not on that particular trip and learned only a few days later that he had caught several decent sized red gurnard. I enquired whether he had kept one for the pot and he informed me that he hadn't, simply because he would have had no idea how to clean or cook it. I had a think and decided how I would recommend anyone who had never tasted gurnard before prepare and eat it for the first time. I was pretty certain right from the start that I would recommend they make a gurnard fish pie.

Ingredients for a Gurnard Pie for Two People

3/4lb prepared gurnards
12 fl oz milk
1/2 small red onion
1 bay leaf
1 small carrot
1 tbsp frozen peas
2oz butter
2oz plain (all purpose) flour
1 tbsp freshly chopped flat leafed parsley (plus extra for garnish)
2 large baking potatoes
Salt and white pepper

1 head of broccoli as an accompaniment


Gurnards are usually fairly small so you are likely to need anything from two to four which have been prepared in this way to make the three-quarter pound. I got these gurnards from my local Morrisons in Wishaw, a supermarket which I always find has an excellent and extensive range of fresh fish in comparison to its major competitors. They had been headed, tailed, gutted and scaled.

Place the gurnards in a pot large enough that they all fit comfortably on the bottom in a single layer. Slice the red onion and separate it in to strands. Add it to the pot with the bay leaf. Pour in enough cold milk to comfortably cover the gurnards - approximately 12 fluid ounces. Put the pot on a high heat until the milk only just begins to simmer. Reduce the heat right down at this stage or you risk a boil over. Simmer gently for six to seven minutes.

Use a large slotted spoon to remove the gurnards to a flat bottomed bowl. Cover and allow to cool enough that they can be comfortably handled. Strain the milk in to a bowl through a fine sieve to remove the onion and bay leaf, as well as any fin or bone which may have broken off the gurnards. The milk will soon be used (still warm) in the preparation of the basic bechamel sauce for ths fish pie.

Add the butter to a saucepan and gently melt. Tip in the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to form a roux. Cook gently for a few minutes, stirring all the time, before you start to add the milk in three or four stages, combining each addition before adding more to the pan. You may need all the milk and you may not. Essentially, you want the sauce to have the consistency of thick cream. Add the parsley, stir it through and remove the pot from the heat.

The flesh will now have to be picked from the bones of the gurnards and there is only one way to do that: by hand. Begin by removing any remaining fin or bone from the back of each gurnard. Peel off the skin. Gently open each one up and carefully pull out the spine. Flake the flesh as large as possible, feeling for any bones as you do so. Scatter the flesh over the bottom of a casserole dish, about 9" in diameter and 3" deep. It is really important to have a proper casserole dish for making a fish pie. If you don't have one, or are in need of a replacement for your old one which is past its best, see the end of this post for some hand-picked bargains which you may wish to consider.

Peel and finely dice the carrot and scatter it over the top of the gurnard flesh, along with the frozen peas. Resist the temptation to simply slice the carrot in to discs. It will not cook properly in the pie and come out hard and unpalatable. Carefully pour the sauce over the fish and smooth with a palette knife. The sauce should come up to within approximately 1" of the rim of the casserole dish.

Put the lid on the casserole dish and leave to cool completely. You may wish to prepare to this stage the night before you intend serving the pie and refrigerate overnight. That's entirely optional.

Peel the potatoes, chop them and add them to a pot of cold, slightly salted water. Put on a high heat to bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for twenty-five minutes. Drain the potatoes through a colander, return to the pot and mash with butter and white pepper. Cover and allow to cool.

When you come to spread the mash on the fish and sauce, do not simply tip it all in to the centre and attempt to spread it out. That is a recipe only for disaster, as you will push the potato in to the sauce and the results will simply not be what they should. Instead, use a teaspoon to lay the potato over the top of the sauce in small lumps. Afterwards, dip a pallette knife (or even a wide bladed ordinary knife) in boiling water and smoothe the potato. This will give you a much better final result.

Sit the dish on a baking tray and place the pie in to an oven preheated to 375F/190C/Gas Mark 5 for forty to forty-five minutes. The baking tray is not essential and you can instead place the dish straight on to the oven shelf. The reason I always use a tray is that should any sauce overflow from the dish, you will only have a baking tray to wash and not your entire oven. Minimising washing up is, after all, a huge part of learning to cook, is it not...??

When your pie is removed from the oven, place the tray under a very hot, overhead grill to brown and crisp the potato. This is not absolutely necessary but definitely improves presentation. When your pie is under the grill, break the head of broccoli in to florets and add to slightly salted, boiling water for eight minutes.

Remove the pie from under the grill when it is nicely browned. Allow to rest for a few minutes and give the sauce time to stop boiling while the broccoli finishes cooking. Drain the broccoli through a colander and you are ready to plate up for service.

Casserole Dishes

As mentioned in the post above, below you will find a few ideas currently available on and for casserole dishes perfectly suited to making a fish pie. Click on any image for further details, or to browse Amazon's casserole dish options in full.


  1. Hi Gordon
    I like your ideas on this fish, I've actually tried gurnard and thought the taste was excellant.
    I've tracked down some whitting so I'm going to try your ideas on that this week.
    cheers Tony

  2. Hi, Tony

    Glad you like it and hope your idea works out well.

    Thanks for visit and comment,