In Britain, not all savory pies are alike. Some are wrapped in pastry while others are topped with “mash,” the affectionate nickname for mashed potatoes. There is cottage pie (mash-covered minced beef stew) and shepherd’s pie (the same thing, but with lamb). And there is fish pie, the inspiration for the rich, satisfying oyster pie here.
For fish pie, unless you are using leftover cooked fish, you poach a mixture of fresh fish chunks (and usually a bit of smoked haddock, too) briefly in milk, and then use it to make a lightly thickened white sauce.
The fish and sauce commingle, get the mash treatment and head into a hot oven to bake until golden and bubbly. Fish pie represents the homiest of home-cooked meals and is much adored, ever so humble as it is. There are also versions that add prawns or other shellfish, but that is considered a little too posh in some circles.
While experimenting with versions of my all-oyster pie, I first thought of baking oysters in cream with an herby bread-crumb topping. I was consulting some older cookbooks from the South, in which shucked oysters were moistened with milk or cream (along with their precious liquor) and baked under a shower of crushed saltine crackers. That sounded pretty good.
But then I considered a Yankee oyster stew with bacon and onion, or an oyster chowder with leeks and potatoes. In the end, it became an oyster pie with nearly all of those other influences: fat oysters with crème fraîche, leeks, bacon and thyme, all nestled together under the mashed potato lid.
Concerning oysters, you can buy shucked oysters by the pint, or you can ask your fishmonger to shuck the oysters for you (or do it yourself). The cost ends up being about the same.
This is a perfect use for larger oysters. Pre-shucked oysters in a jar keep for a week while refrigerated, but freshly shucked is obviously that much fresher tasting. Figure three or four oysters per person, or more for larger appetites.
No disrespect to raw oysters on the half shell, which are wonderful in all sorts of settings, but for a cool-weather supper, make it oyster pie. This is a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal.
And to Drink ...
For this luxurious rendition of a humble fish pie, I’d want something opulent and inviting, rich enough to stand up to its creaminess while stony and savory enough to underscore the flavors of the oysters. My first thought, not unexpectedly, is of white Burgundy, Meursault in particular. It doesn’t have to be from one of the better premier cru vineyards, though if you can afford, say, a Perrières, why not? I would choose a village wine from a good producer, and from a recent vintage so the wine is fresh and vigorous. Or perhaps I would go with a good producer from one of the lesser-known villages, like St.-Aubin, St.-Romain or Auxey-Duresses. If you really want to splurge, a Corton-Charlemagne would be great. A Burgundy alternative? A good Sicilian carricante, like Benanti’s wonderful Pietra Marina.
— ERIC ASIMOV