The Secrets Behind Josh Niland’s Cult Fish Pie

Josh Niland has a knack for changing the way people think about seafood. Through his restaurant Saint Peter and two Fish Butchery stores in Paddington and Waterloo, he challenges himself to think about seafood – both how it’s used and how it’s served – in unconventional ways.

Case in point: if you’ve ever eaten at Fish Butchery, you’ve probably come across the fish pie. “We have always produced one at Fish Butchery – we felt it was our responsibility to make sure we had a good fish pie available. I think we’re not worth our salt if we can’t do one,” says Niland.

If you haven’t tried it, picture this: smoked fish bones and skin are used to create a rich stock, thickened with a roux of butter and flour to form a velouté sauce. The flesh of the fish is separately smoked, and it breaks into chunks throughout the sauce. Leeks, peas and a generous amount of dill are added to the mix before it’s poured into a flaky sour-cream pastry and topped with the signature squid ink-blackened pastry circle.

There’s a lot going on, but the fish is the star here. It changes depending on the season and availability; currently it’s blue-eye trevalla. “There’s been quite a bit of blue-eye around,” Niland says. “We’re working with a few different guys out of Coffs Harbour Fishermen’s Co-Op. The variety is fairly transient, which is why we keep it to saying it’s a ‘smoked fish pie’.” If you keep your eye on the pies – and there are a few followers out there – you’ll find variations featuring Murray cod (particularly the lesser cuts like the head and cheeks), as well as some more out-there interpretations. “We’ve done
meat pies where we’ve taken sinewy cuts from tuna and put it through a meat grinder,
cooked it like beef mince and put gravy around it instead of white sauce,” Niland says.

Niland’s approach to the pie is rooted in nostalgia. “It’s a comfort thing,” Niland says. “I think we all grew up, potentially, with a mum giving us a chicken pie or a fish pie at one point in time. When I was very unwell as a kid, my mum would make me a chicken pie when I had to go to the hospital, so I think there’s a huge amount of comfort and nostalgia in that and it just comes from texture – it’s creamy, it’s soft, it’s crunchy.”

That approachability underpins the popularity of Niland’s pie, which dials down some of the more adventurous aspects of his cuisine in favour of pure comfort. “The dish started at Saint Peter doing an iteration as a fish party pie, which was spelled ‘part-y pie’ because it had every single part of the fish in there,” Niland says. “As we moved into a more retail position with Fish Butchery, it needed to be slightly friendlier.”

The pie is also now available through Providoor for home delivery, so that nostalgia hit can be delivered right to your door. “Something handmade and wholesome goes a long way, especially when you have no context of a person’s week, or their financial position or whatever it might be – it’s a lovely thing to be able to do for somebody,” Niland says. “Pies are like fish and chips or fish curry or something like that – they’re an entry level offering that gives people the opportunity to taste a greater standard in a comfortable way.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Providoor.

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