Leafing through recipes of old while housebound with the cold from hell, I found the frayed well-used recipe for mum’s salmon and egg pie.
I remember typing it up for her on our bulky brown electric typewriter anno 1980 (very fancy back then!). I also typed all my university work on that beast. In the late 80’s it was the creative hub for my articles as a freelance journalist in Antwerp (on triple-copy-paper, Tippex was no use: if you made a mistake, you had to start again). And it was my trusty companion here in England until the home desktop era.
We ate this homely pie quite often when I was growing up. Looking at the ingredients with adult eyes now, I understand why: it’s cheap and easy and uses up stale bread and that tin of salmon at the back of the cupboard. And it feeds a family of 4.
Perfect for January on a budget!
The original ingredients list is simple: white bread, tinned salmon, eggs, onion, lemon, cream, butter, paprika and parsley.
I’ve brought it into the 21st century by bulking out the nutritional content with healthy colourful vegetables. These extras are marked as optional in the recipe. They can of course be played around with. And you can chose to stick to the original, go whole hog with the veg packed one, or something in between depending on what you have hanging around.
Feel free to vary things up with the fish as well. Tinned or left over cooked tuna works a treat, as do leftover cod, coley, prawns and even fresh or tinned crab (you have to squeeze the excess moisture out of the latter very firmly though).
Leave out the fish and up the vegetables for a delicious vegetarian pie. Use gluten-free bread to magically transfer it to, well, a gluten-free pie.
I’m serving it with a vibrant yet classic salad of spinach, avocado, feta and roast cherry tomatoes. The dressing is thickened with hard-boiled egg, as my mum used to do.
But this pie is equally delicious served with some steamed green veg.
Sometimes simplicity is very reassuring.
Mum’s Budget Salmon Pie (serves 4 – RSF)
This is intended as a main course for lunch or dinner, as it is quite filling. But in smaller portions, just with the tomatoes and a few avocado slices, it’s a wonderful starter or brunch as well. Lovely cold for a picnic too.
The size and shape of the dish you’re using is important here. Use a deep dish or flat-bottomed bowl, so you can make a proper wall of bread to contain the filling and allow it to rise.
The time needed in the oven will depend on the dish you use: a deeper dish will take longer than a flatter dish. Mum used a 22 cm round Pyrex dish (you know, the lidded casserole type, even though the lid is not used here). Mine is only about 19 cm, so the pie needs about an hour in my oven, due to the mixture coming up quite high in the bowl.
So check regularly from 45 mins oven-time onwards, to see if the filling has set in the middle.
White bread soaks up the egg custard more readily and tends to give a crispier crust. But I prefer the flavour, texture and nutritional goodness of wholewheat or wholegrain over white bread any day. And I don’t mind that the more wholesome loaf stays a little bready at the bottom of the pie. It’s yet another texture that works well with everything else. It’s not a soggy bottom, just a bready bottom.
1 tin of salmon, drained, skin and bones removed (or leftover cooked fresh salmon). You need about 200 gr of clean, dry flakes or chunks
Sliced stale bread of choice, not too thickly cut, crusts removed
A little butter (or coconut oil) for greasing and frying the onion
A little freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 medium onion (or a large banana shallot), finely chopped
1 plump garlic clove, finely chopped or crushed (optional)
2-3 spring onions, finely sliced (optional)
A handful of petit pois (small peas, frozen is fine – optional)
A handful of broccoli florets or chopped sprouting broccoli (optional)
1/2 red pepper or romano pepper, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
Some fresh parsley, finely chopped
Some freshly snipped chives (optional)
4-6 eggs, lightly beaten (I used 5 duck eggs)
200 ml whipping cream
A good pinch of paprika
a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
a little freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Heat the oven to 175 C
Grease an oven dish with butter.
Line the bottom and sides of the oven dish with the bread, cutting pieces to fit as you go.
Gently fry the onion in a small knob of butter over medium heat until translucent and starting to brown at the edges (about 5 mins). Add the garlic (if using) and fry for another minute or so. Set aside.
Meanwhile and if using, lightly steam or blanch the broccoli and red pepper, just enough to take the rawness off. Refresh in iced water to stop the cooking process. Drain and dry thoroughly.
Top the bread with half of the salmon flakes. Squeeze over a few drops of lemon juice.
If not using extra vegetables, top the salmon with the onions. Then add the remaining salmon and squeeze over a few more drops of lemon juice.
Else mix the vegetables with the onion, spring onion and peas. Spoon half of the vegetables onto the salmon. Top with the remaining salmon and squeeze over a few more drops of lemon juice. Finish with the remaining veg.
If your dish is not very deep, you may only manage one layer of vegetables and one layer of salmon, or a layer of salmon sandwiched in between two layers of vegetables. See how you go. Key is not to press the filling down, so the egg custard can find its way in between.
Beat the cream into the eggs and season generously with S&P, paprika, cayenne and nutmeg (if using). Mix through the parsley and chives. I ended up with just over 500 ml egg custard.
Pour the egg custard over the salmon and veg, starting with the sides of the bread, so those get a good soaking. This will form your pie crust.
Best do this in the sink or on the draining board, as it can get a bit messy when you try to get the egg custard over the bready sides. Clean up around the bread rim and the outside of the bowl before you place the dish in the oven.
Bake the pie for 50 mins or until set.
The first slice will be difficult to get out if you used a very deep dish. A flexible cake-server is handy here.
Serve with a salad or green veg. Additional crusty bread ‘n butter optional.
Spinach, rocket and avocado salad (serves 4 – GF LC V RSF)
The dressing used here was mum’s everyday dressing for any salad, which usually was an old-fashioned soft round lettuce, with a few chunks of tomato and cucumber on high-days.
250 gr cherry tomatoes on the vine
2 large handfuls of baby spinach, washed and dried
2 large handfuls of rocket, washed and dried
120 gr feta
2 avocado’s, flesh thinly sliced or cubed
a small handful of toasted pine nuts or lightly crushed nuts such as cashew or hazelnut
a scattering of seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin, or a good seed mix
2-3 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil (mum’s oil would have been groundnut oil)
2-3 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tbsp vinegar of choice (I used white wine vinegar, like mum)
1/2 tsp mixed dried herbs (I forgot this time)
a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 tsp mustard of choice (I used Dijon, like mum)
2 tsp ketjap manis (or other soy sauce or tamari, but then use 2 pinches of sugar)
1 hard boiled egg, roughly chopped
a pinch of unrefined sugar or Erythritol
S&P (if you used soy or tamari, you probably won’t need salt)
Preheat the oven to 185 C (or if serving with the salmon pie, leave at 175 C)
For the tomatoes: Place the tomatoes on the vine into an oven dish and drizzle with a 1-2 tbsp oil and the balsamic vinegar. Season with S&P and bake for 20-25 mins.
For the dressing: Crush the egg in a bowl with a fork. Add the remaining oil and the other vinegar, together with the mustard, ketjap and dried herbs. Mix and continue crushing with the fork to a textured paste. Add the rest of the ingredients including sugar, S&P to taste. Check the seasoning and adjust as needed.
If the mixture is too thick, thin it down with a little water or milk. You can make this in a mini-food processor, but the dressing will then be much smoother, instead of retaining some texture.
For the assembly: Add 1 tbsp of the dressing to a salad bowl and add the salad leaves, gently toss to coat. Only add more dressing if needed, you want a light coating. Any remaining dressing will keep in a jar in the fridge for a few days.
Divide the leaves over 4 plates. Top each with some avocado, crumbled feta, pine nuts and a sprinkling of seeds. Serve with the roasted tomatoes alongside the salmon pie.