Spinach and Smoked Haddock Rarebit
When I was little, my mum used to make a supper of haddock and spinach in cheese sauce with a baked egg on top, which I thought was the height of sophistication because the spinach was wilted using a hot new cheffy gadget we had just bought – a microwave. I would marvel at how a field of spinach went in, but only a thimbleful came out. The same is true of this recipe, which is inspired by that childhood dish: 130g looks like a lot of spinach, but it isn’t. And if the spinach has come from your garden, it won’t feel like nearly enough to make a dent in the relentless (but pleasing) harvest.
|150g||un-dyed smoked haddock, skinned and deboned|
|up to 400ml||whole milk|
|100g||Cheddar cheese, grated|
|4 thick slices of||crusty farmhouse bread or sourdough|
Lay the fish flat in the bottom of a saucepan. Tuck the bay leaves and peppercorns in around it and pour over enough milk to cover the fish. Put a lid on and set the pan over a gentle heat. Bring to a simmer, then cook for 5 minutes or until the fish is flaking. Turn the heat off, lift the fish out with a slotted spoon and flake it into a bowl. Discard the bay and peppercorns, but keep the poaching milk for the next stage.
Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over a low-medium heat, then add the flour and cook for 2 minutes. It will look crumbly and lumpy, but fear not. Pour in the poaching milk, a little at a time, whisking it into the flour mixture before adding the next glug. The mixture will thicken when you first add the liquid, but then gradually loosen to a paste and, after, a thick sauce. Keep whisking all the while so it doesn’t go lumpy. When the sauce is the consistency of thick double cream, stop adding the milk (you may not need all of it) and let it bubble for a minute or two, stirring regularly; watch it thicken further. The end result should be a smooth, gluey paste, which you can now remove from the heat. Fold in the flaked fish and half the Cheddar. Season generously with salt and pepper.
In another saucepan wilt the spinach leaves in a splash of water for 1–2 minutes. Tip them into a colander to squeeze out the excess water, then roughly chop and stir into the fish mixture.
Set your grill to medium. Arrange the slices of bread on a baking tray and toast on one side. Turn the slices over and spread the spinach-y fish topping on the untoasted side. Be sure to spread it right to the edges or the crusts will burn. Top with the remaining Cheddar, then return to the grill for 10 minutes, by which time the top will be bubbling and golden. Serve promptly.