Artist’s Palate: Mike Nelson’s fish finger pie

Mike Nelson’s fish finger pie
(Image credit: Zachary Zavislak)

Mike Nelson, whose immersive, labyrinthine installations have seen him twice nominated for the Turner Prize, and who, in 2011, represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, arranged to do some dog-sitting in a cramped South London flat in the summer of 1990. On his first day in residence he went out and bought a big bag of frozen fish fingers and frozen peas. On his return to the flat he discovered its refrigerator had no freezer compartment. And so was born the fish finger pie – basically a fish pie with added orange breadcrumbs. ‘This dish was the result of necessity but proved strangely palatable. I remember clearly how to make it – almost like a savoury trifle, layering the fish fingers in a white sauce, with the peas to add more colour and structure to this colossus of dishes, and with it finally topped with mashed potato.’ A dish both crazy and comforting.

fish fingers
butter milk
potatoes, peeled
frozen peas
salt and pepper

All the above any quantity, any type, depending on scale and budget. Cook fish fingers as directed on the packet - I champion the oven method. Put the potatoes in a pan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Prepare a roux - I never measure but estimate by eye - and make a white sauce. At this point various other paths can be taken, such as the addition of mustard powder to the roux, or parsley or basil to the sauce. Boil the frozen peas and add to the white sauce. Grease a large ovenproof dish, and add the cooked fish fingers, pouring over the white sauce as the layers build up. Boiled eggs could also be added, sliced like a layer of mortar to the brick-like fish fingers. Having removed the potatoes from the heat, strain and mash, adding butter and milk to taste and budget. Add salt and pepper accordingly. Decorate with slices of tomatoes and puncture the lid of a milk container and sprinkle a bit of milk on top. (Alternatively, use a brush. This may suggest, however, that your culinary skills exceed this recipe.) Put in a hot oven for 20-30 mins until this has been achieved.


Interiors: Pei-Ru Keh