Paying homage – Dr Sister Outlaw’s Tassie scallop and flathead pie

In Tasmania you have to work hard to find land that is not regularly kissed by salt air, so it is no surprise that our national dish is the scallop pie. Scallops are cute, lively shellfish that skitter and flutter along the sea bed, particularly in estuaries, and are delightfully easy to pick up with a trawler. They were overfished to breaking point in the 1980s and the fishery was closed, but valuable lessons about sustainability were learned and now, while lots of other people around the world also snap them up, we Tasmanians can, once again, put them in our pies.

Pies are a great way to stretch a luxury ingredient a long way, although the traditional Tasmanian scallop pie might, by some, be seen as bastardisation. It consists of a flaky pastry case containing a small number of scallops smothered in a sometimes gelatinous bechamel sauce, flavoured with Keens curry powder and tomato sauce. Note that no connoisseur criticises the use of Keen’s curry powder, as it is intensely Tasmanian, but the tomato sauce is controversial – see my friend Scott’s scallop pie ratings for details. Of course they are magnificent if eaten on a cold day, on the end of a pier that stretches into the tannin-stained waters of the Huon and Derwent estuaries, when the flathead are biting. But it’s hard to translate the sensation this far from the sea, so I created this one to capture its essence.

All good pies start and end with the pastry and all good pastry starts and ends with good technique. Please bear with me while I explain my flaky shortcrust recipe and my special tricks. The quantities of ingredients you’ll need to fill a standard pyrex pie dish are: 180g of white flour, 125g of salted butter (100% dairy please), two tablespoons of water (or thereabouts). Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips, taking care to keep it all cool, until it reaches the consistency of bread crumbs then add ice water. Forget that, grab the butter and flour and chuck it into a food processor. Hit blend, until you have a mix that looks like a pebbly beach:

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Then add a tablespoon of water, and boisterously try to pull the thing into a ball. Add another tablespoon but go slowly. Think hard before adding more – a teaspoon at a time. You want a sticky, lumpy mass that will ball up, but only just.

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Once you’re there, get some glad wrap, bind it up, then chuck it in the fridge until you are ready. After at least 30 minutes, but preferably two hours, grab a board or table top and some flour. Knead the ball quickly to coat it with flour but don’t overhandle it. Then roll it out lightly, just until it’s pliable and of even thickness.

You will not get a homogenous yellow pastry like you would in a supermarket. What you will get is a marbled, opalescent thing in which streaks of butter are clearly visible. You want that, because as the pastry cooks the butter will melt away, leaving air pockets that are the frames for the flakes.

Lay your sheet over a lightly buttered pie dish, right to the edges, and trim (cut the leftovers into 2cm wide strips). You need to bake blind, so it doesn’t puff right out of the dish. Prick the pie base with a fork a few times and lay a sheet of baking paper over it. Fill it with dried chick peas or kidney beans to weight the pastry down (particularly around the edges, which will pull) and bake for 20 minutes at 200C. It will shrink somewhat, and that’s okay. Sit the dish on a rack to cool.

You have prepared an unbeatable pie base. Next is the delectable filling … you will need:

A beer in your hand (Tasman Bitter, Cascade or Boags) or, if you are elevated, a dry white
300g scallops (with roe please – you can use frozen ones to advantage)
100-ish g flathead fillets, in chunks
a handful of finely sliced leek (I used half the pale bit of a giant leek)
a peeled, finely diced potato (Pontiac or Pink Eye please – if that is meaningless to you, a good boiling potato, not a waxy new one), boiled quickly until nearly cooked (blanched)
4-5 fresh sage leaves

Very gently fry the leek in some butter with the potato and sage. While you are doing that, put the scallops in a pot with the fish, taking care to include ALL the liquor from the scallops. Splosh some beer over them (about 100ml). Not too much! Just warm the seafood up a little until it releases some flavour. Strain them, keeping the liquor, then transfer them to the fry pan on a low heat – be very careful not to cook the scallops through because they’ll keep cooking in the pie. When they are whitened turn the heat off. Now the sauce …

Melt 50g butter in a heavy saucepan and add two heaped tablespoons of flour. Work it hard with the wooden spoon over a medium heat so that it goes pale (a classic buerre blanc). Add the liquor from the scallops/beer (about 1/2 cup). It will immediately go gluggy, so keep working it while you gradually add about 1/2 cup of milk. When that’s in, add a bay leaf and a big sprig of thyme. Keep cooking it until it smells fragrant and is creamy and thick (err on the side of thickness but add more milk if you need to – you want about a cup of sauce). Add a touch of salt, a big pinch of paprika and some cracked pepper, then combine with the fish/leek mixture.

To assemble, pile the fish into the pie shell and grate a good quality parmesan over the top. Lace the strips of excess pastry and press them down on the ends of the plate. Bake it for 40 minutes at 180C. What you will get looks like this …

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It’s a creamy pie in a crumbling buttery pastry. The sweetness of the leek, bay and thyme embraces the scallop flesh and carries it through the pie, and the flathead and potato round out the flavour and add texture. I am truly sorry that I only made one. I will have to make it again.

Last minute PS: yes, this does have a lot of butter in it. This is better for you than the trans fat that Choice has found in packet pastries.

Update: I made my friend Scott go and get us a picture of the legendary Keen’s Curry sign in Hobart. This has been a landscape feature since Popeye was a girl, and probably has heritage status or something.

14 comments ↓

#1 kel on 26.07.09 at 8:57 pm

oh yum. damn. im full n all, but seafood pie. tag, im it!

#2 Pamela Faye on 26.07.09 at 8:58 pm

I have never mastered the flaky pastry, but am now inspired to try. Any tips from any Canberra-based Progdins people about the best place for seafood in this town?

And while I’m on the beetroot kick, are there any precedents for beetroot pie? Intuitively the concept seems a little flawed (too rich? too sweet without being sweet enough?), but maybe with lots of potatoes and leeks it might work?

#3 Dr Sista Outlaw on 26.07.09 at 9:10 pm

What if you made a kind of beetroot hunza pie? With rice and seeds to soak up the moisture? The flaky pastry would hold that well … and some coriander. Yum.

#4 Zoe on 26.07.09 at 9:31 pm

Oh dear. That is really a very serious amount of nomminess.

Pamela, I’m hesitant to recommend a seafood joint as they all vary. The one at Belconnen markets is probably most reliable. I’ve found the two at the Fyshwick markets OK provided you’re in the mind to buy what’s best rather than after something specific. The guys at the EPIC market on Saturday morning ditto, and they often have the freshest fish – but ask what’s good today. Do not buy fish in Civic.

#5 Zoe on 26.07.09 at 9:37 pm

Oh, and if anyone would know about beetroot pie, it’s Kathryn from Limes & Lycopene. She’s a deadset beetroot fanatic.

She and Lucy of Nourish Me have just published a food e-magazine The Honest Kitchen, which looks very exciting. I’ve just bought one, so I’ll let you know more when I’ve had a chance to stop drooling over Lucy’s pictures and Kathryn’s recipes.

#6 Pavlov's Cat on 26.07.09 at 11:32 pm

I don’t think anyone should buy fish more than 30k inland. Drive to the coast, fish, gut the fish on the jetty, take them home in an esky full of ice.

That pastry lattice is a triumph.

And slightly OT, but that is probably the best blog post title I have ever seen.

#7 Dr Sister Outlaw on 27.07.09 at 8:11 am

Why, thank you! We are rather further inland than 30km PC, but the refrigerated truck goes straight to the fish markets every morning and comes right home, so they are probably better conditions than an esky in a car boot. Anyways, I did use frozen scallops in this, because the fresh ones were sold out. The beauty of a pie is that you can draw out the flavour, even from a frozen item.

#8 Scott on 27.07.09 at 8:51 am

Will have to knock one of these little beauties up!

#9 FDB on 27.07.09 at 7:13 pm

Oh PC, you ol’ romantic. The vast proportion of what winds up in any fisho has been frozen at some point, has travelled many hundreds of kilometres, and can still legitimately claim “local” status.

But still, DSO – she’s right. Catching and killing something yourself, putting it straight on ice and bringing it home while said ice is still icy is the only way to be sure.

I was just in Tassie for 2 days, and saw not a whit of evidence that these scallop pies exist. If I had, I’d have been there in a flash. Are they a Hobart as (vehemently) opposed to Launceston thing?

Also, ‘Launceston’. Will anyone join me in belligerently pronouncing it ‘Lornston’? Or even ‘Lonston’? Surely everyone knows the English only put those extra letters in there to seem more French.

#10 tigtog on 27.07.09 at 7:42 pm

Oh, that is lusciously delish. Will definitely have to make.

#11 Zoe on 27.07.09 at 8:52 pm

Scott, you are a nommer after my own heart! Check out the ham! The scrumpy-making! The mild-mannered crack shot hairdressers! The link to the dead handy potato guide! And what to do with the last of your buck’s weekend spit roast (in the nicest possible sense).

#12 Scott on 27.07.09 at 9:18 pm

Why cheers Zoe, tis an honour to be dubbed a nommer by such an august weblication. And FDB, scallop pies most def aren’t the culinary Nessie of the deep south. Pretty well every bakery in the state has a take on them…tho they are pretty seasonal, eg June till December I think.
Finally, yes Keen’s Curry is the biz. Originated down here on the Apple Isle it did…On the banks of Browns River in Kingston.

#13 Dr Sister Outlaw on 27.07.09 at 9:22 pm

Zoe, I knew you two would get along … FDB, the correct pronunciation in Tasmania is Lonseston, and for me a scallop pie evokes memories of catching and killing – note, I mentioned eating these pies on the end of a pier over the estuary? I was at the pier to capitalise on runs of snotty-nosed trevally that my beleaguered single mother and I were catching to take home and eat from for the coming year. Actually, at that time we couldn’t afford scallop pies, but you get the drift … tidally or something.

#14 Dr Sister Outlaw on 28.07.09 at 7:49 am

BTW Scott, can you please send me a picture of the Keens Curry sign in South Hobart? I think PDP folks need to know about it. Urgently.

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