I remember that we had fish for dinner quite often on Fridays when I was a kid. Usually bread-crumbed plaice. And chips. My mother kept her chip pan under the sink, filled with white lard that melted to a hot, golden slick and made the most delicious chips.
I don’t think we had fish for any religious reasons. We weren’t Catholic or Anglican and avoiding the meat of four-footed creatures on the last day of the week. Maybe it was because fish and Friday started with the same letter. I think ‘four-footed’ started me on this line of thought. And we used to have sandwiches on Saturday too. Maybe it was just habit.
More and more I want to know exactly what I’m eating. And while starting from scratch can be time-consuming I know I’m going to enjoy it more and feel better after eating it rather than dissecting an anonymous slip of chicken and some dodgy emulsifiers, trying to convince myself it's not too bad. I want real food.
I’ve jogged a little further down the Real Port Talbot road over the last couple of weeks too: more notes and photos that I’ll need to write up and assemble when I get back to Kent. This Easter weekend is the first anniversary of Michael Sheen’s Passion play, a staggering community play that unravelled on the streets of Port Talbot over 3 days in April 2011, and there’s an exhibition in the Aberafan Shopping Centre, a book launch on Saturday and, on Sunday night, the world premiere of the Gospel of Us (a film by Dave Mckean created from the original live footage) with a personal appearance by Michael Sheen.
I watched The Passion online from my home in France last year. It was alarming, intriguing, moving and inspiring. But the ‘memory’ weekend is equally as astonishing, cataloguing on display boards around the Shopping Centre people’s memories and experiences of the event: photos, poems, statements, paintings, needlework. Someone once said to me that Port Talbot is the death of culture, that no-one in the town is interested in art. They couldn’t be more wrong.
But what I have noticed is that artists in Port Talbot don’t make a big fuss of themselves and their work. There’s enjoyment and passion for what they do but there’s no self-indulgence. They’re happy to talk about it but there’s no pretence. Perhaps because it’s often art that springs from a sense of community, art that has its source in the environment.
And The Passion was a beacon for this kind of art: ordinary people working with professional actors and the National Theatre of Wales on the town’s streets and mountains and beach. It blended the dramatic with the every day, memory with imagination. It created a space for the seemingly impossible to happen: both in the denouement of the theatrical event and how, in its aftermath, it seemed to reawaken a stifled pride in the town and encouraged action and creativity.
But back to fish pie. My niece reminds me I made this for her when she stayed with me in Kent in the 1990s, years before she had her own children. Her daughter is seven tomorrow, her little boy is five later in the year. I still have to shake myself sometimes to realise she’s a grown woman with a family and not still the little girl who made sandcastles with me on Aberafan Beach.
This is going to be one of those vague recipes as I have never weighed anything. The best thing to do is decide how many people you’re cooking for and work from there.
skinned and boned fish: half smoked and half plain. I used smoked and white cod today, enough for four people
two hard-boiled eggs, chopped
- Poach the fish in half a pint of milk, adding a slice of onion and a few curls of fresh lemon peel, until it’s just cooked.
- Drain, keeping the milk to one side and chucking out the onion and peel.
- Flake the fish and add the chopped egg, chopped parsley and a good squeeze of lemon juice.
- Make a thick white sauce with the poaching milk, starting with a flour and butter roué.
- Add enough to the fish mixture to make it nice and saucy – see 1st photograph above.
- Top with buttery, mashed potatoes and cook for about 20 or 25 minutes until the peaks are crisp.
I can show you the ‘ready for the oven’ pie but not the ‘ready to eat’ one because I was overly ready to eat it and forgot to take a photo. But I’m sure you can imagine the crispy bits.
Hungry Writing Prompts
- Write about fish and chips
- Write about Friday.
- Write about the place where you were born.
- Write about a work of art that has inspired you.
- Write about getting older.