These are very special tarts: crisp, melt-in-the-mouth and gently spiced pastry cases filled with buttery leeks, and flakes of smoked haddock in a just-set and subtly flavoured curried egg custard. A poached quail egg on top is certainly not essential, but it adds a rich unctuousness: gorgeousness personified as the yolk oozes over the tart as it is cut!
I was inspired by kedgeree for these tarts and I think they more than pay homage to what is a great dish in its own right.
The tarts are perfect served with a salad and good bread for a supper or as a starter, and they are at their very best when served warm. I also like to make these smaller – in mince pie tins, for example, to serve as a savoury treat for Afternoon Tea, although in this case I would not serve the poached quail egg on top: far to messy to eat with fingers!
Gentle baking needed
The filling needs to be cooked gently until it has just set rather than become puffy, over-cooked and rubbery: ideally it should cuts like butter does at room temperature and, as you cut, you can both see and feel the softness of the filling as it just holds.
Subtle but effective spicing
I use garam masala here for a subtle spice flavour to come through but you can use curry powder or paste for more oomph.
I like to make garam masala by grinding an assortment of roasted whole spices – ideal for dishes such as this with its warm spicyness and majestic fragrance. However, good commercial ones work well: just keep an eye on the shelf life as once they get too old they lose a lot of their flavour!
You can omit the curry flavours but I think it really does enhance the dish – and there is, after all, only a hint of curry flavour in there. If you don’t want the curry flavours you can instead add a generous sprinkling of a cheese such as Gruyère or Emmental to the filling.
Large or small: it works well either way!
You can be make one large tart or several smaller ones for individual servings. I have also made miniature ones for canapés. Basically, you can make these any size you want – just keep an eye on the baking of the tarts as you want the filling to have a gentle, yet discernible wobble: the filling sets further as it cools.
These tarts also freeze very well, needing just gentle reheating once defrosted.
Smoked Haddock Tarts: makes 8 small tarts
Spiced shortcrust pastry:
- 200g plain flour
- 50g lard
- 50g unsalted butter
- 2 level teaspoons garam masala (or use curry powder)
- salt and pepper
- cold water to mix
- 1 medium leek, thinly sliced
- a knob of unsalted butter or a tablespoon of olive oil
- 300g undyed smoked haddock, sliced into small pieces
- 3 egg yolks plus 1 whole egg
- 200ml double cream or full-cream milk
- 1 rounded teaspoon garam masala or good quality curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- freshly-milled black pepper
- a little salt
- lemon juice
- poached quail eggs
- chopped chives
(1) Preheat the oven to 160C (fan). Make the pastry: mix the flour, garam masala, salt and pepper in a bowl and rub in the butter and lard gently until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add a few teaspoons of water and use a round-bladed knife to start to bring it all together to form a soft but not sticky dough, adding more water as needed. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
(2) Roll the pastry thinly and line individual tart tins with it. I use 8cm tins for starter-size portions. Trim the pastry edges, allowing a little overhang.
(3) TOP PASTRY TIP: Put the pastry cases in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest and then very gently press the pastry on the top of the tin until you just see the outline of the tin through the pastry, taking care not to go right through: once baked this will allow the overhang to snap off, leaving a perfectly edged pastry case.
(4) Line the cases with foil and pop a few baking beans or rice inside. Bake blind for 15 minutes then remove the foil and continue to bake for a further 5 minutes or until the pastry base is cooked and no “damp patches” remain. Reduce the temperature to 140C(fan).
(5) Sauté the leeks gently in the butter for about five minutes until starting to soften. And the garam masala, the turmeric, pepper and a little salt and continue to cook gently for another five minutes: you want to cook out the spices somewhat before you bake the tarts. You can use curry powder if preferred but I find the garam masala gives enough of a spicy note.
(6) Lightly whisk the cream and the eggs together. Season lightly. Mix the haddock with a little of the egg/cream mixture and a spritz of lemon juice.
(7) Snap off the pastry overhang and spoon a little of the leek mixture into the base of each tart. Add pieces of the haddock generously: you want to pieces to come just above to the top but don’t pack the haddock in tightly or you won’t be able to add the egg/cream mixture easily.
(8) Carefully pour or spoon the egg/cream mixture into the tarts, coming to just below the pastry rim. Gently stir the filling to allow it all to settle and top up with more of the egg/cream mixture if needed. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until the mixture only just wobbles and leave to cool a little: the tarts will set further as they cool.
(8) Serve each tart warm with a poached egg on top and a sprinkling of chives.