Spiced smoked cod & fennel tart

This is a lightly spiced tart with rich, smoky cod and the subtle aniseed flavour of fennel. It is very much a comfort-eat and makes a satisfying light meal served warm or cold.

About this recipe

This is a variation on my kedgeree-style tart that I was so proud to have been selected by BBC Good Food Magazine in their 125th issue last year.

I have gone for a lightly spiced shortcrust pastry here which works well with the filling. I have used the last of this year’s fennel and shallot harvest from the allotment, sweating them down with gentle spices to form the base flavours of the tart. The overall effect is it does not scream curry at you: the spices are gentle but warming.

I have also made this with smoked river cobbler, a much cheaper and more sustainable fish. The cobbler works very well in this tart.

Spiced smoked cod and fennel tart: make one large tart

Pastry:

  • 160g plain white flour
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 40g chilled unsalted butter, cubed
  • 40g lard, cubed
  • cold water to mix

Filling:

  • 240g smoked cod
  • 1 tablespoon mango chutney, crushed to a paste
  • 150ml milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • 1 large fennel bulb, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 large shallots, roughly chopped
  • a large knob of butter
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • a few onion seeds

(1) To make the pastry, mix the flour, salt, turmeric powder and curry powder in a large bowl. Rub in the butter and lard until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs and add enough water to give a soft but not sticky dough. Knead very gently to give a smooth ball and wrap in clingfilm. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

(2) Roll out the pastry thinly and line a buttered baking ring or flan tin with the pastry allowing an overhang outside the tin. Lightly press down the pastry along the rim until you just see the tin through the pastry – don’t go all the way through: you want the pastry overhang still just be attached (it prevents the tart case from shinking in on itself). Once the tart, with the filling, has baked, the excess pastry will snap off easily, leaving a clean finish.

(3) Prick the base with a fork and chill for at least 30 minutes. While it chills, pre-heat the oven to 170C(fan).

(4) Line the chilled pastry case with greaseproof or foil and pour in baking beans or rice. Bake for 15 minutes before turning the oven down to 140C removing the greaseproof and baking for a further 5-10 minutes until the pastry has dried out. Leave to cool in the tin but do not be tempted to neaten off the edges yet.

Note: full details, with photographs of each stage on how to to blind-bake a pastry case are on my earlier shortcrust pastry post.

(5) For the filling, put the milk, bay leaf and peppercorn into a medium pan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, add the cod and put a lid on the pan. Leave the cod in the hot milk until it has completely cooled down: the cod will not be fully cooked at this stage but the milk will have taken on a lovely smoked fish flavour.

(6) While the fish is cooling, melt the butter in a pan and add the fennel and shallots. Cook on a medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes to start to soften them. Add the garam masala and curry powder and cook for a further 10 minutes or so on a very gentle heat.

(7) Carefully remove the cod from the milk and flake into generous sized chunks. Strain the milk into a bowl and whisk in the eggs, egg yolks, seasoning and chutney.

(8) Mix some of the milk mixture with the fennel and shallot mixture to loosen it up and gently stir in the cod. Spoon this into the pastry cases. Pour over the rest of the milk mixture and sprinkle over the onion seeds.

(9) Bake for 35-40 minutes at 140C(fan) until the tart is just set with a slight wobble: it will set further as it cools.

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