Every region has its USP (Unique Selling Point). Hull can proudly boast the smallest window in England, Banffshire was put on the the map with the unveiling of the world’s largest bottle of whisky, and Rutland claims to be England’s smallest county – although this matter is subject to some dispute. The Isle of Wight has between four and eight USPs, depending on which postcard or tea-towel-pedia is your source of knowledge.
But, despite having its own wonders and dialect, the Isle of Wight seems to lack a signature dish. This oversight was lamented by County Press columnist Keith Newbery, who regularly uses his column to summon a flicker of parochial pride into the hearts of Islanders. Keith challenged his readers to come up with a recipe for an Isle of Wight dish. And so it was that former head of tourism Ewen Brenchley offered his formula for Wight Fish Pie. Displaying an audacious amount of gall, Matt and Cat ingratiated themselves onto the tasting panel; their only qualification being that they are not the old fogies who voted for the Isle of Wight flag – this county’s fluttering disgrace. Keith graciously gave consent for M&C to give their readers a preview of the event here on mattandcat.co.uk, before it appears on his page in the Isle of Wight County Press. So, read on to find out. Did Matt and Cat sample a milestone in the Island’s culinary history?
The landlord of the Fighting Cocks, Arreton – Phil Mew – had offered up his talented chefs to create the pie to Ewen’s specifications. Keith passed on details of the tasting panel’s rendezvous and Matt and Cat arrived promptly (for once). Keith proved to be a hearty fellow who might have given Matt a run for his money – had they both been built more like sprinters than Russian athlete Valuev. Matt was delighted to salute a fellow trencherman, and Cat was excited to finally meet someone bigger than her long-time dining partner. As well as Mr Brenchley, Keith had assembled an excellent panel of local worthies to test the delicacy. The group made their way to their table as the tantalising aroma of fish wafted from the kitchen.
There was time for introductions and a brief preamble about the project, including Ewen’s rather relaxed description of how the pie came to be. It seemed the recipe was a rather fluid affair; with some ingredients changing with the seasons or at the whim of the chef; and others – especially the parsley – being mandatory. In the version that Matt and Cat and the rest of the judges sampled, cod had a late substitution of whiting and there was the addition of gurnard – so good they named a village after it. However, Ewen was keen that the pie’s parsley sauce should not be compromised; fresh parsley only.
Finally the pie appeared. A well-presented baking dish with bubbling contents was placed in pride of place in the middle of the table. Tantalisingly the tasters had to wait whilst the County Press photographer took the obligatory publicity photos – this was work after all for at least one of the crew. Matt and Cat, in an attempt to preserve their anonymity, coyly withdrew from the camera’s range.
And then it was time to tuck in! The jovial Keith, in the role of ‘mother’, wielded the serving spoon and penetrated the pie’s cheese and mashy crust. What a creamy treat the pie looked. Flakes of fish and chunks of hard-boiled egg were coated in a delicious parsley sauce – Ewen was right to demand fresh not dry ingredients. As well as the flecks of green, the occasional hint of prawn could be spied, nestling amongst its maritime cousins.
For a moment the crowd fell silent as they fell upon the pie. It was delightful fare: substantial and hearty yet subtle in taste. Certainly a worthy contender for the Island’s signature dish. As a meal it could perhaps be served with local asparagus or iron-rich kale; its locally available contents would satisfy the most ardent food-miles obsessive. And, apart from its appropriateness, it was just jolly tasty!
But did it capture the essence of Islandness? It was certainly diverse; crustaceans sat happily adjacent to fish, reflecting the Island residents’ neighbourliness. Its slightly brittle exterior was soon breached to reveal a soft underbelly. It was heart-warming but, unlike the Island’s shoreline this week, it certainly didn’t induce bouts of wind. A contender.
Fancy yourself as the author of another Island Dish candidate? Bring it on! It’s not too late – read Keith Newbery’s column in the Isle of Wight County Press, (online too) and send him your suggested recipes. Matt and Cat may get to try them out too!