Piruugax̂ – Fish Pie


Flour.  Introduced to the indigenous peoples of the Aleutian Islands sometime after 1741.  A love/hate relationship.  We love it, but as time has shown throughout indigenous populations the world over, we have not adapted to it well.  Regardless, some flour recipes are now considered a part of our indigenous culture.  Have you heard of fried bread?  We all have recipes for that.  Through our acceptance of the Orthodox faith, we each have our own family recipes for kulich, or Easter bread.  Probably one of the most sought after dishes is what we call piruugax̂, what the Russians called kulebyaka, and what Americans call fish pie.  Notice I said one of the most sought after dishes – not recipes.  Fish pie is not hard to make, but it is incredibly time consuming.  So, to undertake the construction of a fish pie probably means you must really love it and the people for whom you are preparing it.  Because, to reiterate, it is time consuming.  It all begins, of course, with catching the fish.  I kid you.  We’ll assume you have access to fish.

Ingredients for an 8”x8” pie

1 side of red salmon, fresh or frozen

2 cups sticky rice

1 whole onion, diced and cooked lightly in ¼ cup butter

4 hard boiled eggs, sliced

¼ cup chopped qanisan, or, in English, beach lovage (if you don’t have any, any herb that you enjoy with salmon will do)

Enough pie dough to make a bottom and top crust.

It is important to have everything in place when you are cooking.  Everything on the ingredient list should be prepped and ready to go.  So, if I have a frozen fillet, I take that out first to let it start the thawing process.  I am going to want it to thaw enough so that while my rice and eggs are cooking and I start making my pie dough, I can remove the pin bones from the salmon with a pair of needle nose pliers.  As soon as the bones are removed, take a filet knife and remove the fish from the skin.  You can do it all in one fell swoop, or do it in four or five sections.  Place the fish on a plate to continue to thaw.

Prepare the rice.  Don’t forget to salt the water.  You will need to rinse it even though you want the rice sticky.  If you don’t rinse it, it will be too starchy.  I use Sun Luck Niko Niko Calrose rice.  It is sticky enough to not fall apart when you cut the pie.  Boil the eggs.  When they are done, drain, bounce them in the pot to crack, and run them under cold water for five minutes.  Peel.  Don’t slice them yet.  Dice the onion and cook in butter until barely soft.  Chop the beach lovage, or herb of your choice.  Set aside.

Make your dough.  The following recipe is easy, but sinful.  You can use either regular flour or a gluten-free substitute.  I make both and they both turn out great.  This make enough for a bottom and top crust.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

Pinch of salt

2 cubes of butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

½ cup ice water, or more as needed

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.  Add the butter, tossing the cubes in the flour to coat.  Rub the butter into the flour until it is the size of walnut halves (for a flaky crust) or peas (for a mealy crust).  Make a well in the center, and add the water almost all at once and mix just until the dough comes together.  Wrap it in plastic and chill before rolling.

Now you are ready to go!!  Roll out half of the dough for the bottom crust.  This should be about 1 ½ inches bigger than your pan all the way around.  Roll dough up on rolling pin and place in pan.  Now add half the rice.  Wet your hands to push it into a flat layer, gently, covering the whole bottom of the crust, including the corners.  Salt and pepper.  Sprinkle the rice with half the onions.  Dry off the salmon.  If you haven’t already, cut it into 4 or 5 pieces.  Lay the fish on top of the rice.  You should have enough fish to pretty much cover the whole pan without any big gaping holes.  If not, re-position the fish and/or cut and paste, ha. Salt and pepper.  Sprinkle the fish with the fresh herbs.

Obviously this picture is from a large fish pie.  Don’t be confused.  Just wanted you to see the egg layer.

Take an egg and with a handy, dandy egg slicer, slice the egg.  Flip it into your palm and carefully place each slice on the fish.  You want to make sure the yolks stay within the ring of the egg white.  Finish the remaining eggs.  This should cover the fish.  Salt and pepper.  Add the rest of the rice.  Wet hands and press down to cover the fish, including the corners.  Salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with the remaining onions.  Salt and pepper.  Roll out the top crust, position.  Capture the bottom crust excess with the top crust and fold under.  Crimp however you like to crimp pie crusts.

At this point you can cover thoroughly with plastic wrap and refrigerate to cook later.  Or get right to it.  Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Brush the top of the fish pie with either cream or an egg wash, or a mixture of both.  Place in the center of the oven and cook for 60 minutes.  No more, no less.  If you think your crust is getting dark, which it won’t, cover it with foil.  When done, let it sit for at least 20 minutes before cutting and serving.  Tartar sauce is great with it.  Dilly tartar, not sweet.

Yes, time consuming, but delicious.  It will probably take you 3-4 hours for all the steps.  Good luck.