Collops, Pancakes, Fish Pie – Lent is here

Well, that’s another year that I forgot about pancake day – Shrove Tuesday. Not popular with the folks and not enough milk and eggs to knock up a batter.

Also forgot about Collop Monday and Ash Wednesday. (Hangs head in shame.) All of which means I feel there is no need to give up wine o’clock for 40 days, excluding Sundays, which would make 46 days.  (Roll on wine o’clock.)

Collop Monday was the last day for eating meat before Lent started, along with luxuries such as eggs and butter.  Any meat in the household would be sliced into collops (Scandinavian word meaning ‘a slice of meat’ – that was a surprise, wasn’t’ it?), salted and preserved until Maundy Thursday, when Lent ends. Collops and eggs were a traditional meal on this Monday.

Beef Collops – serves 4 – 6

1lb/500g steak, thinly sliced

2ozs/40-50g butter (I prefer unsalted)

Small onion, finely chopped or grated

2 cloves garlic, crushed or grated

¼  pint/125ml well-flavoured brown stock

some slugs of red wine – optional

a little flour to thicken – not too much as it can affect the flavour of the sauce

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, fresh parsley and other fresh herbs of choice.

Melt the butter, sweat the onions and garlic (Do not burn the garlic or you’ll have to throw the onion and garlic away and start again – burning makes the garlic bitter.)

Stir in the flour and cook for a minute or so.

Add the beef slices, stock and wine and cook till tender. The time depends on which type of steak you have chosen; fillet will take 15 minutes or less. Season to taste.

Serve with fried, poached or scrambled eggs, triangles of toast and lots of fresh herbs. Carrots and a green vegetable work well with it.

Shrove Tuesday was traditionally a day for fun – after making confession and being absolved, or shriven, by the priest – with football games, truancy, cockfighting, skipping (yes, skipping) and general excess consumption of ale and other alcohol!

Pancakes were introduced as a way of using up eggs and butter before Ash Wednesday kicked off Lent. Pancake races and pancake tossing are still popular games in the UK.


4ozs/100g plain flour, sifted two or three times to aerate

pinch fine sea salt

1 egg

½ pt/250ml milk or half milk, half water.

Generous tablespoon (25+ml) of special ingredient …

Sling the lot in a blender or processor till smooth and bubbly. Or use a whisk and a large bowl to combine the ingredients.

Blend in the secret ingredient – a generous tablespoon of brandy or whisky or sherry or marsala or … this will ensure light, lacy, crisp pancakes.

Make the batter in the morning and leave to rest till needed for the evening meal – or make the day before if you want them for breakfast or lunch. This allows the starch grains to soften.

Use a good pancake skillet or a solid, thick-based frying pan. Heat the pan, melt a little butter till hot. Hold your hand over the pan – when you feel the heat, it is ready to tackle the batter. Pour in a little batter and swirl around the pan to cover. Cook till you see brown through the batter and toss to cook the other side. If you don’t want to toss, use a palate knife to lift and turn. I gave up tossing after wasting umpteen pancakes.

I suggest you have two pans on the go to keep up with demand.

Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze, and sugar. Or anything you like!

These pancakes are also good for savoury dishes. Try them stuffed with wilted spinach and sautéed mushrooms, in a tasty cheese sauce. Lots of nutmeg helps. So does garlic …

Leeks and smoked fish in a white wine sauce are good. As are chickpeas, chorizo, red pepper and a spicy sauce. Leftover chicken and sweetcorn in a well-seasoned white (wine) sauce is good too. In truth, you can make a filling for pancakes from anything that takes your fancy – ratatouille, curry, savoury mince, sausages (skinned and forked down to a mince) with grated carrots, prawns, veal and blue cheese – anything.

Divide filling of your choice between the pancakes, roll up and lay in a buttered/olive oiled ovenproof dish, coat with extra sauce, some grated cheese and bake in the oven. Make lots – there are never enough.

These pancakes are marvellous for crêpes Suzette too. Oro hot cherries and ice cream. Add the ice cream just before you roll the pancakes and serve.

Ash Wednesday signals that Lent has arrived – 40 days of abstinence and fasting. It used to be that only one meal a day was eaten and no meat, eggs or dairy produce. Ash was sprinkled on the heads of penitents, which later changed to the priest marking foreheads with a cross with the ash kept from the burnt palms of the previous year.

Fish pie is the traditional meal for this day. Everyone has a favourite recipe – unless they don’t eat fish!

Fish Pie – serves 4

1lb/500g mixed cubed fish – white fish, smoked fish, salmon or pink trout

6oz/150g shelled prawns – nice and juicy and plump

several chopped cornichons (small pickled cucumbers), depending on size and taste

1-2 tbls/25-50g rinsed and chopped capers

1 tbls green peppercorns, crushed

2 sliced red peppers – either charred and peeled, or use those that come in a jar. Much quicker, especially if you don’t have a gas hob.

Lots of chopped fresh herbs

½ pint/300ml fish stock

¼ pint/150ml milk or cream

dry white or dry rose wine – optional

sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, spoonful paprika (smoked, if you like it)

Some flour or cornflour


1lb floury potatoes, sliced, peeled or not as you see fit.

A thinly sliced onion

Extra milk or cream

Toasted pistachio nuts

Chopped herbs – dill if you like it – to scatter on top to serve

Cook the potato and sliced onion in the extra milk or cream or milk and water till just tender, in a saucepan. Takes too long in the over and sometimes the potato refuses to soften.

Mix the cubed fish with the prawns, cornichons, capers, green peppercorns, red pepper, herbs and seasoning and put in a deepish ovenproof dish.

Mix the fish stock, milk or cream in a pan. Add flour and some butter and cook till thickening.

Pour over the fish.

Cover with the almost-cooked potato slices and onions. Add the cooking cream or milk if there is not enough sauce in the dish. (I like lots of sauce.)

Dot with butter. Grated cheese if you wish.

Bake for 25-30 minutes 200C/400F/Gas 6 – adjust accordingly. Everyone knows the foibles of their ovens in terms of temperature and timing – until the fish is cooked and the potato browned.

Toast some pistachios in a hot dry pan.

Sprinkle the nuts over the potatoes to serve, along with some paprika and herbs for colour.

Good with spinach, broccoli, courgettes, baby sprouts, spring greens, mange tout or beans.

It’s not a traditional plain fish pie but it is tasty!

Enjoy.  And roll on the Easter egg hunt.




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