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What Is Stargazy Pie?

By Eugene P.
Updated May 16, 2024
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Stargazy pie is a type of fish pie that originated in the town of Mousehole in Cornwall, England. The pie is easily recognizable because the heads of the fish used in the pie protrude out through the pastry crust and appear to be looking up toward the stars — the origin of the name of the pie. Sardines that still have their heads and tails attached traditionally are used as filling for the pie, although the rest of the fish normally is cleaned so it can be eaten. Other than the pastry crust and the fish, other ingredients that can be used in the pie include eggs, cream, onions, bacon and, in some instances, other types of meat, such as mutton. Some less traditional recipes for stargazy pie do not bake the pie with the fish heads poking through the crust.

In the town of Mousehole in Cornwall, stargazy pie most often is associated with holiday celebrations. Some accounts say the pie got its start when the town honored a successful local fisherman who caught a large amount of fish in a single trip during a time of famine in the town. Whether the legend about the fisherman is true, the traditional recipe for stargazy pie is said to use mainly sardines or include seven different fish, including sardines, dogfish, eel, herring and mackerel, among others, supposedly representing the types of fish the fisherman caught.

The pie itself can be made with a puff pastry crust or shortcrust dough. The pan for stargazy pie can be lined with the pastry or the pastry can be used only on top of the pie. In some preparations, because of the name of the dish, small stars of different sizes are cut from extra dough and placed on top with some egg wash to form a bed of stars between the fish heads.

The main ingredient in stargazy pie is the fish. In a very simple preparation, sardines are scaled and cleaned, although the heads are left attached despite being mostly inedible. The fish are stuffed with onions and herbs such as tarragon or thyme. Each of the fish is placed with its tail in the center of the pan, after which the head is threaded through a slit in the pastry crust top. When baked, the bulk of the interior is just the meat of the sardines flavored with oil from the fish heads that drips down into the pie.

Potatoes, bacon, mutton, vegetables such as carrots and other ingredients sometimes are added to stargazy pie. In certain presentations, the tails of the fish also are threaded through holes in the crust so the fish appear to be swimming on the surface of the pie. A slice of the pie can be served as a meal by itself, or it can be accompanied by baked potatoes, roasted meats or hard-boiled eggs.

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