There are many actual recipes for this dish. Though all have the traditional heads of some fish or other poking out of the pastry lid, it is the rest of the ingredients that can be slightly different. The first recipe is one that uses only pilchards, or sardines if you cannot get pilchards, and is the most traditional of the recipes.
12 large sardines or 8 pilchards
1 large onion, chopped finely
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped parsley
8 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped
3 eggs, softly boiled
Juice of 1 lemon
Milk to glaze
450g/1lb pack ready-made shortcrust pastry (or make your own if you wish)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Clean and bone the fish and season the insides. Remove the heads of all but 3 of the pilchards or 4 of the sardines.
2. Combine the bacon, eggs, onion and parsley in a bowl.
3. Grease a large pie dish and roll out a thin disc of half of the pastry to fit the dish and line the dish with the pastry.
4. Put a little of the bacon mixture inside each of the fish and place the headless fish on the pastry in a circle, tails in the centre and pile the rest of the bacon mixture over and around the fish.
5. Pour the lemon juice over the fish and season to taste.
6. Roll out the other half of the pastry and wet the edges of the pie before placing the lid on top of the fish.
7. Make a slit in the pastry big enough to contain a head and place each fish head in a pastry slit.
8 .Glaze the top of the pie with milk and bake for 40 minutes at 180c/gas 4 until the pie is golden in colour.
You could also leave the heads on all the fish and lay them in the pie with their heads poking out round the outer edge of the pie, so when you place the top crust on the dish tuck the pastry well down between the fish. This stops you from having to place them through slits in the top crust and everyone gets a head!