Sustaining and sustainable – you can have your hake and eat it. A nourishing, plentiful but somewhat overlooked fish with a delightfully meaty, soft and flaky flesh; hake has a subtle and sweet flavour that is not too dissimilar to that of cod. Ranging from 1 to 5kg on average, hake has a relatively long, slender body and is usually a steel-grey colour on the back and a silvery-white on the belly.
It’s an excellent source of protein, delicious and immensely versatile but surprisingly, not a particularly popular fish in the UK. Europe’s biggest consumer of hake is Spain, where it’s known as merluza. It’s estimated that each Spaniard eats their way through a hefty 6kg per year. It might be an unfamiliar fish, but us Brits could do with following suit – especially because regular consumption of hake supposedly improves blood pressure and lowers cholesterol.
Hake is found in British waters and is at its best between May and August. You can buy and cook hake whole or filleted. When buying it whole look for clear bright, bulging eyes, a bright red gill and bright, shiny skin and when buying it filleted look for white and firm flesh as these characteristics indicate that the fish is fresh. When cooking hake whole it’s best roasted or barbequed and for fillets pan-fry, roast, steam, grill or poach it. So next time you reach for a ‘seafood staple’ consider substituting it for hake – really lovely when teamed with the robust flavours of other Iberian ingredients.
Roast Hake with Iberico Ham, Clams & Dry Sherry
4 x 160g hake fillets
1 tsp Maldon salt
4-6 tbsp olive oil
4 x garlic cloves, peeled & sliced
1 tbsp flour
160ml dry sherry
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
300g small clams
4 slices of Iberico ham, thinly sliced
Squeeze of lemon juice
Season the hake fillets with Maldon salt and allow them to firm in the fridge for 1 hour. Rinse and pat dry on kitchen paper. Dust the hake fillets in flour and pan-fry them over a medium heat until golden on all 4 sides. Set aside on a warmed plate. Heat a small saucepan, add a teaspoon of olive oil and gently fry the garlic for 1 ½ minutes without colour. Add the clams, sherry and hake. Cover with a tight fitting lid & cook gently for 5-6 minutes or until the hake is cooked. Remove from the heat. Remove the hake from the saucepan and then stir in the remaining olive oil, followed by the chopped parsley. Check the seasoning, maybe adding a squeeze of lemon juice for acidity. Place the tender hake fillet in the centre of four warmed plates. Spoon the clams and juice over and around. Top with the Iberico ham and serve.
Terry’s latest food venture, Saltwater Fish Co at Fenwick Food Hall, has a wet fish counter and staff who can advise on all aspects of cooking fish.