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Taste of Europe: Mitch Tonks’s Basque hake

This Basque dish is easy to prepare, delicious and an easy way to support British fishing

Hake cooked Basque-style, with garlic and Romesco sauce

British fish and chip shops have been in the news this last week. Fish prices
are rising and the likes of vegetable oil, flour and potatoes are also becoming more expensive.

Post-pandemic inflation is to blame. It is affecting both transport costs and
utility bills. Rent rises and a return to 20% VAT for hospitality are only compounding problems.

And then there is the war in Ukraine, the so-called breadbasket of Europe, which supplied 12% of global wheat before it was criminally invaded.

The white fish Britain once imported from Russia – an estimated 40% of fillets used in chippies are, or were, sourced from the country – is now subject to a 35% tariff increase by the UK.

It might be trivial to again parade the UK’s other white fish, still underused and undervalued. I have written more than once about how the British public tends only to buy salmon (often farmed), tuna (usually tinned and from far away), and cod (expensive and overfished in many areas).

It remains the case that almost 70% of the fish we eat in the UK is imported, and around 70% of what we catch is sent abroad.

Hake, for example, a tender and pearly white fish comparable to cod, is abundant, and yet most of what we land here is still sent to countries such as Spain.

I hope fish and chip shops ride the storm. We as consumers must support them – and, those who are able, be prepared to pay £1 or £2 extra for our Friday tea given the fact that these businesses are taking such a battering.

We might also all buy a bit more of a variety of fish, irrespective of fish suppers – megrim, gurnard, red mullet… hake. Cod prices are one of
the most fluctuating after all: in February this year, the National Federation of Fish Friers warned that cod supplies have become 75% more expensive than they were in October last year.

One of the country’s best fish cooks, Mitch Tonks, the owner of an excellent
group of family seafood restaurants in the south-west called Rockfish, has a
recipe here for hake done in a Basque style. It is easy to prepare, delicious,
and an easy way to support British fishing.

Hake cooked Basque-style, with garlic and Romesco sauce

SERVES FOUR

Ingredients
4 x 180-200g hake fillets
4 cloves garlic finely sliced
½ dried Nora/Choricero chillies (soaked and deseeded)
100ml olive oil
20ml good agrodolce vinegar
1tsp chopped parsley
salt

For the sauce:
100g whole blanched almonds
4 dried Nora/Choricero chillies (soaked and deseeded)
6 cloves garlic, peeled
12 roasted piquillo peppers (or 6 roasted and peeled peppers)
1tsp sweet paprika
1tsp smoked paprika
¼tsp hot smoked paprika
100ml olive oil
25ml sherry vinegar
salt

Method
Begin by making the Romesco sauce. Put the almonds and soaked chillies in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Add the garlic, peppers and spices and pulse again to combine. Add the vinegar, olive oil and pinch of salt, pulse again to produce a thick sauce that is neither too chunky nor too smooth.

Fry the hake fillets skin side down until lightly golden, turn and transfer the pan to a hot oven. Roast the fish for about 5 minutes until just cooked through. While the hake is roasting, put the garlic, olive oil, finely sliced dried chilli and pinch of salt into a small pan and put on a medium heat.

Cook gently, stirring occasionally to distribute the garlic and chilli. As soon as the edges of the garlic begin to turn golden remove from the heat and allow to cool. Add a splash of sweet vinegar and the chopped parsley.

Remove the hake from the oven, put a fillet on each plate and peel away the skin. Immediately spoon a little sauce over each piece of fish and serve with a spoon of Romesco sauce.

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