In January, I boarded the Ajax, a medium-large fishing boat based in Newlyn, Cornwall, that mostly goes out for hake. The Ajax, an impressive vessel, had then recently undergone a refurbishment: in the kitchen below, where pots are locked into the hob by way of metal attachments and the kettle enclosed in a spill-preventing device, I was able to access the WiFi with ease.
The Ajax crew is pioneering in using social media to better connect seaside fishing communities in the far ends of the UK with consumers in towns and cities. Supermarkets do not best represent the glorious seafood we have here in Britain. It is rewarding to see fishers on Twitter sharing photos of the day’s catch, showcasing a wealth of prime fish and other sea treasures.
Fishmongers, too, have been more forthcoming with utilising social media to access the consumer. Part of the reason the British are more reluctant to cook fish than their European counterparts is probably partly down to ignorance. This might set me up for vitriol but whatever, it’s true. Our food culture still lags behind the continent for the most part. People here want roast beef, don’t they, not roast hake. We should all flit more readily between the two.
In Spain, hake is enjoyed at Christmas time, and while I’m not suggesting we all forgo our traditional turkey and ham, making the most of it at some point over the festive period would be a good idea.
The Liverpudlian chef Paul Askew, from the Art School Restaurant in his native city, has a wonderful recipe for hake, allowing its natural compatriots such as pancetta, chickpeas and garlic a place on the plate. I love hake cooked this way: butter, lemon, shallots providing oomph; cavolo nero arriving with earthy flavour; parsley to greenly blanket. Fish is always best cooked simply.
HAKE WITH SMOKED ANCHOVY AND PARSLEY CRUST SERVES FOUR
4 chunky loin cuts of hake (120-130g for each, descaled and checked for bones)
For the SMOKED ANCHOVY & PARSLEY CRUST:
30g gluten-free breadcrumbs
250g smoked anchovy fillets (retain oil and juices)
Zest of one lemon
2 cloves of garlic
30g finely grated parmesan
1 tsp Espelette pepper or Aleppo pepper
Melted butter (quantity to taste)
Sea salt and black pepper
For the GARNISH:
Splash of rapeseed oil
50g lardons of Southport smoked pork or pancetta
6 Cavolo Nero leaves, sliced
2 cloves of garlic
2 banana shallots, diced
1 carrot, peeled into ribbons
2 tsp lemon juice
50ml double cream
1 tsp Dijon mustard
50g chives, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 180°c. In a hot, thick-bottomed and non-stick frying pan, seal the hake skin-side down first to colour a little, with rapeseed oil & a little seasoning.
Note: the crust topping has salt, so only add gentle seasoning here. Take the fish from the pan and lay on parchment paper on an oven tray.
For the crust, add all the ingredients to a food processor and blitz gently, adding melted butter to bind the mixture at the end. Check seasoning, then spoon and spread the mixture onto the skin of the hake.
Note: This crust topping can be made a day in advance. Place the tray in the oven for 4-5 minutes to keep the fish juicy. Meanwhile, prepare all your garnish ingredients while the fish is in the oven.
Sauté the smoked pork or pancetta, shallots, garlic, and Cavolo Nero in a pan with a little rapeseed oil and butter for 2 minutes. Then, add the lemon juice, Dijon mustard, chickpeas, cabbage, and carrot, and allow to cook for another minute.
To finish, add double cream and bring to the boil. Taste to check seasoning.
Place cabbage, chickpeas & sauce in a shallow bowl, sit the fish on top and finish with chopped chives. Serve immediately.