Saturday, June 8, 2013


Flaky fresh hake and potatoes with Galician ajada sauce.

It’s true, I LOVE hake, a steely-grey fish of the cod family. Maybe I’d even go so far as to say it’s my favorite fish. Until recently however, I rarely cooked hake, as my local fish market didn’t carry it.

I’m a follower of the “love the fish you’re with” persuasion. Mackerel, fresh sardines and anchovies, farmed gilthead and sea bass, the extraordinary red mullet (salmonete), farmed Norwegian salmon (can’t love it, but eat it occasionally), monkfish, dogfish (cazón), and, guiltily, bluefin tuna are my usual companions, available locally. Fresh hake I would buy only when trawling in bigger markets on the coast. And, no, I won’t eat frozen fish.

Recently though, one of the two fish vendors in the village market started bringing in whole fresh hake once a week and selling it by the slice. It is irresistible. I get her to cut thick steaks of hake, then I look through my recipe collection to find different ways to prepare them. (Previous recipes for hake are Basque style and in an unusual seafood soup with sour orange.)

Hake (merluza in Spanish) is a good-sized fish—about 2 feet long and weighing around 4 pounds, market size, including the head. The best fish are de anzuelo or de pincho, hooked on a long line rather than captured in a net. Hake has lean, white flesh with a delicate flavor. It’s flaky and moist when perfectly cooked. Overcooked and the delicate flesh tends to disintegrate.

Hake, like cod, is terrific battered and fried. But, to me, it seems a shame to disguise the flavor with frying. In Galicia (northwest Spain) hake is simply poached, usually with potatoes, then served with a garlicky ajada sauce.

Ajada sauce with garlic and pimentón.
Use this recipe for other delicate fish such as turbot. Use regular sweet pimentón (paprika), rather than smoked pimentón, for this recipe. Add some pimentón picante—hot pimentón—to taste, or substitute a pinch of cayenne.

I recommend that you prepare fresh fish in the Spanish way. Salt the fish liberally and allow it to sit for 15 to 30 minutes. Then drain it, rinse and pat dry. This step—somewhat like brining—helps to keep the fish moist. (However, frozen fish should never be salted.)

Hake with Galician Ajada Sauce
Merluza con Ajada

Serves 4.
Fresh hake steaks.

 4 thickly-cut hake steaks (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 bay leaf
Chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Water (about 1 cup)

For the ajada sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
2 teaspoons sweet pimentón
½ teaspoon hot pimentón
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
½ cup potato liquid, stock or water

Sprinkle the fish with salt and set aside for 30 minutes.

Put 2 tablespoons oil in a cazuela with the potatoes, bay leaf, parsley, salt and pepper. Add water to almost cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil, then simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Place the hake steaks on top of the potatoes. Cover and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the cazuela from the heat and allow to set 10 minutes. The fish will finish cooking during the resting period.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet heat the 3 tablespoons of oil with the garlic. When garlic begins to turn golden, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the two kinds of pimentón and vinegar. Add the potato liquid, stock or water. Season with salt. Return the skillet to the heat and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

Spoon the ajada sauce over the hake steaks and potatoes.

Garlic and two kinds of pimentón make the simple sauce.


  1. I never loved hake until I went to Spain. Here, in central Canada, it always came in a frozen block and was rubbery and boring. But fresh, it is fantastic, no matter how it is prepared. If only I could find some FRESH!

    1. Stranger: Oh, I so agree with you! Restaurant critic Jeffrey Steingarten once said, "Hake is the rich man's cod." When pristine fresh, it is so special. What a shame it's not to be found in central Canada!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Alice: I'll reply by e-mail. And will delete this from Comments, as it is rather long.

  3. I love hake! I only discovered it when I visited Spain, and now it's one of my favourites. I agree it's best treated simply.