25. Sep, 2017

What is Hake (Genus Merluccius)?

Sustaining and sustainable, hake surely deserves to appear on our menus more often. The soft and moist fish can be baked, battered and fried, or used in soups and stews.

Good morning every one, last week was a mixture of sorts for me, with various doctors’ appointments, including a full morning (scanner examination) at the hospital. Nevertheless my morale was on a high , mainly because my dear friend ( a brother to me) Goiko, was staying with us. He remained a full week and it was fantastic, Luisa and I really loved to have him over and enjoyed his company thoroughly. Time flies and over nine months had passed since we had seen him last. It was so refreshing being able to discuss innumerous matters with him, from politics, a bit of soccer and on to gastronomy. Goiko’s favorite subject his fish, it’s different species, and the various Basque methods of preparation. He was born and has lived all his life in Ondarroa, (a maritime and fishing village, it’s port is one of the most important fishing ports of the Basque Country and the Cantabrian coast for the volume of its catches). so there’s very little he does not know with regards to fish, its freshness, quality and how to prepare great meals with such a fine product. Goiko is the typical Basque, that enjoys cooking for family and friends specially on weekends. I have learned many great recipes from him, without a doubt the best are the fish meals he prepares. Now retired he enjoys the privilege of living a stone’s throw from the fishing port and from the window of his sitting room he can see the boats docking and also what catches they are bring in. Therefore whatever fish Goiko prepares in his kitchen its always fresh and of great quality. Without a doubt his favorite fish is Hake ( Merluza in Spanish, Pescada in Portuguese and Gallego) and enjoys different recipes at least 3 times per week. So! this past week he prepared merluza twice at my place, one “merluza en salsa verde” hake in a parsley sauce and the other “kokotxas de merluza en salsa verde” hake cheeks in a parsley sauce, both were finger licking good. Well! Today I’m going to transmit some interesting information regarding this fantastic fish; the Hake also include a couple of recipes.

Hake is one of the most important demersal fish stocks in European waters, and is commonly caught in mixed fisheries throughout the North East Atlantic, along with cod, haddock and whiting. Hake can live for as much as 20 years, and reach a maximum size of 140 cm and 15kg, but their average size is closer to 45 cm. They reach sexual maturity at around three to four years of age. They are usually found in waters between 75 and 400 metres in depth, and tend to live close to the seabed in daytime, leaving it to swim up the water column only at night. There are two stocks of hake in EU waters which have been identified as separate by scientists. The northern stock is found in the North Sea, Skagerrak, and off the Atlantic coasts of the UK, Ireland and France. The southern stock is located off the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal. Hake is caught with a wide range of gears, both as targeted catch and as by-catch. In the Mediterranean when one mentions hake, one must talk about the Spanish. Although Spain, and Castile in particular, was similar to Sicily in the secondary importance that fish had in the diet and the economy, hake was the most popular of fish. Hake is a gadoid fish (meaning it resembles cod), except it lacks the barbel of the cod and has a long second dorsal and anal fin running from mid-body to the tail fin. Spanish fishermen have caught hake since the fourteenth century, and the Spanish fondness for hake has resulted in a great variety of preparations.

The main catching method of deep-water hake is primarily trawling, and shallow-water hake is mostly caught by inshore trawl and longlining. Hake are mostly found in the Southwest Atlantic (Argentina and Uruguay), Southeast Pacific (Chile and Peru), Southeast Atlantic (Namibia and South Africa), Southwest Pacific (New Zealand), and Mediterranean and Black Sea (Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece and France). Due to over-fishing, Argentine hake catches have declined drastically. About 80% of adult hake has apparently disappeared from Argentine waters. Argentine hake is not expected to disappear, but the stock may be so low that it is no longer economic for commercial fishing. In addition, this adversely affects employment, because many people lose their jobs in the fishing industries. On the other hand, Argentine hake prices are rising due to scarcity. This has reduced exports, which ultimately affects the economy. In Chile, seafood exports, especially Chilean hake, have decreased dramatically. Hake export has decreased by almost 19 percent. The main cause of this decline is the February 2010 Chile earthquake and tsunami. These disasters destroyed most processing plants, especially manufacturing companies that produce fishmeal and frozen fillets. European hake catches are well below historical levels because of hake depletion in the Mediterranean and Black Sea. However, different factors might have caused this decline, including a too-high Total Annual Catch, unsustainable fishing, ecological problems, juvenile catches, or non-registered catches. According to the Worldwide Fund, the only Hake species not currently over-fished is Cape hake, found in Namibia. The only country that has increased its hake quota, from 130,000 tons in 2009 to 145,000 tons in 2010.Furthermore, the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries adheres to very strict rules regarding the catch of hake. For example, the closed seasons for hake lasts approximately two months, September and October, depending on the level of stock. This rule has been applied to ensure the regrowth of the hake population. Supplemental restrictions include forbidding trawling for Hake in less than 200 m depth (to avoid damaging non-target species habitat)and minimizing by-catch.

A very interesting information passed on by the British National Federation of Fishermen’s Organization states that hake was now the most sustainable and plentiful fish in Brithish seas. They have carefully evaluated the situation and established that stock levels are indeed healthy. One could then say: “that hake is now definitely on the menu. Or it would be, if more people in Britain ate Hake. The truth is that only 1.5 per cent of last year’s catch was eaten in Britain. Most of the catch goes to Spain, where “la merluza” is much loved, even venerated (it is estimated that each Spaniard consumes 6 to 8kg of hake per year). When it comes to cooking hake, it is important that the fish be really fresh. Those who have tried hake and not thought much of it will probably have noted that the flesh was soft and a bit cottonwoolly. Hake will not be in prime condition for long, but while the flesh remains firm a hake steak, taken from the middle of the fish where there will be less bone, is a very fine thing. This is favourite among the Spanish, who will then cook it in a variety of ways.

Merluza a la Gallega (as they do it in Galicia) will be found on countless menus all over the country. The hake round slices are baked in olive oil, chopped garlic and quite a lot of paprika, and eaten with boiled potatoes. In another Iberian recipe which I also enjoy, is merluza rebozada (battered hake, breaded hake) the fish is dusted with flour, dipped in egg, fried in extra virgin olive and eaten together with a green salad or just as is. Many years ago I learned that hake and clams are popular together, especially in the Basque country, in a dish known as merluza en salsa verde. The green of the sauce comes purely from the use of a lot of chopped parsley, stirred into a pan with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fennel seeds and a little flour. The hake is added and slightely fried before adding a glass of  white wine and fish stock, some prefer also to add clams in the shell, a few peas. It's served just like that. In France, when you can find hake on a menu, it tends to be grilled and served up with a sauce rémoulade or hollandaise, or a purée of sorrel. The French may be less than enthusiastic about the fish because they deem it inferior to cod, to which it is related. I think hake certainly ranks with cod, and is greatly superior to other members of the cod family, such as pollack (suitable for fish pie, and not bad when smoked), ling and coley. If you come across small hake, which may be called pin hake, they are delicious fried in very hot oil. Even smaller specimens, probably of illegal size, are offered in Spain, in Andalusia under the name of pijotas. Another Spanish delicacy to look out for is known as kokotxas, which are hake cheeks, delicately flavoured also in a salsa verde (the green sauce earlier described). I like to cook one or two extra hake round slices, to eat cold in a salad the following day. The flesh should be flaked and combined with lettuce, spring onions, capers and French dressing. With a few prawns this makes a very acceptable dish for a summer lunch. 

Very well! now I will share with you Goiko's recipe for merluza en salsa verde” hake in a parsley sauce:

Hake in green sauce is one of the great classics of Spanish cuisine. Do not be deceived by the simplicity of its preparation or by the basic ingredients required, because when you use quality raw material it becomes a luxury dish whose result is spectacular. Although its origin takes us to the Basque Country,  presently it's a common plate found on dinners tables, throughout Spain. The basic recipe caontaplates the use of only hake, but you can add clams, peas, white asparagus or soft boiled eggs  combining all of these ingredients to make an outstanding and very tasty fish dish. Merluza en salsa verde is one of those classic dishes with which you always triumph. It can be served both as a normal meal or on a special occasion, perhaps enriching it with some of the ingredients suggested above. It is perfect to serve as a dinner dish, because it is not heavy, but watch the bread dipping on such a fantstic, tasty, rich sauce.


Serves 4 people

4 round Slices of ​​Hake 

1 medium Onion 

2 Cloves of garlic  

100 ml White wine 

200 ml Fish broth 

1 Ts Maizena flour (flour-looking powder used for cooking, to thicken the sauce)

3 Ts Extra virgin olive oil 


Fresh parsley (in abundance)

12 Fine clams (optional) 


Peel and chop the garlic cloves and sauté them in extra virgin olive oil, in a low brim casserole or (frying pan) take care that they do not burn (so has not to sour the final result). Add the chopped onion and stir over, on very gentle heat, until well poached and translucent. Add the tablespoon of maizena flour, stir well and cook for a couple of minutes. Pour the white wine and the fish broth, stir so that they do not form lumps with the flour and let cook for ten minutes to thicken the sauce. Meanwhile chop a good handful of fresh parsley leaves and add them to the casserole along with the pre-salted hake round slices and the clams (if used).

To make the hake cooked faster, cover the casserole and let cook over medium heat for five minutes or until the clams have opened and the hake is ready (this will depend on the thickness of the slices). Serve and enjoy!

Kokotxas en salsa verde ( hake cheeks in green sauce)

Ingredients :

serves 4 people:

1 kg. of hake kokotxas

3 garlic cloves

1 chilli

1 Ts Maizena flour (flour-looking powder used for cooking, to thicken the sauce)

1 glass of white wine


3 Ts extra virgin oil


Fresh parsley (in abundance)


Clean the kokotxas well and trim the excess skins. Spread them out on a clean cloth to dry, season and reserve. Place two fingers of water in a low brimmed casserole together with some parsley, salt and the trimmings of the kokotxas. Let it boil to form a broth.. Peel and cut the garlic cloves and the chilli (piri-piri)  and place them to brown in a wide rimmed casserole with the extra virgin olive oil. Cook over a very gentle fire and watch that  the garlic does not burn. Remove the garlic and chilli (piri-piri) on to a plate.. Add a tablespoon of the maizena flour on the pan and sauté well. Pour the glass of white wine and some of the broth. Stir well, add the chopped parsley and then the kokotxas. Cook for about 3-4 minutes. At the last moment sprinkle with the remaining chopped parsley athe garlic confit and the chilli. It should be served very hot..

The kokotxas are the glandular part of the lower jaw of the hake.They must be fresh so that they can release the gelatine necessary for the sauce to bond well together. Enjoy!