Hake is Spain’s favourite fish but much less popular in the UK, which is something of a mystery to me. It’s a sustainable catch and it tastes terrific, but most of the hake landed here every year gets shipped to Spain. It’s surely time to repatriate it (insert Brexit joke here) but this recipe also works with cod or any other firm-fleshed white fish.
It seems only fair to borrow something from the Med for the base: it’s a version of peperonata, an Italian pepper ragout. I used bottled peppers for speed and convenience but if you’d prefer to make your own, grill or barbecue the peppers until the skins are black and blistering, then put them in a food-safe plastic bag for half an hour. The skins will peel off easily, if messily. They’ll need slightly longer to cook than the bottled peppers.
Anchovy haters will find that the salty little fish vanish into the sauce, just adding depth of flavour, but if you’re not convinced, swipe a Spanish ingredient and use a handful of diced chorizo instead, thrown into the pan before the onions.
And if I was making this in the summer I’d use fresh, full-flavoured English tomatoes (skinned) but as I’m not, I’ve gone with tinned Italian tomatoes, which are infinitely better than the watery winter offerings from most supermarkets.
Hake with Peperonata
2 thick hake fillets, 300-350g in total
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and sliced into thin half moons
1 stick of celery (optional), finely sliced
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
350g of roasted red peppers, sliced into ribbons
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
4-5 anchovy fillets
1 tbsp capers, drained
2 tbsp black olives, pitted
1/2 tspn chilli flakes or more, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Herbs, to garnish
Pre-heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas Mark 7.
Heat the oil in a deep, oven-proof casserole. Fry the onion and celery, if using, until soft and golden but not browned. Add the garlic and fry gently for two minutes more.
Break up the anchovy fillets and stir them in so they melt into the onions. Add the tomatoes, peppers and chilli flakes and cook on a low to medium heat until thick and soupy.
Stir in the olives and capers and grind in some black pepper. You may not need additional salt, but check and adjust to taste.
Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper then sit them, skin-side down, on the tomato and pepper mix. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the fish is translucent. Don’t overcook it or you’ll spoil what is a delicate fish.
Scoop carefully onto warmed plates, scatter with a few herbs and eat with crusty bread or, in season, baby new potatoes.