Pan-fried Hake with Fennel Confit and Dry Sherry Sauce
Delicious pan-fried hake with crispy golden brown skin and well seasoned with sea salt. Mmmm, that sounds good to me! When we go to restaurants (which I must say does not happen often as we are working most of the time) I like to order fish. We hardly get to eat fish at home as our staff lunches consist of the contents of the fridge, and fish is too expensive for that.
I believe it’s sometimes harder to cook a piece of fish than a piece of meat. The skin has to be crisp and the flesh moist but not under or over cooked. My advice is that the pan must not be too hot, it’s got to be medium-hot so that the skin will crisp beautifully but won’t burn and the flesh will be cooked but not dried out.
Hake brings back fond memories of my earlier days in London working as a chef. I particularly enjoyed working on the fish section and filleting fish was one of the jobs I found most satisfying. Filleting hake is particularly difficult as the bone structure is slightly odd for a round fish, and if you are not careful it is easy to let your knife slip so you lose the prime thick parts of the fillet. The flake of the fish is also large which makes it quite hard to handle, and if you are too heavy-handed then the fish may flake to pieces in your hands. But, please do not be put off by this, simply ask your fishmonger to do all the tricky hard work for you. If you do have a choice, ask your fishmonger for portions from a 2–3kg fish, as they are larger but the fillets are chunkier and cook up a treat (a far cry from the battered hake from the local chippie!).
For the fennel confit
- 1 fennel bulb
- 200ml olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 bay leaf
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
For the dry sherry sauce
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 fennel bulb, finely sliced
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 60g celery, finely sliced
- 1 banana shallot, finely sliced
- 125ml dry sherry
- 500ml fish stock
- 125ml double cream
For the sautéed potatoes and seashore vegetables
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 12 new potatoes, cooked and sliced
- 100g samphire
- 50g sea purslane
- 50g sea aster
For the pan-fried hake
- 6 x 150g hake fillet portions, skin on, scaled and bones removed
- 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
First prepare the fennel confit. Cut the fennel in half lengthways and then slice into 5mm-thick pieces. Place the fennel, olive oil, garlic, bay leaf and salt and pepper in a small saucepan. Place a cartouche (a circle of greaseproof paper) on the surface and cook over a low heat. Once the oil reaches 50°C, remove from the heat and place the pan in a warm place (on top of an oven or pan rack over the cooker) for about 30 minutes until the fennel is softened but not puréed. Drain the fennel, reserving the fennel and discarding the oil and bay leaf. Keep the fennel warm until you are ready to serve.
Meanwhile, prepare the dry sherry sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat, add the fennel, garlic, celery, shallot and salt and pepper and sauté for 7–8 minutes or until golden brown, stirring continuously to prevent any catching. Once the vegetables are golden brown and softened, add the sherry and let it bubble over a high heat for about 2 minutes, stirring and scraping the base of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze it. Add the stock and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes, then add the cream and bring the sauce back to the boil for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and blend the sauce until smooth, then pass it through a fine sieve into the rinsed-out pan. If it is too thick, add a little extra fish stock, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Reheat gently until hot, then keep warm until you are ready to serve.
For the sautéed potatoes, melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan, add the sliced potatoes with salt and pepper and sauté for about 6 minutes or until golden brown on both sides. Add the mixed seashore vegetables for the final 30 seconds of the cooking time.
While the potatoes are sautéing, pan-fry the hake. Season the hake portions with salt and pepper. Heat the rapeseed oil in a separate non-stick frying pan until hot, then add the hake portions to the hot pan, skin-side down, and pan-fry for 4–5 minutes or until the skin is golden brown and crisp. Turn the fish over and cook for a further 2 minutes or so on the flesh side.
To serve, mix the fennel confit with the sautéed potatoes and seashore vegetables. Divide this mixture between 6 warm serving plates. Place a portion of pan-fried hake onto each plate. Froth the hot sherry sauce (using a hand-held blender), and serve it over the fish. Serve immediately.