Not a lot of seafood can beat white fish in versatility, mildness of flavour and ease of preparation. But aside from the top-selling cod and haddock, have you spent some time getting to know the other white fish in the market?
Hake is one of these well-kept secrets of the white fish family. Let’s get to know this fish and find out why you should be adding this to your next grocery list.
What is Hake?
Hake is a species of white fish belonging to the cod family. There are about 13 varieties that are commercially fished in shallow and deep waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. In the UK, hake are caught in the North Sea, the Irish Sea, and the English Channel.
The species caught in British waters is called European hake, sometimes also called whiting, Cornish salmon or herring hake. These are long, slender fish with a large head, pointed snout and a full mouth of curved, large teeth. They have a silver-gray body with a dark stripe along the back. Hake can grow up to 100cm long and weigh up to 3 kilos.
European hake (which we shall call ‘hake’ for simplicity for the rest of this article) are bottom-dwelling fish, and are found in depths of 70 to 1,000 meters. These predators feed on a variety of fish, squid, and crustaceans.
What does hake taste like: hake vs. cod vs. haddock?
Like other white fish, hake has a mild, slightly meaty flavour that is very versatile in terms of method of cooking and cuisines. It has a subtle sweetness compared to its cousin the cod, which has a slightly saltier taste, and the haddock which is slightly fishier.
Hake also has a softer, more delicate texture. When cooked, its flakes are smaller compared to the firmer cod and haddock. Because of the tenderness of its meat it tends to be fragile and perishable, so be sure to buy from trusted and reputable fishmongers. And because it’s a lean fish, avoid overcooking to prevent it from drying out.
Is hake better than cod or haddock?
With its more popular cousins among the top 5 seafood consumed in the UK, it seems tough for the hake to compete and stand out. But in terms of taste, they are very similar. You can use any of them for your fish and chips, and many other dishes requiring white fish. All of these fish are equally versatile and can be baked, broiled, grilled, deep-fried, pan-fried, cooked en papillote or roasted.
Hake is comparable in price to cod and haddock as well, and even in terms of nutritional profile. They are all good sources of low-fat protein, and as such is a low-calorie fish. They are excellent sources of healthful vitamins and minerals like B vitamins, phosphorus and selenium.
How about seasonality? As cod and haddock are cold-water fish, you will find fresh cod and haddock abundant in the autumn and winter months. Meanwhile, hake prefers warmer waters so the peak season to enjoy hake fresh is in spring and summer. This works out so you can have a great rotation of fresh white fish throughout the year. You won’t have to settle for frozen varieties when one is out of season. And you can help relieve the pressure on populations of the more popular cod and haddock.
So, which one is better? It all depends on personal preference when it comes to the subtle differences in flavour and texture. But perhaps one factor going for hake is it scores better in the sustainability category.
Is hake a sustainable fish?
After suffering from overfishing in the 1990s, hake populations have recovered to healthier levels. Some local fisheries have changed their fishing methods and equipment to support the long-term health of the hake population.
Some examples of these sustainable features in fisheries include:
- A limited number of fishing days: The fishery is only allowed to fish for a limited number of days each year, which helps to protect the hake population.
- A minimum mesh size: The fishery uses a minimum mesh size of 120 mm, which helps to prevent the catch of small, juvenile hake.
- Bycatch reduction: The fishery uses pingers to deter dolphins and other cetaceans from being caught in the nets.
Well-regulated fishing methods and efforts to minimize bycatch remain in place. As a result hake populations remain stable, ensuring a sustainable supply for future generations.
What are the best ways to enjoy hake?
As a versatile white fish, hake can be prepared in a multitude of ways and work with many different spices and flavour profiles. In Spain, where hake is a very popular seafood (in fact their national fish), they cook it with a lot of garlic and paprika. But the foodies in various parts of the world have also combined it with bacon, coconut, saffron, dill, cream and parmesan. What mouth-watering culinary delights can you make with this underappreciated fish?
Grilled Hake Steak
Try this simple recipe that will showcase the freshness of this light-tasting fish. A hake steak will have some bones on the inside, will hold up better on the grill and be more flavourful as well. Add a zesty herb butter, made with a combination of softened butter, fresh herbs like parsley, dill, or thyme, minced garlic, and a touch of lemon zest. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice adds a bright citrus note, enhancing the overall freshness of the dish.
Hake Fillet with Salsa Verde
You can pan-fry or bake hake fillets for this dish. The salsa verde is a bright and herbaceous sauce made with a medley of fresh ingredients. It typically includes fresh parsley, basil, capers, garlic, lemon juice or white wine vinegar, and olive oil.
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Whole Roasted Hake with Mediterranean Tomatoes and Olives
For even more flavour, why not try roasting a whole hake with a Mediterranean flair?
Create a mix of cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, minced garlic, fresh thyme leaves, extra virgin olive oil, and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. The moist and delicate hake mingles with the roasted sweetness of the tomatoes and the briny richness of the olives. You can garnish the dish with fresh parsley, adding a touch of freshness and color to the presentation.
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Are you inspired to put some sea bass on the menu this week?
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Want to Try Hake?
You can start easy and go for the cleaned, de-scaled and deboned hake fillets. Order for your fresh hake fillets here.
If you want more flavour and the dramatic presentation of a whole fresh fish, place your order here for fresh whole hake.
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