Merluza a la Gallega is a typical hake dish from Galicia. Merluza a la Gallega is a fairly simple dish of potatoes, onion and hake made special with a garlic and pimentón Ajada sauce. Galicia is a large autonomous region in the north west of Spain on the Atlantic coast. The main sources of income in this area are farming and fishing. Being next to ocean, Galicia has a much cooler and wetter climate than the South of Spain and is known for it’s dairy farming. It is famous for it’s beef (very popular with Basque chefs), coming from Rubia Gallega dairy cows which are put out to grass when their milking days are over. They literally spend years grazing (until they are 8 – 18 years old) which makes for beautifully tasty and tender meat, currently fetching a high price internationally.
Hake is a firm fleshed, white fish, with a very solid spine – it has few little bones and is easy to slice or fillet. Hake isn’t highly prized in Britain, though there are a lots of them in British waters – most get exported to Spain, where it’s one of the most popular fish. Interestingly, many British fishing boats are owned by Galician famillies. Hake is still fairly cheap, often selling for €6.99 per kg in the Boqueria and about £8.99 in the UK. Relative to conservation, Merluccius merluccius, the European hake, is not considered to be an endangered species.
Receta de Merluza a la Gallega (serves 3):
500g (1lb) hake (sliced across the bone)
1 large onion (cut in half then sliced)
3 or 4 medium sized potatoes (peeled and sliced)
2 bay leaves
a glass dry white wine
1/2 pint fish stock
water to cover the potatoes and onions
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
chopped parsley (to serve)
First, as with all white fish, sprinkle on a little salt on both sizes, an hour before cooking. This firms up the flesh and helps to bring out the flavour.
Peel the potatoes and slice them quite thickly. Cut the onion in half and then into thinner slices than the potatoes. Layer these vegetables in a large saucepan. Pour on a glass of dry white wine and 1/2 pint of fish stock. Add water just enough to cover. This is commonly cooked with water alone, but the wine and fish stock give it an extra litttle kick.
Season with sea salt and cracked black pepper, sink 2 bay leaves into the liquid and bring to a boil. Immediately turn the heat down to a simmer.
When the potatoes are tender to the fork (about 15 minutes) sit the hake steaks on top and put the lid back on for 5 minutes, or until the fish looks done. Take the dish off the heat.
Next make the Ajada – gently fry the sliced garlic (ajos laminados) in olive oil until it starts to brown.
Immediately add the pimentón and remove from the heat while stirring.
Splash on the sherry vinegar and return to the heat.
Pour on 2 cups of stock from the fish and potatoes – cook for a couple of minutes to reduce slightly.
Arrange the potatoes, onions and hake in a serving dish. Add some of the cooking liquid, but not all of it (reserve that for another day). Drizzle the fish with the Ajada and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve with fresh peas and broad beans.