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Hake, a treasure in Spanish fish markets

Wiki Spanish Food editorial team

The word "hake" first appeared in a recipe in Aragón dating back to 1397, which called for "half a quintal of rice, two dozen hake and a jar of honey", written in language typical of the era, according to Néstor Luján.

The Catalan word lluç predates the Castilian word for hake, merluza and it's likely that the Catalan expression no siguis lluç, home gave rise to the Castilian version ser un merluzo, both of which mean, essentially, don't be silly, or don't be stupid.

Hake, the top fish in Spanish markets, is said to be popular even among people who don't like fish, at least in Spain. Perhaps for this reason it is one of the most common varieties, due to its versatility and delicate characteristics, its ability to be used in countless recipes, and its availability all year round.

Hake has always been an extremely popular fish in the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. In fact, it extended successfully from Cantabria to the rest of Spain. Its success, however, is relatively recent, as there's evidence that it was rejected by the Greeks and Romans for centuries.

From the Bay of Biscay to Finisterre

Large hake are fished in the Bay of Biscay and also around Finisterre. Those that are fished by longlining near the coast are true treasures, identifiable by their shiny color and the silver reflections on their skin. As a result, they are not exactly inexpensive.

There's also refrigerated hake, which is fresh and is fished by trawling, with the result that quality depends on their subsequent transport. However, these are generally also outstanding, despite the fact that their flesh is very delicate and can deteriorate in the nets.

A third option is frozen, of which there is a large offer at a low cost, which helped contribute to its popularity, although it's very different from the hake caught by longlining. The best option is to buy it fresh and ask the fishmonger to cut it in thick steaks or fillets.

The Basque Country is the birthplace of the best hake recipes, from Gipuzkoa-style, Biscayan-style, Romana-style, stuffed and in green sauce. Another popular food is kokotxas, hake cheeks, which are small, delicious and very highly valued. An excellent dish is hake with hake cheeks and clams. Hake prepared with Asturian cider is also outstanding, and Galician-style hake with potatoes is an exceptional dish.

Hake's quality is often concealed, and there is an old saying to this effect: “Merluza que no está buena ¡salsa en ella!” (essentially, if the hake isn't good, dress it up in a sauce). But you won't find any of that at the restaurants we recommend, as all of them use an exquisite raw material in their cooking.

ADDRESSES

ARZAK. Alto de Miracruz. Tel.: 943 278 465. San Sebastian

ELKANO. Herrerieta, 2. Tel.: 943 140 024. Getaria (Guipúzcoa)

YAYO DAPORTA. Hospital, 7. Tel.: 986 526 062. Cambados (Pontevedra)

ALBORADA. P. Marítimo. Tel.: 981 929 201. A Coruña

EL PESCADOR. Ortega y Gasset, 75. Tel.: 914 021 290. Madrid

CASA DA TROYA. Emiliano Barral, 14. Tel.: 914 164 455. Madrid

DANTXARI. Ventura Rodríguez,8. Tel.: 915 423 524. Madrid

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11/12/2014