Silver Hake, also called whiting in some regions, is a true member of the cod family, of which only cod, haddock, pollock and hake are legitimate members. This flavorful fish is lean and flaky, and is very popular among the Portuguese community, who are brilliant seafood cooks. You may substitute small cod or haddock in this recipe, but if you can purchase hake, I highly recommend that you do. In this recipe, the hake is coated in cornmeal and pan-fried in olive oil. In a separate pan, you make a quick sauce with onions, peppers, tomatoes and olives. When the fish is cooked, the sauce is spooned around the fish. Although the flavor of this sauce is similar to a seafood stew, it is less intense, with lighter flavors and, because the fish is cooked separately, it keeps its natural flavor. The combination is magic. Serve with home fries or plain rice. The sauce for this dish needs to be fresh and light and therefore cannot be made ahead. However you can prepare the tomatoes (step 1) well in advance. You can also cut the vegetables and pit the olives for the sauce earlier in the day, up to 4 hours in advance. For equipment you will need a 2 quart saucepan to blanch the tomatoes, an 8 to 10-inch skillet to make the sauce, a wooden spoon, a 12 or 14-inch well-seasoned cast iron or nonstick skillet for cooking the fish, and a slotted spatula.
For the Sauce:
- 2 medium ripe tomatoes (12 ounces)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, preferably Portuguese
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 whole allspice berries, cracked and finely chopped
- 3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium green bell pepper (about 6 ounces), thinly sliced
- 1 medium onion (about 6 ounces), thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup small black Portuguese or nicoise olives, pitted and rinsed
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To cook the fish:
- 1/4 cup olive oil, preferably Portuguese
- 1 1/2 to 2-pounds hake fillets, trimmed, deboned and skinned; cut into 4 (6 to 8-ounce) portions
- Kosher or sea salt freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups cornmeal
Fill the saucepan halfway with water and bring it to boil over high heat. Score an x at the base of each tomato with a small paring knife. Lower the tomatoes into the boiling water until the skin splits, about 30 seconds. Plunge them into ice water after blanching to stop the cooking. Peel skins from the tomatoes, and cut them in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds, cut the tomatoes into a 1/3-inch slivers (julienne) and set them aside. There will be about 1 1/2 cups.
You should start the sauce about 15 minutes before you want to serve the fish, so start heating up the larger skillet (for the fish) on a medium heat at the same time you begin the sauce. Place the smaller skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil (3 tablespoons) and the bay leaves. Cook the bay leaves until they are lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the allspice and garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the bell pepper and onion and saute, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are golden, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, white wine and olives. Simmer until the sauce is fragrant and has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
Just before you add the tomatoes to the sauce, add the olive oil (1/4 cup) to the preheated large skillet. Quickly season all the fillets with salt and pepper on both sides. Spread the cornmeal into a shallow bowl and dredge the fish portions in the cornmeal, 1 at a time, pressing to make the cornmeal adhere and then gently shaking off the excess. Work quickly and put each fillet into hot oil as you prepare them. As soon as the cornmeal appears to darken, turn the heat down a bit. The key is to have them cooking evenly so that when you turn the fillet, it should be a perfect golden brown. It will take about 3 to 4 minutes per side. The thicker the fish, the slower you should cook it. Turn the fillets, and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Using a slotted spatula, transfer the fish to individual plates or to a platter. Divide the sauce by draping a small amount of the chunky sauce over the fish and spooning the remaining sauce around it. Serve immediately.