Hake in Green Sauce with Asparagus (merluza en salsa verde con espárragos)

This mouthwatering fish recipe is inspired by the Basque region of Spain. The hake is infused with garlic, olive oil and parsley, then served with asparagus.

The Food of Spain
From the book The Food of Spain
Claudia Roden


Fishermen in the north of Spain around the Bay of Biscay caught hake when they went whaling in the northern seas and the Basque chefs gave this long slender fish with a delicate flesh a prestigious place in Spanish gastronomy. This is a favourite Basque recipe for cooking hake, but you can use other fish such as monkfish or cod in the same way. Parsley is the Basque herb par excellence. They use it at least four times as much as in any other part of Spain. The sauce in this dish, made with olive oil, garlic and parsley, acquires an unctuous texture from the fish itself. The skin plays a part too, so do not remove it. This version, with asparagus, is also called a la koskera. The asparagus cooking water is part of the sauce.

Serves 2


1 bunch asparagus (about 200g), hard ends removed
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
4 tbsp mild extra virgin olive oil
1½ tsp plain flour
2 tbsp very finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 x 200g hake steaks, on the bone


Boil the asparagus for about 4 or 5 minutes in enough salted water to cover them until they are tender. Drain, and keep the cooking water.

In a large frying pan stir the garlic with the oil over a gentle heat for a few seconds only until the aroma rises. Do not let it brown. Add the flour and stir for a minute or so. Add the parsley, then gradually add 250ml of the reserved cooking water from the asparagus, a little at a time, stirring vigorously. Add a pinch of salt and simmer uncovered over a medium heat for about 8 minutes until the sauce thickens a little.

Put in the fish steaks. Now shake the pan in a rotating manner without removing it from the heat, so as to swirl the fish steaks very gently around (or you can cheat by moving the steaks around using a wooden spoon). This allows the white liquid they release to mix with the sauce, giving it a slightly gelatinous texture.

Turn the fish steaks over after 5 minutes, arrange the asparagus around them, and cook over a low heat for 3 to 5 minutes until the fish only just begins to flake away from the bone when you cut into it with a pointed knife.

Use peas instead of asparagus.

Make it without asparagus and use 250ml of fish stock instead of the asparagus cooking water. Add 8 to 10 clams when you have turned over the fish steaks, and cook with the lid on to steam them open.

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