Merluza (Hake) a la Romana

Not your greasy fish and chips.

That Merluza, or hake, is not expensive and is the most regularly eaten fish in Spain, does not diminish how highly it is prized. It is found in a variety of recipes, but this is the classic and most ubiquitous.

Back in my Rhode Island days I got hake by pre-order from my fishmonger. Commercial fisheries here only snag it as by-catch, so it is not actively brought to market except at Portuguese-American stores where finding it is hit-or-miss. In the Pacific Northwest, I found that Asian seafood markets regularly carry lingcod and black cod, which are suitably delicate and semi- transparent for the dish. But often enough, I will use haddock or cod.

Ingredients:

– 1 lb. fresh hake filet or suitable substitute, cut into 5 or 6 pieces
– 2 large eggs, beaten
– 6 tbsp flour
– olive oil

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 200⁰ F. Heat oil as deep as 1/2 the thickness of the filets in a skillet at med. high. to frying temperature. Dredge each piece of fish in flour to completely coat, pat to make flour cling well, dip in beaten egg to completely cover, allowing excess to drip back into the bowl, then lay in the skillet. Repeat for as many pieces as fit into the skillet without crowding.

Starting with the first piece into the skillet, check bottom and flip when the egg coating is a mottled light golden brown. Repeat for each piece in the order they went into the skillet, reducing heat as needed to keep filets from getting dark brown before they can cook through, leaving thicker pieces longer to cook through. Remove pieces to a platter and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with any remaining pieces of fish.

Serve the warm platter to the table. A coastal Spaniard would say truly fresh fish does not need lemon, but I like a squeeze or two, so I put lemon wedges on the platter. Otherwise avoid the tartar or cocktail sauces. This is not your usual greasy fish ‘n chips, but a more delicate presentation where you can actually savor the fish flavor, and be healthy rather than artery hardening. It is perfect with an onion, tomato and lettuce salad, lightly salted with a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar, and a mere garnish of pan, not deep oil, fried potatoes.

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