What to Cook Tonight: Tagine of Hake and Fennel

Tagine of Hake and Fennel with Samphire and Couscous

Every time I eat fish, I always end up asking myself, ?Why don't I eat more fish??, particularly after having this fish dish. Jonathan, one of our chefs at Brother Hubbard, developed this dish for our autumn evening menu, but it would work well at any time of the year. This is a wonderfully fragrant dish that is actually quite easy to make and can be easily bulked up for a larger group. This might not be a tagine in the purest sense, but it fits in well with that style of food.

Serves 4

Ingredients
olive oil
2 red peppers (or a mix of colours), deseeded, halved and each half cut lengthways into 3 wedges
1 medium bulb of fennel (about 200g), topped and tailed and cut lengthways into 2cm-thick slices
1 medium red onion, finely diced
3-4 celery sticks (about 140g), finely diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
50-100g okra, topped (optional)
4 fresh hake fillets
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and roughly ground
2 tsp caraway seeds, toasted and finely ground
1 tsp smoked or sweet paprika (not hot!)
? tsp ground allspice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 lemon

To serve
samphire (optional)
fresh coriander and/or flat-leaf parsley, stalks finely chopped and leaves roughly chopped
1 dessertspoon finely diced preserved lemon (skin only) (optional)
couscous or brown rice
lemon or lime wedges (optional)

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Method
First off, get your sauce on the go. In a large saucepan, heat up enough oil to barely cover the bottom of the pan, then add the peppers, fennel, onion, celery and garlic. Press enough baking parchment over the surface of the vegetables to cover them, then pop the lid on and leave on a medium-low heat for 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally and adding the okra after about 10 minutes, if using. You will know when the vegetables are adequately cooked by testing some between your fingers - they should be soft without any real crunch, except for the fennel, which ideally should retain a little more texture (but it's not a big issue if this isn't the case for you!).

While that's all happening, prepare the hake. We leave the skin on when serving because it's perfectly edible and is less work. Trim the fillets so they are each of an even size, feeling the flesh to pull out any bones. Keep any off-cuts to one side, as these will be added to the base sauce later.

When your vegetables are adequately sweated, add the chopped tomatoes, spices, a little salt and pepper and any fleshy off-cuts from the hake. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, uncovered so the sauce will thicken, stirring occasionally. The sauce will have reduced to a thicker, pasta sauce-like consistency and shouldn't be too runny. At this stage, take the pan off the heat and taste, adjusting the flavouring with lemon, seasoning or a little more spice. You're aiming for a nice, fragrant sauce, so keep at it until it's delicious! Keep the sauce piping hot.

Around this time, preheat the oven to 180?C. Next prepare your samphire, if using, by bringing a pot of water to the boil and adding the samphire for 1 minute (no salt needed, as samphire is naturally quite salty). Drain the samphire in a sieve and rinse with hot water from a pot or your kettle. Shake the samphire well and pop into a bowl, tossing with a dash of olive oil and coarsely ground black pepper.

To cook the hake, put a frying pan on a medium-high heat and add a dash of oil once it's hot. Add 1 or 2 hake fillets, skin side down, and fry for 2 minutes to get the skin lovely and crisp. Remove to a plate lined with kitchen paper and repeat for the remaining hake.

Pour the piping hot sauce into a large, wide baking dish and place the fillets on top, skin side up. Pop into the oven for 10-12 minutes.

To serve, either plate up individual portions or, as I always prefer, finish the dish in the baking tray and serve at the table. To finish, scatter the warm samphire on top along with a decent sprinkle of the chopped herbs and the finely diced preserved lemon, if using. Bring to the table and serve in bowls with a big bowl of couscous or brown rice, perhaps with some lemon or lime wedges at the table for people to squeeze over.

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Tips and tricks

Try the same technique with other fish, such as cod, plaice, salmon or even a mixture.

The base sauce can be made well ahead of time and kept in the fridge - in fact, it's one of those sauces that will be better after being left for a day or two.

We are big fans of batch cooking, so you are welcome to make a much bigger batch of the sauce and freeze it. Then, when you want to make this dish again, just defrost your sauce and reheat it and then you've only got the fish and couscous to worry about!

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Extracted from The Brother Hubbard Cookbook by Garrett Fitzgerald (Gill Books, €27.99).

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