The garlic cream and roast pepper and basil oil can be prepared ahead for this dish, making the final assembly rather easy.

Ingredients

Salting fish has been used as a way of preserving fish for time immemorial.  Many people will have seen large fillets of heavily salted fish in European markets or further afield. They are quite a sight when hard as board, hanging or stacked high, they look like an ingredient from times past and the uninitiated may be perplexed.  

At first glance, it seems almost impossible that this rather odd-looking ingredient could be transformed into something delicious to eat. Personally, I find them intriguing to observe and quite beautiful in an unconventional way. There is a quality to their presentation that would not seem out of place in a gallery displaying modern and contemporary art.

The appearance of the dried and salty fillets suggests great age even though it is often just weeks old.  I remember seeing fillets of salted fish hanging on a clothesline near the fishing village of Ballycotton in Cork – an extraordinary sight for a young boy from the landlocked midlands. 

The fish in this recipe is salted not to preserve it, but to change the texture and flavour for gentle poaching at a later stage. The process gives the fish a toothsome quality combining heightened flavour and a firmer texture. Many fish can be salted, here I am using hake which produces a beautifully white and firm result but cod is also wonderful. Less glamorous species such as Pollock and ling are in my opinion greatly improved by a light salting. 

The garlic cream and roast pepper and basil oil can be prepared ahead for this dish, making the final assembly rather easy. Serve with fluffy mashed potatoes or boiled new potatoes and a green vegetable.

Serves: 4 as a main course or 8 as a starter

Salted Hake

  • 4 pieces of hake, c 150g each, filleted and skinned
  • 50g Maldon sea salt 
  • 75ml cream
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic crushed

Roast Pepper and Basil oil

  • 1 large red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons vino cotto or balsamic vinegar
  • 6-8 basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Scatter half of the salt over the base of a dish that the hake will fit into snugly. Put the hake on the salt and scatter with the remaining salt. Pat the salt on to the surface of the fish. Cover and chill for 4 hours. While the fish is salting, prepare the pepper and basil oil. 
  2. Place the red pepper on an oven tray, rub all over with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a hot oven, 220c for c 30 minutes. The pepper should be well coloured, the skin blistered and starting to collapse.
  3. Remove from the oven, place in a bowl and seal tightly with cling film, and allow to cool. When cool, peel off the skin and remove the seeds. Cut the pepper flesh into very neat dice, c ¼ in / 5mm pieces.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and dress with the olive oil and a few drops of vino cotto or balsamic vinegar. Chop or tear the basil finely and immediately stir through the peppers and oil. Retain at room temperature.
  5.  After the salting period, remove the fish and rinse off the salt thoroughly under a cold running tap. Place the fish in a saucepan ensuring a snug fit and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for 6 to10 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through. Pour off the cooking water, draining it well.
  6. In a separate small saucepan, heat the cream, olive oil and garlic to just under boiling point and pourover to the fish. Bring the fish and cream back to a bare simmer.
  7. To assemble the dish, transfer the fish to a large heated serving dish or individual plates. Pour the hot cream over the fish and drizzle the peppers and some of the basil infused oil over the top.
  8. Serve immediately.