Corned hake is an old-timey recipe that many fishing families along the coast of Maine know and love. And like a lot of regional or family recipes, everyone has their own tricks and ways of making it. I was introduced to corned hake by my husband, a Maine lobsterman. I love the flavor grouping of both the traditional recipe, as well as messing around with other flavor combinations. The traditional corned hake recipe is basically: corned hake (salted fish), boiled potatoes, bacon or salt pork, fat renderings from the pork, and pickled onions.
The original recipe was created because people needed food that could be found through the winter, was easily stored and lasted for a long time. Hake doesn’t freeze well but it takes to being salted well, and that prolongs how long it can be stored. Thanks to refrigeration and what have you, the salting part of the recipe is no longer necessary, but a lot of families still love and appreciate the flavor and process.
I love corned hake, so we have it quite a bit. But I don’t always have everything on hand so I started to supplementing various fats and acids and I found that as long as you stick to some combination of fish, starch, salty meat, fat, and acid, that the combination of flavors and taste is still reminiscent of the original recipe.
If you pick an ingredient from each list below, you’ll get an updated recipe for corned hake, no salting of the fish necessary. Find a nice fish that’s in season and caught not too far away from where you live. (You can learn a little bit about picking seafood HERE.) It doesn’t have to be hake, that’s what is so great about this combination. This can be prepared and served warm or you can get all of the ingredients together and assemble them cold for breakfast. (Yes, fish is good cold, too.)
Note: Prepare the fish either by baking, broiling, or pan-frying. The recipe is meant to be simple so just use salt, pepper, and a little butter. If you add more seasoning it will mess with the simplicity and combination of elements. Also, keep in mind this recipe is meant to be hearty and homemade so don’t feel pressured to maintain the structure of the fillet and embrace Wabi-sabi. (Wabi-sabi is about finding the beauty in imperfections.) Also, there is good fat in the recipe, so I’d avoid fattier fish like mackerel and salmon.
· Sweet potatoes
· Butternut squash
· Spaghetti squash
· Acorn squash
· Carrots and broccoli (Although less starchy they can stand up to the fat and salt.)
Preparation: Roast, bake, boil, or broil!
· Salt pork
Preparation: Traditionally, the bacon or salt pork is rendered in a pan till it’s crispy and then sprinkled on top of the fish and potatoes. I like to keep this pretty consistent and recommend doing the same in your sporty version regardless of if you are choosing to use the fat rendering or not. My trick for cooking prosciutto is to put it on a baking sheet with a rack and then put it in a COLD oven. Set the oven to 425 and after it comes to temperature keep an eye on it because prosciutto cooks pretty quickly. Let it sit for a few minutes after you pull it out of the oven and then it will kinda shatter into pieces and be perfect for sprinkling on top. (Make sure to use Pam or a cooking rack on the pan or it will stick.)
Pescetarian? Just don’t use this element.
· Bacon fat rendering
· Salt pork fat rendering
· Artichoke hearts in oil
· Walnuts, cashews, almonds (Crush them up a bit so you can sprinkle them on.)
· Boiled eggs
· Extra-virgin olive oil
Preparation: Chop up one (or more, go crazy) of these fats to serve on top or on the side of the fish.
· Pickled onions
· Pickled fennel
· Pickled okra
· Pickled asparagus
· Dill pickles
After you prepare all the above ingredients, I recommend using the fish and starch as the base and then sprinkling the salty meat component on top. From there I pour the fat over if I’m using a liquid fat, or I put the fat like the avocados on the side. The pickled ingredient also goes on the side.