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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Merlu – Hake, the Popular White Fish. Hake in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan Newman

Fresh hake.
Merlu, Merlu Européen or  Colin  - Hake and European Hake.  
Merluchon, Colinot, Petit Merlu are diminutive names used for small fish from the European hake and pollack families. On the menu, these names often indicate that the fish may be served whole.   

Hake is a member of the cod family with a white flaky texture and a mild flavor that is often hidden with the cooking or with the sauces with which it is served.  French chefs appreciate hake as it is a very adaptable fish, and so it may be offered with a wide range of recipes. Hake may weigh fifteen kilos or more,  but most hake off France’s coasts are caught when weighing from one to three kilos and they will be on the menu sautéed, grilled, baked and poached.

Grilled hake
Fresh hake, on French menus, come from the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Frozen hake filets in the supermarket will come from North East Atlantic and as far afield as Argentina.  A great deal of France’s local catch of hake goes to Spain where hake is the most popular fish; in France, the most popular fish is hake’s cousin cod.
N.B. Colin is one of this fish's French names, and Colin may also be used for lieu noir, saithe, or lieu jaune, pollack.  They are all fine tasting fish from the same family and not easily identified when cooked and served as filets.
Hake on French menus:
Dos de Merlu de Ligne Sauce Vierge, Risotto Safrané aux Moules A thick cut of hake caught on a fishing line and served with a sauce vierge accompanied by a risotto with mussels flavored with saffron. Sauce Vierge translates as a virgin sauce. The name comes from the use of virgin olive oil, fresh tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, basil, red wine vinegar, salt and black pepper. The sauce will be served warm but not cooked as virgin olive oil loses its flavor when heated. The sauce will be drizzled on the fish just before it is served.
Dos de Merlu Poêlé et Sauce au Beurre Blanc – A thick cut of hake fried and served with a white butter sauce. Beurre blanc is sauce is made with butter, a dry white wine, lemon, and shallots and named after the city of Nantes. Nantes is a lovely city and the capital of the department of Loire-Atlantique department in the region of the Pays de la Loire.
Hake with spinach.
Escalope de Merlu Grillée, Déclinaison de Courgettes aux Herbes – A filet of grilled hake served with an arrangement of courgettes, zucchini, flavored with herbs. An escalope is traditionally used to describe a thin cut of veal, an escalope de veau. On this menu listing the chef has clearly got fed up with using the word filet and changed the word to escalope; nevertheless, an escalope of fish is still a filet of fish.

Filet de Merlu à la Crème de Champignons – A filet of European Hake served with a creamy button mushroom sauce.
Grilled hake with a butter sauce.

Merlu de Ligne de la Criée de St Jean de Luz, Confit de Tomate, Sauce Xipister – Hake, caught on a fishing line and bought in the wholesale fish auction of St Jean de Luz served with a thick tomato sauce and Sauce Xipister.  St Jean de Luzon is an important fishing port on the Atlantic coast of the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the Pays Basque. Sauce Xipister, is a vinaigrette sauce from the Pays Basque made with olive oil, wine or Basque cider vinegar, garlic, herbs and Espelette pepper.

Baked hake with eggplant,
tomato, basil and crushed black olives
Photograph courtesy of Joselu Blanco

N.B. Menu listings that note that hake was caught with a fishing line may make a difference if the same fish had been farm raised.  However, hake is only caught in the wild; there are no hake fish farms.  Hake are either caught with trawls or with tens if not hundreds of trailing fishing lines. Enjoy the hake on the menu but don’t pay extra for hake caught on a fishing line.
N.B. Merluche is white hake, a different fish. White hake is caught in the Western Atlantic and reaches France as frozen filets.

Hake in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan - lluç), (Dutch – heek, stokvis), (German - seehecht). (Italian - nasello),  (Spanish – pijotilla).
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Bryan G. Newman

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