This is a rustic, Iberian-inspired concoction, the addition of coriander steering it more towards southern Portugal than Spain. Portugal is alone among Western European countries in using this aromatic herb enthusiastically in its own cuisine. I have always assumed it arrived there with the Moors, but then why isn’t it more commonly used in Andalucia? Answers on a postcard, please…
The fish in this recipe, hake, also links to the tables of southwest Europe, where it is known as merluza or pescada (the latter seems to mean simply “fished”, implying, perhaps, that there is no other fish worth mentioning). It has always been far more popular there than here, though it increasingly makes its way onto British fishmonger’s slabs thanks to Cornish boats that specifically target the fish. The white, flaky flesh is delicious and needs only the simplest of cooking.
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra as needed
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped
4 decent cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
1 heaped tsp fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200ml dry white wine
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp sugar
500ml fish stock
2 x 400g tinned/jarred butter beans, drained (and rinsed if necessary)
800g hake fillets, skin on
Two small handfuls fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 200C / 180C Fan / Gas 6.
Heat the 4 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions, fennel, garlic, fennel seed and bay leaves, plus 1 tsp salt, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, but not brown.
Pour in the wine and bubble away for 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes, sugar, paprika and fish stock. Stir together and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until reduced and slightly thickened. Crush the tomatoes with a spoon occasionally to help them break up.
Stir in the drained butterbeans and cook for another 5 minutes, then mix in most of the coriander. Grind in plenty of black pepper, then taste and add more salt if necessary. Put to one side somewhere warm.
Meanwhile, season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper and rub all over with olive oil. Place in a small roasting tin and put in the preheated oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until just cooked through.
Divide the beans between four shallow bowls and place a fillet on each one. Trickle with a little more olive oil and scatter sparingly with a few extra coriander leaves.
You could, if you wanted, add a squeeze of lemon juice and/or a blob of aioli.