hake with olive oil, butter, and lemon
Things they should tell you when you’re writing a book.
- You will spend three times as much time on it as you think you will. Plan accordingly.
- Life will happen as you fast-approach deadline and you have to juggle it.
- On Monday, you might this it’s Friday, and on Wednesday you might think it’s Monday. Days of the week will cease to have the same meaning they do for people with regular desk jobs.
- You will treat taking a shower as a major accomplishment. At times, you will skip it and not think twice on your decision. But when you do, you will pat yourself on the back if only inside your head.
- As for getting dressed, you might find yourself at 2 o’clock in the afternoon still in your pajamas. And you’ve been writing since 7 am. You might stay like this ‘til dinnertime and change into shorts and a tanktop before your husband comes home for dinner.
- Your idea of a nutritious meal will be peanut butter toast and coffee. Anything requiring chopping, stirring, kneading, and most importantly, clean up – are way too time consuming. Dishes with crumbs will pile up by your desk or on the coffee table.
- You will order more take-out than you care to admit to others. And it won’t be the cooking that you won’t have time for – but the clean up.
- You will develop that weird cramp in your shoulder which will switch sides on occasion, but will be mostly persistent in one pesky spot. Aleve and Advil will fail you. So will a chair massage in a local nail salon. You might even stop noticing it for awhile or accept it as the new phase your body has entered. Much like that one stray grey hair you found the other morning, but chose to pluck before it saw the light of day.
- You will ask for an extension. You will be granted an extension. You’ll feel terrible about because you’ve never, not once in your life, handed something in late.
- You will fret and worry that everything you wrote, every single word will be shit writing, that people will hate it, that no one will buy the book. Aside from failed sales, you’ll just be wonder if what you wrote really is shit writing. If anyone will care. If it will be too precious.
- Even though the recipes have all been tested a gazillion times, you dread that one email or review where a reader will eviscerate you and your recipes claiming that none of them work. He or she will politely omit the fact that they swapped out butter for a vegetable spread, cream for skim milk, and used 1 egg less than indicated because haven’t you heard about cholesterol?
- You will wonder how people with children do this – how, really, when you spend 14 hours a day at the computer, not showering, subsisting on toast and tea.
- And just when you think you’re ready submit, a few last minute changes come up and you are back to being in your pajamas, unshowered, editing.
I feel like the above should a memo everyone should get. Actually, make that an addendum to your contract.
This summer, my life consisted of fourteen hour days, no weekends, and a gym membership that’s gathering dust. I think, somewhere in there, this happened. And since we got back from New England, I’ve been somewhat of a social recluse – writing a book(*) will do that to you.
Cooking, as I hinted at above, in the last week and a half or so, has come to a screeching halt. There’s a cake I’m dying to share with you (the one I finally got right before I lost track of days of the week and stopped showering), but I have to take pictures of it again because that single, blurry Instagram shot, somehow, feels inadequate. Or maybe it’ll do – you tell me.
But there’s been one thing I haven’t been able to stop cooking, and have been making pretty reliably on a weekly basis, and it’s this hake here.
Every Saturday morning I go to our local greenmarket and always stop by the local fish stand. I buy whatever’s available and whatever our budget allows; it’s a fun little Venn diagram if you visualize it. Most of the fish is reasonably priced, considering the fish is line-caught by a handful of folks. I love the feeling of buying fish that has never been frozen; it has a totally different texture and smell than even the finest store-bought fish. And when you cook it – there’s simply no contest.
For someone who doesn’t have an addictive personality, I sure have gotten hooked on hake. I’ve been buying it weekly, so much so that Saturday night is now fish (ahem, hake) night at our house. It might sound boring, but I find the predictability and routine of it rather comforting.
The first time I bought hake, I asked the guy who sold it to me how he would recommend we make it at home. He gave me a general guideline: cook at around 375 (but no higher) and you should be fine. He said he liked it baked or in fish tacos. And since breading and deep-frying involved extensive clean-up, I went the baking route. And now look at me – you’d think I was stuck in a rut.
Sometimes, I switch things up a bit. Like how big of a pat of butter I add to the pan. If I’m feeling generous to myself (and to my thighs), a bigger pat of butter slides right into the pan. Otherwise, I stick to the proportions below and don’t think twice. Lately, more often than not, I’ve been feeling generous, so you can figure out the rest. It doesn’t hurt either that most people have pretty much all the ingredients at any given time in their pantry. I happen to (unsuccessfully) grow thyme on my windowsill and it’s great to have on hand. I think any herb that’s not overly potent should do. I’d avoid rosemary because once you’ve gone rosemary, there isn’t going back.
I won’t beat around the bush – this is as simple as simple gets. I am probably violating all kinds of fish cooking techniques and any minute now, a stern looking gentleman will knock on my door, introduce himself as fish cooking police, and reprimand me for poor fish cooking practices. I’ll be in big trouble then. But trouble or not, techniques be damned, this hake here is so delicious, so light and flaky, and, dare I say, buttery, I dare you to make it just once and forget about it. Your move.
(*)The book I’ve been so mysteriously alluding to for over half a year, is a cookbook I’m writing with Iron Chef Marc Forgione whose amazing restaurant (bearing his name) is in Tribeca. I can’t wait to share more with you in time!
Baked Hake with Olive Oil, Butter and Lemon
The recipe below makes enough for 4. In the pictures above, I only made enough dinner for 2 people, hence the difference in pan sizes and shapes. Keep in mind that the time your fish cooks will vary depending on how thick your fish pieces are and also how hot/cold your oven runs. You should be able to calibrate this recipe within one or two cooking attempts.
2 pounds hake, cut into individual portions
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 to 6 fresh thyme sprigs
Juice of 2 lemons
Freshly ground black pepper
A few lemon slices, optional
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F; position the rack in the middle. Rinse and pat the fish dry.
2. In a 9×13-inch nonreactive roasting pan set over medium heat (you might need to set it over 2 burners), add the olive oil, butter, and the thyme, and warm ountil the butter melts and is foamy – while this is happening, the thyme is infusing the fat. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice.
2. Season the fish liberally with salt and a touch of pepper. Don’t be afraid to salt the fish – it can take it. Place the seasoned fish pieces in the roasting pan and add a few lemon slices, if using.Transfer the fish in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the fish starts to flake when pressed gently with a finger; or when a cake tester inserted in the fish for 10 seconds feels warm to touch when pressed against your lower lip. Serve immediately.