Hake With Pil-Pil

Pil-pil is just about as classic and traditional as Basque regional cooking can get. Whereas the Basques would normally make pil-pil with bacalao (cod), the recipe that I'm sharing with you here uses lluçet, or wild hake, with a touch of English fusion thrown in for good measure.


1 hake, filleted
2 cloves garlic
1 guindilla chilli
1 cod skin
1 Granny Smith apple
1 bunch chives
olive oil

European hake, or lluçet in CatalanThe term pil-pil essentially describes the process by which fish is cooked and served in the Basque Country. Pil-pil is also the name given to the sauce that results from the cooking process. This is based on an emulsion created between the olive oil in which the fish is cooked and the natural gelatin extracted from the skin of the fish during a long and slow cooking. The end result is a thick white sauce that has an appearance quite similar to mayonnaise, but with a strong fishiness and an almost glue-like texture.

The dish is usually made using bacalao (cod), as its skin has the perfect amount of gelatin for creating the all-important emulsion. So when cooking hake pil-pil, it's a good idea to buy some cod skin (this is available inexpensively from wholesale suppliers and some specialists) and use that to make the Pil-Pil sauce.

Heat olive oil gently in a wide casserole dish in the oven on a very low heat, with garlic, guindilla chilli and the cod skin. The process takes quite a few hours to fully extract the gelatin from the skins. Timing is a matter of experience, but it's not difficult to see when the sauce is sufficiently glutinous. When ready, leave the pil-pil to cool before carefully passing it through a fine sieve and allowing it to rest further. At this point the pil-pil it is not yet emulsified - rather it forms two separate layers, one white and one yellowish. To fully emulsify it, use a blender, preferably a specialist emulsion blender such as a Robot Coupe. Set the sauce aside.

Fillet the hake, season well and cook in hot oil in a pan, searing the skin until nicely crisp but avoiding overcooking the flesh. While the fish is cooking, cut a brunoise of Granny Smith (where the English fusion comes in). Serve the dish as shown in the picture below, with slices of fish surrounding a lake of pil-pil, with blots of garlic and guindilla oils in a ring around the border of the pil-pil and a fine dice of apple and chopped chive garnish placed in the centre of the ring.

The combination of the sweet, salty fish with the sharp acidity of the Granny Smith and chives is excellent. And the refreshing crunch of the tiny apple cubes and the raw onion-like qualities of the chive work perfectly together with the firm but delicate flavour and texture of the hake. The highly glutinous pil-pil may be a bit difficult for an Anglo-French palate, more used to buerre blanc or hollandaise. But you soon become accustomed to it.
Dried guindilla chilli
Lluçet al Pil-Pil