While sauces in Bizkaia and Araba are marked by peppers and tomatoes, the coastal province of Gipuzkoa, on the Spanish-French border, is known for light saltsa berdean (salsa verde) – a sauce of olive oil, parsley, garlic, and white wine. Though it pairs well with any seafood, it is most often served with hake.
In other parts of Spain, this dish goes by the name Basque hake. Written recipes for the dish date back to 1723. In La Cocina Vasca, the authoritative classic for Basque home cooks, there are no fewer than seven recipes for this dish; one of them, called the “economical” version, calls for only four ingredients: potato, fish, parsley and a garlic clove.
In this recipe, the clams open to release their briny juices, which boost the flavour of the sauce and enhance the hake perfectly. If you can’t find fresh hake, cod and flounder make nice substitutes. Traditionally, this (and most other saucy dishes in Basque cuisine) is served in earthenware casserole dishes, but use any vessel with a bit of a lip for retaining the luscious sauce.
Bones, head, and tail from 1 fish, preferably hake
4 skin-on hake fillets, about 200g each
120ml extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1tbs all-purpose flour
120ml txakoli or other acidic white wine
4tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
Place the clams in a bowl, add cold water to cover, and set aside.
Rinse the bones, head, or whatever scraps you have from the hake with cold water.
Place in a medium pot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain the liquid (called fumet) through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the solids. Set the fumet aside.
Scrub and drain the clams; set aside.
Rinse the hake fillets and pat them dry. Season the skin-free side of each fillet with salt.
In an earthenware casserole or a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium-high heat. When the garlic starts to “dance,” add the flour and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Pour in the wine and simmer for about 30 seconds to cook off the alcohol. Add 240ml of the fumet and simmer for about a minute.
Add the hake fillets to the pan, skin-side up. Simmer for about three minutes. Gently turn the hake fillets over. Add the clams, placing them around the pot, and cook for about five minutes. Should the pan begin to look dry, add more fumet.
Sprinkle the parsley over the pan. Remove from the heat and move the pan in a circular motion until the sauce begins to come together and emulsify, one to two minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Serve in individual bowls or family-style. You can reserve the remaining fumet for another use.
Note: the inclusion of flour in the salsa verde is a matter of debate. It helps to thicken the sauce, but purists say “less flour, more wrist,” insistent that the correct stirring technique will result in perfectly emulsified sauce. Experiment to see which version you like best.