Photo: Marion van Dijk
It is surprising how many people get lip curl when hoki is mentioned. "It's an inferior fish" or "I wouldn't bother with it" are common refrains.
Based on what, you have to ask. Is it how it looks? Not the most visually gorgeous, I agree, but don't be put off.
I think hoki is an essential fish in a well-rounded culinary repertoire and the fact that McDonald's use it in their "filet o' fish" should be viewed as an endorsement to its versatility, rather than a negative quality.
It is delicious when baked and smothered in a herb and garlic crust. and I would say to the most ardent critic, try the recipe before any more criticism passes your lips. It is always exciting to use different ingredients and to experience that moment of discovery when you realise what you have been missing out on.
Hoki is New Zealand's largest commercial fishery and is caught year round, mainly off the West Coast of the South Island, in Cook Strait and around the Chathams.
The catch is carefully monitored and its value to New Zealand in 2008 was $151 million. So in commercial terms the fish is a mammoth.
Hoki is a Maori word meaning "to return". The fish is a blue grenadier and is also known as blue hake, New Zealand whiptail or whiptail hake. Its scientific name is Macruronus novazealandiae and it is a merluccid hake of the merlucciidae family.
It is blue-green in colour and is a close relative of cod (so if you like cod you will like hoki).
The fish has a long, tapered body, big eyes and a protruding jaw. It grows between 60cm and 120cm in length. The flesh of hoki is moist, white and delicate - so much so that it appears to be almost fragile. The fresher the fish, the more robust it is. It doesn't have a great shelf life but when it is really fresh it has the best form, so buy it in that state.
The other striking thing about hoki is that the flesh surrounds seams of fat.
Photo: Marion van Dijk
Don't be confused into thinking this seam is ugly and useless. It is chocker full of omega 3 goodness, so much so that hoki is now being used to produce fish oil as an excellent new source for omega 3.
The fish has relatively few scales or bones and so fillets really easily. It can be served with the skin on or off. The skin is quite soft and as it has very few scales and is mild flavoured it can be eaten as well.
Hoki is normally sold in fillets and these can be baked, sauteed, grilled or steamed. It has a slightly sweet taste when cooked. It retains its moisture and becomes fluffy and fulsome when cooked, and particularly when baked in a crust it melts in your mouth. It retails for $13 a kilogram so it is good value for money as well.
HOKI WITH A HERB CRUST
800g of fish (200g per person)
2 cups breadcrumbs, preferably ciabatta
Plenty of fresh parsley (or basil in summer)
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Olive oil about 1/2 cup
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (fanbake).
Put the breadcrumbs, parsley (or basil), garlic, salt and pepper and cheese into a food processor and pulse use enough herbs to make the mixture bright green. Add olive oil in a steady stream until the consistency is fine and crumbly.
Place the hoki fillets in a roasting pan and smother the fish in the breadcrumb mixture. Drizzle a little extra virgin oil over the top.
Bake in the hot oven for about 6-8 minutes, until the breadcrumbs have just turned golden brown.
Serve with mashed potatoes and either green beans or asparagus as it comes into season shortly.
CAJUN FISH WITH ROAST KUMARA AND SPINACH AND PEA SALAD
Photo: Marion van Dijk
800g hoki fillets
Cajun spice mix:
3 Tbsp oregano
3 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp cumin powder
1 Tbsp cayenne pepper
Kumara, cut into chunks
Rice bran oil
Plenty of spinach
1 cup baby peas
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Clove of garlic
1 tsp dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 200C (fanbake). Roast the chunks of kumara in a little oil while you prepare the hoki.
In a roasting pan mix together 4-5 Tbsp of rice bran oil and 2 Tbsp of the cajun spice. Add the fish fillets and coat the fish with the mixture on both sides. Set aside for 20 minutes while you prepare the salad.
Make a dressing in a large bowl by combining the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic and mustard, with lots of black pepper and sea salt. Mix well.
Add lots of chopped spinach and finely chopped red onion. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Add 1 cup of warm baby peas and toss through the salad.
Bake the fish for about 6-8 minutes until just done. Serve with the kumara and salad.
HOKI WITH BRAISED VEGETABLES
800g hoki in fillets
Grated parmesan to coat fish
1 egg, beaten
1 fennel bulb
2 red onions
4 sticks of celery
1 red pepper
4 cloves of garlic
800g of canned Italian tomatoes
1 Tbsp oregano
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp red chilli flakes
1/2 cup vegetable stock.
2 tsp of raw sugar
Chop the fennel bulb, red onions and red pepper, slice the celery and finely chop the garlic.
Heat 4 Tbsp of olive oil in a large pan and add fennel, onion, celery and garlic, sauteeing until translucent. Add the red pepper and continue cooking.
Add oregano and fennel seeds. Continue cooking.
Add tomatoes. Continue to cook.
Add stock, salt, black pepper and 2 tsp of red chilli flakes. Simmer gently until the liquid has reduced about 30 minutes.
Cut the fish into large chunks. Coat in beaten egg and then in grated parmesan cheese.
Place in a roasting pan with a little olive oil and place under the grill. Cook until golden. Serve the fish on top of the vegetables.