Just so you know, the hake with egg sauce is nothing to do with China – it’s Norwegian (read on, all will become clear). In my old life when I did serious work, I often had to travel to Norway on business – usually Bergen or Stavanger and once to Oslo. A beautiful country, as we found out in 2005 on a family holiday in our motor caravan. On one business trip to Bergen, I had a particularly memorable and tasty meal. The starter was “creamed reindeer on toast”. This sounds like a colloquial description of a reindeer after an unfortunate coming together with a large truck on a quiet Norwegian road but it was absolutely delicious. I wasn’t sure what to expect – would it involve a very large, reindeer-sized slice of toast? Actually, no. It was about the size of a Ritz cracker and topped with finely chopped reindeer meat (don’t worry children, no sign of any red nose) in a creamy sauce which may have involved some brandy. Yum!
I was very intrigued by a main dish on the menu described as “haddock with egg sauce”. What on earth is egg sauce? Only one way to find out. Actually, there’s two ways – I could have asked the waiter but my Norwegian wasn’t up to it (let’s gloss over the fact that the waiter, like most Norwegians, spoke excellent English). So, I ordered the haddock with both egg sauce and high expectations. Perhaps egg sauce is a Norwegian variation of Hollandaise sauce? Maybe with grated troll for true local flavour? The dish duly arrived complete with the eagerly anticipated sauce which was ….(drum roll)…. crumbled up hard-boiled egg!
HOWEVER, this was absolutely fine because a) I like hard-boiled egg and b) there is no better place in the world to get really fresh fish than Norway and, in particular, Bergen. This dish was all about simplicity in order to highlight the high quality and freshness of the main ingredient and I can testify that it did just that. By the way, if you are ever in Bergen, make sure you visit the fish market – it’s fascinating just to wander round. Then you can visit Bryggen, the famous old wooden wharf and UNESCO world heritage site, go up a cable car or funicular railway (Bergen is known as the city of seven mountains), go to the excellent aquarium or on a “Norway in a Nutshell” day trip down stunning fjords and up a spectacular mountain railway in Flam. Bit of a boring place really.
A couple of weeks ago, our local supermarket had some fresh thick, chunky looking hake fillets – along with haddock, this is another member of the cod family. Supermarket? OK, not a patch on what you could get in Bergen but they looked the part. So, for a quick midweek meal I cooked hake with egg sauce and mustard mash. Cooking the whole meal took as long as it takes to make mashed potato. We have a two tier steamer so I was able to steam both the fish and vegetables above the pan in which the spuds were bubbling away. Here’s what I did for two of us:-
- Peeled and chopped potatoes and put on to boil.
- Put one egg on to boil, simmered for about 8 mins once it had come to the boil.
- After potatoes had been boiling for about five minutes, I put the fish on to steam above them.
- About five minutes later, put vegetables on to steam above potatoes and fish.
- I steamed the fish for about 10 minutes. The time needed depends on thickness – steam until opaque, the fish will flake (test the fillet you will serve to yourself and keep your guests’ fish intact!!) and it’s hot in the middle (skewer/burnt lip test).
- When cooked put the fish on a warm plate in warm oven.
- Rinse the hard-boiled egg once in cold water so shell is cool enough to handle but egg will still be warm. Peel and crumble the egg. Maybe mash with a fork or cheat like I did and put through an egg slicer twice – lengthways then sideways (or vice versa if it’s Tuesday).
- Toss the egg in a some melted butter and add some finely chopped, fresh parsley (this may be my own tweak – can’t remember if the Norwegian version included this).
- When the potatoes and veg are ready, mashed the potatoes with milk and lots of butter. You need lots of butter because, despite the title of this fish dish, there is no real sauce so the potatoes would otherwise be rather dry. I like lots of freshly ground black pepper in mash too.
- Add wholegrain mustard to the mash and mix in. You can add the mustard bit by bit (i.e. teaspoonful by teaspoonful, not grain by grain) until you get the strength of mustard taste that suits you.
You can of course try a different type of fish (er, haddock?!). If you don’t have a steamer, try poaching the fish or wrapping in foil and baking in the oven. Personally, I don’t think this dish would work with grilled fish because I think it calls for the really pure taste of steamed or poached fish. However, there is no law…..
On the subject of egg slicers, next time you have a Chinese take-away, try placing one of your children or the butler in the corner of the room and give them an egg slicer. Ask them to pluck the strings at random and fairly slowly. They can also throw in the occasional strum. This produces a remarkably authentic oriental sound and will provide an atmospheric aural backdrop to your sweet and sour. Better still, if you have one of those folding oriental screens, place child/butler behind that.
Using an egg slicer as a musical instrument is not my idea. It is a little known fact that both Eric Clapton and the Who’s Pete Townshend cut their musical teeth on the family’s egg slicers on the path to becoming guitar legends and before they could afford actual guitars. Despite an egg slicer’s naturally oriental tone, both Eric and Pete were able to wring convincing bluesy sounds from their improvised musical instruments. Eric progressed more quickly because Pete kept smashing up his family’s egg slicers. His progress was therefore intermittent because he was forced to save up his pocket money in between purchasing replacements. On the other side of the Atlantic, a young Robert Zimmerman (later to become Bob Dylan) also learnt his trade using an egg slicer. Some say this inspired his 1969 hit, Lay Lady Lay.
And finally (phew!), another true fact but a slightly embarrassing one – although pertinent since I have been to France twice in the last week. My name, Colin (a diminutive of Nicholas supposedly), is also a French word. It means hake! My old proper job was quite international and my French colleagues were always polite enough to not mention this, let alone titter when I was introduced. They would just stand there silently opening and closing their mouth, I assume because they were astonished at meeting someone named after a fish.
Au revoir for now,