Cold hake, tomato, mayonnaise... like in Brittany

Fish and soccer

Hake is a very popular and not expensive fish in France. It is named COLIN or, on the French West coast from Basque country up to Brittany, MERLU (Merlucciidae is the scientific Latin name). The professional soccer team of Lorient, a fishing and military harbor in Southern Brittany, and also the city where I made my military service in the French Navy, is named after the fish, les Merlus. Just to underline how this fish is part of the culture and traditions of this area…

It is most of the time sold as a whole fish, either in small sizes (merluchons) or in bigger sizes up to 3-foot long. Its white flesh is very delicate and made of small flakes, which means that it could rapidly disaggregate if it is overcooked. The usual way to cook it is to poach it in a flavorful court-bouillon, with carrots, celery stem, bay leaves, onions, cloves white wine and a tiny touch of cider vinegar. When the court-bouillon starts to boil, the whole fish is plunged into it and as soon as it boils again, the pot is taken out of the burner while the fish finishes cooking gently and without being aggressed.

It is served either hot, with fingerling-type potatoes steamed above the court-bouillon and a beurre blanc (butter, shallots, white wine, possibly capers), or cold, with just a mayonnaise and a tomato salad. The latter is a typical hot summer lunch, so refreshing with a glass on Muscadet while watching the activities in the harbor… I have been aching this simple treat for many years as, for any reason, it is quite rare here in the US.

So, when the head of the fish department of my preferred grocery store called to tell me that they just receive some hake, I didn’t hesitate one second. Okay, it was already gutted, scaled, skinned, filleted… but it was firm and of a beautiful bright white… I “revisited” a little, very simply, the traditional hake-tomato-mayonnaise.


1 hake fillet of about 1 lb., chosen in the thickest part 
2 medium size tomatoes
1 shallot clove
A few chive stems

For the court-bouillon:
Onion, carrot, celery stem…
Bay leaves, cloves, piment d’Espelette, salt
1 glass of dry white wine
1 tbsp. of cider vinegar

For the homemade mayonnaise:
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp. of Dijon mustard
Neutral oil (sunflower, grape…) as I found the olive oil too overwhelming here
Piment d’Espelette


  • Salt the fish on each side, a little bit more than for a “normal” seasoning and rub it on the flesh so that it gets into the fish. The purpose of this preparation is to firm up the fish and let it rest for 1/2 hour in the fridge. The fish will render water during this process. Before putting the fish in the court-bouillon (see below), rinse it abundantly to eliminate the salt in excess. 
  • Prepare the court-bouillon with the ingredients above and approximately a 1/4 gallon of water 
  • Put to boil, but slowly, so that all the vegetables, herbs and spices infuse the court-bouillon. Although court-bouillon means short-broth, meaning fast-broth, the longer it macerates, the better. 
  • When it boils plunge the fish fillet into it, put to boil again, and when the broth starts to boil again, put the pot out of the burner and let it finish cooking in the cooling down broth, for around 10 minutes. In fact, with this technique, you can leave the fish longer in the broth, it will remain hot without being overcooked. As this dish is served cold, take the fish out of the broth and let it rest on a grid to drip the water. 
  • Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes: peel them, either after plunging them 30 seconds in boiling water, or simply with a vegetable peeler. Eliminate the seedy and watery parts. A little tip cut the tomato horizontally instead of vertically as it is the usual reflex, it is easier to extract those parts with a tea spoon. Also, keep those parts to make a tomato water that you may use later on. Chop the remaining pulp in small dices with the shallot clove and the chive. 
  • Make your mayonnaise 
  • Mix the fish with the mayonnaise, gently, with a wooden spoon. You want to keep a certain texture and you surely don’t want to mash the fish. 
  • Take cookie cutters and fill them with a layer of tomato and 1 layer of fish. 
  • Keep a while in the fridge, to “cement” the whole, and unmold before serving, with the remaining mayonnaise. 

Savor and close your eyes, you are in Brittany… 


  1. Ahh...another wonderful-looking dish. And I'll be excited to learn exactly what you do with the tomato water you set aside!

  2. Merci :) - First you can drink it, very flavorful with just the tomato taste without the texture. Some people make cocktails with it. You can use it to cook, for instance to cook vegetables like haricots verts "à la Alain Passard" (with a piece of butter and in a few millimeters of water) where you replace the water by tomato water. You can also, and I know you will like that ;), use it in aspic, with addition of agar agar, either to "cement" components or as a tasteful decoration on the bottom of a plate or on top of a dish...


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