A fishy Christmas main course: Rick Toogood’s recipe for stuffed hake with porcini gravy

This alternative Christmas centrepiece works very well with the usual festive sides, so serve with the whole gamut of regulars, from roast potatoes and finely sliced brussels sprouts fried with bacon to baked cauliflower pureed and topped with a parsley crumb and/or roast celeriac steaks with salsa verde. You’ll need some butcher’s string to tie up the fish post-stuffing.

Stuffed hake joint with porcini gravy
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 40 min
Serves 6

For the fish
2kg hake, either a whole fish or a 2kg piece, butterfly filleted and pin-boned – ask your fishmonger to do this for you or, if you’re feeling brave, follow a YouTube video and do it yourself (or use another similar-sized, firm-fleshed white fish such as pollock or coley instead, or even a 2kg haddock or cod fillet split down the middle and opened up like a book)

For the stuffing
50g butter
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely diced
100g shallots, peeled and diced
1 stick celery, finely diced
100g button or chestnut mushrooms, roughly chopped
100g peeled cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
1 bunch fresh thyme, leaves picked
100g fresh spinach, or cavolo nero
1 generous splash agrodolce or white-wine vinegar
Nutmeg, for grating (optional)
Salt and pepper

For the ‘gravy’
30g dried porcini
50g butter, plus 25g chilled cubed butter, to finish
3 medium onions, peeled, halved and cut into thin half-moons
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
3 sprigs fresh thyme
100ml agrodolce or white-wine vinegar
150ml manzanilla

Start with the gravy. Put the dried porcini in a bowl, add 350ml hot water and leave to soak.

Melt the 50g butter in a saucepan over a medium heat, add the onions, garlic, thyme and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring regularly, for 10-15 minutes, until the onions are starting to caramelise. Turn up the heat, add the agrodolce or vinegar to deglaze the pan, then add the manzanilla and leave to bubble away until reduced by half.

Add the porcini and their soaking liquid, bring back to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer and cook until reduced by two-thirds. Strain through a fine sieve into a clean pan, check the seasoning and set aside.

Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6, and while you’re waiting for it to come up to temperature, make the stuffing. Melt the butter in large, nonstick frying pan on a medium heat, then add the garlic, shallots and celery, and soften for about five minutes. Add the mushrooms, fry for three or four minutes more, then stir in the chestnuts and thyme. Add the spinach leaves, cover the pan and leave for about a minute, until the leaves have wilted. Remove the lid, mix well, then add a generous splash of agrodolce or vinegar, grate in a little nutmeg, if using, and season to taste.

Cut six 40cm lengths of butcher’s string, and lay them out 3-4cm apart on a large, clean work surface. Open out the butterflied hake so it’s flat, then place it skin side down on top of the pieces of string. Spoon the stuffing mixture along the centre of the fillet, then carefully fold one side of the fillet over the filling. Tie up the string, ideally with butcher’s knots (Google or YouTube how to do this), though even two granny knots per piece of string will do if need be, then cut off any excess string. Don’t worry if some of the stuffing comes out while you’re tying: just push it back in once the fish is secured.

Line a large oven tray with greaseproof paper, drizzle over some olive oil and carefully place the hake on top. Drizzle the top of the fish with more olive oil, season generously, then bake for 40-45 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover with a sheet of foil and leave to rest for five minutes.

While the fish is resting, gently reheat the gravy, then stir in the chilled cubed butter, to give the gravy a lovely, glossy finish. Transfer the fish to a large platter and serve with a jug of the gravy, or carve the joint into thick slices, place on individual plates and anoint each serving with gravy.