A Fish So Nice They Named It Twice
Whiting is known by two common names, depending on its size. Small whiting is referred to as silver hake, and large whiting is referred to as king whiting. This fish has been historically ignored in favor of cod, a close relative. It’s a great alternative because its population is stable – and we think it is one of the tastiest fish in the ocean.
Whiting are a medium-sized fish that may grow to be 5 lbs and upwards of 28” long. As nocturnal predators, they spend their days resting on the sandy, pebble ocean floor during the day and move up the water column to feed from around dusk to midnight. Atlantic whiting are vital to the Gulf of Maine (GOM) ecosystem because they serve as both predator and prey species. Silver hake are so abundant and such voracious predators that they help to regulate prey populations.
In the Northwest Atlantic, silver hake are managed as two stocks – one to the north (the Gulf of Maine and Northern Georges Bank) and one to the south (Southern Georges Bank all the way to Cape Hatteras). In the summer months, adult fish migrate to shallow waters in the Northwest Atlantic to spawn. Both stocks can be found in the Gulf of Maine from Cape Cod to Grand Manan Island, in the southern and southeastern portions of Georges Bank, and just south of Martha’s Vineyard.
Thanks to monitoring by NOAA’s Northeast Fishery Science Center and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, there is sufficient data to accurately assess Atlantic whiting stocks. And the good news is, both the northern and southern populations are stable with no evidence of overfishing.
Whiting is considered a “small-mesh” species because specific mesh size requirements are put in place to reduce bycatch of vulnerable populations, such as cod. In 2002, fishermen and scientists began experimenting with modified gears, trying to determine the best way to target silver hake without impacting the benthic marine environment or other fish populations. These new techniques reduced bycatch of lobster and other benthic species to just 2%. Researchers then began testing the Nordmore Grate, which prevent larger finfish like cod from being caught, while letting smaller fish (whiting) pass into the trawl nets. These designs were incredibly successful and have been adopted into portions of the management plan.
The GOM whiting fishery is open from July 1 to November 30 each year. It has long been considered a “bycatch” species, often not purchased by retailers and restaurants. Why? Not enough awareness. Low demand means that Maine and New Hampshire fishermen can’t afford to target underutilized species. In 2014, only 16% of the potential GOM silver hake harvest was taken. Let’s change that!
Hake with Roasted Cauliflower and Golden Raisin, Caper and Pine Nut Vinaigrette
CHEF MICHAEL LEVITON
YIELD: 4 PORTIONS
2 cups panko bread crumbs
½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Yogurt, mayonnaise or mustard
1. Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees. Pre-heat the broiler if it is a separate unit. Remove the fish from the refrigerator, and place between dry kitchen towels.
2. Prepare the vinaigrette and cauliflower recipes.
3. In a mixing bowl, combine the bread crumbs, parsley, and olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper.
4. Lightly grease a baking sheet and place the fish on it. Season the filets with salt and pepper. Brush the top side liberally with the yogurt (or mayo or mustard). Coat the filets (top side only) with the crumb mixture.
5. Place the fish in the oven and bake for about 6 and one-half minutes. Then place the fish under the broiler until the crust begins to brown lightly.
6. While the fish is in the oven, heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat and one tablespoon of butter or olive oil and then the cauliflower. Stir well and place the pan in the oven for about 5 minutes, until the cauliflower is hot. Remove the pan from the oven, add the parsley and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
7. Place ¼ of the cauliflower in the center of each of four plates.
8. Add the pine nuts, capers, golden raisins and chives to the vinaigrette base and stir well.
Serving Suggestion: Add the pine nuts, capers, golden raisins and chives to the vinaigrette base and stir well. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette around the cauliflower and then top the cauliflower with the fish. Serve.