Flatfish: The Complete Guide
Flatfish have an easy structure and are ideal for people who need to be convinced that anyone who eats fish doesn’t a) get a bone stuck in their throats or b) die of boredom. They range from the humble dab, which sadly is not called Dabbus dab bus, right up to the massive halibut, Hippoglossus hippoglossus – can that mean shiny horse, shiny horse? Buy now flatfish lures
Flatfish seem to be a peculiarly European forte. Although they exist in American waters they are mostly dull fare, and the Indian or African sole will disappoint. Everyone knows Solea solea, the Dover sole that you practically never see near Dover, an exquisite and rightly popular fish.
With all flat, it is as well to be aware that as they near the spawning season they can have a great deal of roe in them, which not only weighs a lot but can also affect the yield of the fillet, and consequently the cost of the fish. On the plus side, a fish just prior to spawning is at its best, fat and tasty. But post-spawning fish are a different matter altogether, waste3d in fact. Avoid them!
Preparing Flat Fish
Although flatfish are better for being cooked and eaten on the bone, filleting them is quite easy. They are almost always sold gutted, so you don’t have to worry about cleaning them. You won’t get four equal fillets because the structure is not entirely regular.; Lay the fish eyes-up on a surface or a chopping board.
Cut behind the head down to the bone on both sides of the spine. Cut along the middle of the fish from the head to the tail, following the line of the backbone to free the fillets on both sides. Finish off by cutting around the outer edge and lift the two fillets off. Repeat for the underside.
Skin flatfish fillets in the same way as round fish fillets
To pre4pare flatfish for cooking on the bone, you should make them ‘pan-ready’ by trimming the fins and cutting off the head. Dover sole to be grilled are traditionally skinned on the dark side only.
Scale the white side. Make a small nick on the tail between the dark skin and tail bone, then grip the skin tightly with a cloth and peel it off, pulling towards the head end. This can be difficult with very fresh fish. You might need a little salt to stop the cloth slipping.
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- Scopthalmus rhombus
- French: Barbue
- Italian: Rombo liscio
- Spanish: Remol
- Portuguese: Rodovalho
- German: Glattbutt, Kleist
Brill does have a hint of rhombus about them but has to live, figuratively, in the shadow of their knobbly and rounder cousin, the turbot. It is an excellent flatfish and a firm restaurant favorite, easy to fillet and cook, but these days fish larger than 800g (1 ¾ Ib) are rarely caught.
Odd fishy facts about brill? well, did you know that they are one of the very few flatfish to have a gap between their eyes wider than their diameter?
Brill, like turbot, alter the color of their skin according to where they are caught, so that lighter, almost lemon-sole-colored fish are found on sandy sea floors and dark, rich chocolate-brown fish on a muddier substrate.
Brill is a wonderful fish to cook and eat. Its luscious white flesh can be poached, fried, steamed, seared, cooked in any way known to man. Smaller specimens (less than 1kg/2 ¼ lb) are best cooked on the bone but larger fish can easily be filleted. To feed four you will need a fish between 1.2 and 1.5kg (2 ¾ -3 ¼ lb).
- Season: All year, best April to September.
- Yield: 50%
- Fishing method: Trawl, net.
- Limanda limanda
- French: Limanda
- Italian: Limanda
- Spanish: Limanda nordica
- Portuguese: Solha-escura-do-mar-do-norte
- German: Scharbe, Kliesche
This sweet little flatfish sounds so charming but tastes a little bland. It’s very much a summer fish, practically coming on to the beach the hotter it gets. If you are lucky you even find some live specimens flapping around on the odd fishmonger’s slab.
To tell a dab from a flounder is challenging: a dab has a large curve in its lateral line around the head end, but no bony protuberances around its edge as does the flounder. They are both similar fish to eat, and are good if eaten very, very fresh, but are fast faders. For cooking methods, See flaky fish
- Season: Best April to July.
- Yield: 50%
- Fishing method: Inshore net.
- Platichthys flesus
- French: Flet
- Italian: Passera pianuzza
- Spanish: Platija
- Portuguese: Solha-das-pedras
- German: Flunder, Butt,Struffbutt
Another flatfish that swim very close to shore, the flounder used to be more widely recognized, since its tolerance of low salinity meant it was often fished far up the Thames estuary. I can’t say I rate it highly but, given that a fresh flounder is better than a putrid turbot, don’t ignore them if they are screamingly fresh.
Very simple cooking is recommended. Steam, grill or pan-fry smaller fish if very fresh. Dabs more than a day old can be bland. Fish are usually on the small side, weighing between 300 and 350g (11-12 oz)
- Season: All year, best April to July.
- Yield: 50%
- Fishing method: Small trawl.
Halibut Fish Recipe
- Hippoglossus hippoglossus
- French: Fletan
- Italian: Halibut
- Spanish: Halibut
- Portuguese: Alabote-de-Atlantico
- German: Heilbutt
Halibut can be enormous fish, at times weighing over 200kg (444lb) and are fished in very deep cold water in the far north. During the winter they are difficult to find, but in the early summer months, they cruise landwards and are particularly fond of eating seabird eggs that fall from cliff-top nests. (See details eat fish bones)
There have been a few attempts to land halibut and store them alive in tanks. The fish were kept until the market prices were high, then flown in from Iceland and freshly killed according to demand. They were absolutely superb. However, there are no Icelandic halibut millionaires that I am aware of, so halibut broking was obviously not a profitable business. Supplies are now irregular.
The texture of halibut is very distinctive, almost meaty, which may explain why the fish is so popular in the UK Sadly, it is becoming increasingly hard to find good-quality wild halibut but there are now regular supplies of farmed fish arriving from Norway.
A wealthy shipping magnate fell in love with the idea of farming halibut and pumped millions of kroner into the business. Although early experiments resulted in fatty fish, the diet has now been adjusted to give a very fair and most importantly-consistent quality.
Smaller fish, sometimes called chicken halibut, can be cooked whole but larger wild fish are almost always sold cut up in steaks. Buy now halibut lingcod rockfish
Cooking with the bones gives the flesh added succulence, which counterbalances the dryness of larger fish; the larger the fish, the dryer the flesh tends to be. This is an excellent fish to bake, braise or poach. Allow 175g (6 oz) fillet per person or 200g (7 oz) steaks.
Beware of imitations! Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides), known as turbot in Canada, is a fairly unexciting fish in any form and is caught in waters so distant that it is either frozen or sits in a container for two weeks before it gets to market. The Pacific halibut, Hippoglossus stenolepsis, is a good alternative to the Atlantic fish, mostly long-lined, whose stock is under great pressure.
- Season: Farmed: all year round but limit to the size of fish. Wild: early summer best bet. Otherwise irregular.
- Yield: 60%
- Fishing method: Line and trawl.
Lemon Sole Recipe
- Microstomus kitt
- French: Limande-sole
- Italian: Sogliola limanda
- Spanish: Mendo limon
- Portuguese: Solha-limao
- German: Limanda, Echte Rotzunge
- Finnish: Paksuhuulinen-kampela
What remarkable consistency we Europeans show in naming the lemon sole-apart, that is, from the wayward Finns! Since Dover sole is considered beyond the pockets of many, the lemon sole has been elevated to the sole that we can just about afford. It is good, not great, and has a slightly less firm texture and fuller taste than the Dover sole.
In England, we have possibly the best lemon sole fishery around, and the smaller Cornish ports, particularly Looe, land large quantities of really first-class fish. During Christmas, when demand from Spain pushes prices into the realms of lunacy, it’s best to stay away.
Cooked on the bone, simply grilled, the lemon sole is a reliable and consistent fish whose wide distribution means that supplies are generally easy. Fillets are often tired but the easy bone structure should encourage you to eat it whole.
- Season: All year-round.
- Yield: 60%
- Fishing method: Beam trawl, trawl, nets.
- Lepidorhombus whiffiagonis
- French: Cardine franche
- Italian: Rombo giallo
- Spanish: Gallo, liseria
- Portuguese: Areiro
- German: Scheefschnut, flugelbutt
I once become quite excited about megrim, until someone let me know that the Spaniards call them ‘English cork’.
I had imagined that this was a fish that could take over from Dover or lemon sole when supplies were tight, but UK law forbids it to be called sole at all, and most people remain ignorant as to what a plain megrim really is.
They are small to medium flatfish, caught mainly off the south-west coast of England. A related species found in deeper water, L. bossy, is distinguished by four black marks on the rear of the dorsal fin. This is considered by the Spanish to be a better fish to eat. They continue to be exported in vast numbers and remain almost uneaten over here.
Best eaten on the bone, megrim can be a little dry and need to be exceptionally fresh. A fish weighing 300-400g (11-14 oz) will feed one, and is a better bet than lar4ger fish which do not fillet well.
- Season: All year-round.
- Yield: 50%
- Fishing method: Mainly trawl.
- Pleuronectes platessa
- French: Carrelet, plie
- Italian: Passera
- Spanish: Solla
- Portuguese: Solha
- German: Scholle, Goldbutt
Plaice can be deeply boring but some people seem to love them. The finest I have ever eaten came from a small area of southern England where divers swim down to spike the fish in true Japanese style. Someplace fillets can be worse to eat than blotting paper.
This is the supreme example of a fish that fades fast into tastelessness, and great attention should be paid to its freshness. Whether bought whole or as fillets, check that the orange spots on the skin are really bright ( a good indication of freshness), and avoid plaice in the early summer when they are watery and tasteless.
A 350-450g (12-16 oz) fish with its head-on or a 175g (6 oz) fillet will feed one. Any recipe for the lemon sole, megrim or even Dover sole will suit the Plaice but it is particularly good fried in better when perfectly fresh.
- Season: All year-round.
- Yield: 50%
- Fishing method: Day-boat fish and spiked fish best. Trawled fish flabby.
Sole Dover Fish
- Solea solea
- French: Sole
- Italian: Sogliola
- Spanish: Lenguado
- Portuguese: Linguado
- German: Seezunge
The much-loved Dover sole was the mainstay of classic English fish cookery in the earlier part of this century. These days it’s more lemongrass and mango than cream and butter to accompany your sole but simply grilled is still the very best way to eat it.
The Dover sole is both well known and oversubscribed, and simply too expensive for many. It was once fished in massive quantities in the North Sea.
Many people prefer a sole to be slightly mature- three days old is thought best- but do remember that the process of fishing ], packing and transporting can mean that the fish are often six or seven days old before they actually get to the shop. Two or three days from being caught is just right.
Dover sole comes inshore to spawn in the spring. Their movements and whereabouts are so well known that the controversial practice of beam trawling owes a great debt to them.
Beam trawling, which drags a large trawl along the seabed, using a beam to keep the mouth of the net open, was originally developed off the sandbanks of the Belgian and Dutch coasts and resulted in phenomenally rich landings.
Sole Dover Fish Recipes
What many consider to be one of the blacker arts of fishing was eagerly adopted by the English, who have fished for Dover sole and other flatfish in the North Sea and the south-west for generations. (See details history of fishing)
Beam trawling catches virtually everything in its path, and extensively damage the sea bed. The debate between beam trawlers and other fishermen is one of the most heated in the industry.
There is a closely related species, Pegusa lascars, the sand sole, that occasionally finds its way into fish shops. I hope it remains clearly marked, and cheaper too, than. Solea, it lacks the Dover sole’s excellence.
The very small sole that some people take to be undersized Dover sole, called cetaux or langue d’avocats in France, are in fact another separate species, Dicologoglossa cuneata, a name I defy anyone to remember. They are a fish to forget, too: fiddly and thoroughly insubstantial. A slip sole is a small Dover sole, which weighs in at about 10-12 oz.
Such is the demand that there is a clear buyer’s hierarchy, with 14-16 oz fish (metric sizes seem to have passed the Dover sole by in the UK) being the best portion-m sized fish to go for. Larger fish, often called blanket sole, can be filleted, but the grill and the Dover sole are a match made in heaven.
- Season: Spring, summer, with a lean period after spawning which varies according to region.
- Yield: Large fish, 55%
- Fishing method: Beam trawl, trawl or net.
- Psetta maxima
- French: Turbot
- Italian: Rombo chipdato
- Spanish: Rodaballo
- Portuguese: Pregado
- German: Steinbutt
A chunk of poached turbot, served with a few new potatoes fresh from the garden, is the nearest thing you will ever get to edible perfection. This wonderful, firm-fleshed, fine-tasting fish is easy to handle and fillet, in almost every way perfect apart from its price.
They are ungainly beasts, with a tiny headset around a massive body, but what a body! The turbot has brown skin as knobbly as a toad, and if you are ever in a Turkey, look out for the fish they call Kalkan, the spiny turbot, which has a more fearsome set of knobbles but is just as tasty.
They are bottom-dwelling, carnivorous fish and are quite widely distributed, from the far north of Scotland right down to the Mediterranean.
Turbot farming has taken off over the past few years, and both the quality and size of the fish have improved enormously; in the early days, farmed turbot was reared on salmon feed, which made them very bland and fatty.
Turbot is lazy, lobbing about on the bottom of the tanks, and fish farmers find it quite difficult to get them to eat at all. But as soon as someone came up with a special turbot feed, the markets noticed how much the quality of the fish had improved, and farming turbot became a more realistic proposition.
Turbot Fish Recipes
Farmed turbot are often killed by being immersed in icy water, and can be sold ungutted. They are not fed for two days to ensure that their guts are empty, which means that they keep well. Some farms can offer 4-5kg (9-11 lb) fish grown in only three and a half years.
Over the last few years, larger wild fish have become rarer, so eating a goodly wad of turbot is a rare treat. The gelatinous bones give the fish taste and finesse so if at all possible, eat and cook it on the bone, with the skin on.
Smaller fish are a disappointment, and I suggest that you never try to fillet a small, 500g ( 1 lb 2 oz) fish. You will feel as a turbot when you see just how little flesh you get.
If you want to eat turbot fillet, you’d better off buying a larger 1.2-1.5kg (2 ¾ -3 ¼ lb) fish, which will feed four. Remember not to throw away the bones as they make marvelous stock.
Turbot has startlingly pure white flesh, which can be poached in milk or fumet, and classically is served with hollandaise sauce. One of the finest fish in the sea. (See for details fish and seafood)
- Season: Summer easiest.
- Yield: 35%
- Fishing method: Dayboat, small trawl, beam trawls.
Witch, Torbay Sole
- Glyptocephalus cynoglossus
- French: Plie cynoglosse, plie grise
- Italian: passera lingua di cane
- Spanish: Mendo
- Portuguese: Solhao
- German: Rotzunge
A fish which little pleases, witch sole is mostly fished off the south-west of England and is best eaten when extremely fresh. It resembles a megrim in taste and looks but is seldom marketed countrywide. You may have had a tasty Torbay sole on holiday, and this was probably it. Simply grilled, it’s better than a pork pie. Cook as megrim. (See details coral reefs fish)
- Season: All year-round.
- Yield: 50%
- Fishing method: Various.
Baked Brill with Creme Fraiche, Cherry Tomatoes and Parmesan
The children had been full of bed-time fun and frolics, and getting them into bed and on the road to sleep took longer than planned.
Super had to be quick; we had to use up the rather choice fillets of brill left in the fridge (we’d been recipe-tasting two days before) and whatever else was to be found. This is what else-is-in-the-fridge’ recipe that emerged, and it has become a household favorite. It’s absolutely brilliant for dinner parties but easily adapted to a mid-week treat for two. (See the details dinner menu ideas)
- 700g (1 ½ lb) brill fillets, skinned
- 15g (1/2 oz) butter
- 150g (5 oz) cherry tomatoes, halved
- 200ml (7 fl oz) creme Fraiche
- 6-8 fresh basil leaves, shredded
- 110g 94 oz) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated salt, and pepper
Preheat the oven to 220 C/425 F/Gas Mark 7. Season the brill with salt and pepper. Use about half of the butter to grease a baking dish large enough to take the fillets in a single, snug layer.
Lay the fillets in it. Dot the cherry tomatoes around and over them. Smear the cream over and around the brill and tomatoes, covering the fish more or less evenly.
Scatter over the basil and then sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the top. Grind a little more pepper over the whole thing and dot with the last of the butter. Bake for 15 minutes, until the fish, is just cooked through. Serve bubbling and sizzling.
Brill Cooked in Beer
Brill has long been one of my favorite fish, with its sweet, firm-tender flesh and fine flavor. I came across this recipe when I was writing an article on cooking with beer, and at first, it seemed to be a somewhat ridiculous pairing of ingredients.
Surely the beer, boiled down as it is, would be too strong and coarse? What with juniper in there as well… oh heavens, a recipe for disaster! I tried it anyway and was proved utterly wrong on all counts.
The beer, softened by the butter and the brill’s own juices, takes on a subtle, delicious flavor, which does nothing to mask the excellence of the brill. On the contrary, it highlights the fish’s flavor with gentle aplomb.
- 45g ( 1 ½ oz) butter
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 1 celery stick, thinly sliced
- 280ml (scant ½ pint) dry pilsner larger or Duvel lager
- 3 juniper berries, bruised
- 375-400g (13-14 oz) skinned brill fillets salt and pepper
- chopped fresh parsley, to garnish
Melt 30g (1 oz) of the butter in a pan wide enough to take the fillets in a close, single layer. Cube and chill the remaining butter. Cook the onion and celery gently in the butter until tender.
Tie the herbs in a bundle with string and add to the pan with the beer, juniper berries, pepper, and just a little salt. Bring up to the boil and then lay the brill fillets in the pan. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer and poach the fillets for 3-5 minutes, until barely cooked. Lift out carefully and transfer to a shallow serving dish. Keep warm.
Raise the heat under the pan and boil hard until the liquid is reduced by about three-quarters. Add the remaining butter a few cubes at a time, swirling and tilting the pan to dissolve it in the sauce.
Taste and adjust the seasoning, then strain through a sieve over the fish. Sprinkle with a little chopped parsley and serve immediately.
Brill and Scallop Ceviche with Avocado, Cherry Tomatoes, and Marinated Red Onion
This is a perfect starter for a summer supper party or, indeed, a perfect light lunch dish in its own right. The brill and scallops must be sparklingly fresh, no question about that, but if you can get your seafood in the prime condition a ceviche will show it off at its best.
The acidity of the lime juice has much the same effect as heat, coagulating the proteins in the fish so that they become opaque. In that sense, the fish is ‘cooked’, even if its temperature never climbs above that of the fridge.
There are all kinds of variations on the basic theme of ceviche. This is one I happen to flavor at the moment: brill and scallops partnered and softened by avocado, tomatoes, grapefruit, and superb marinated red onion rings so good that I could almost eat them by themselves.
- 400g (14 oz) skinned the brill fillet
- 8 large scallops juice of 3 limes
- 1 fresh red chili, de-seeded and finely chopped 3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh coriander salt
- For the Marinated Red Onion:
- 1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced into rings juice of 1-3 limes
- ½ tablespoon salt
- ½ tablespoon sugar
- For the Rest:
- 1 grapefruit, pink or yellow-fleshed as the fancy takes you
- 2 tablespoons light oil, e.g. grapeseed, safflower or sunflower
- 1 avocado
- 200g (7 oz) cherry tomatoes, cut in half salt, pepper, and sugar
- Begin by making the marinated onion. Mix all the ingredients, cover and leave for 2-4 hours. Squeeze them in the marinade and then drain and cover with cling film until needed.
Now the fish. Cut the brill into strips about 1cm (1/2 inch) wide. Slice the whites of the scallops horizontally into two or three discs, depending on thickness. Mix both brill and scallops, with their corals if you have them, with the lime juice, chili, and salt.
Leave for 1 hour before using it. Though they will come to no harm if left for up to 24 hours, they will lose some of their immediate freshness. just before serving, drain and toss with the coriander.
Peel and segment the grapefruit, removing as much of the pith as humanly possible, to reveal the glossy inner flesh. Save as much of the juice as you can and whisk it with the oil. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar if it is on the tart side.
Peel and slice the avocado into half-moons and turn them in the fruit juice mixture. Toss the tomatoes in a little more, then arrange the avocado, tomatoes, grapefruit, and fish on individual plates or one large serving plate and top with marinated onion. Serve immediately.
Roast Chicken Halibut with Mustard and Sun-dried Tomato Crust
Size, of course, is relative, and 1 2.5kg (5 lb) halibut counts as small by halibut standards ( hence the tern chicken halibut, as opposed, I suppose, to turkey-sized), though it looks pretty impressive to your average human.
A whole small halibut, roasted speedily in the oven, is a magnificent sight and a brilliant dish to serve for a large dinner party. You can roast it plainly, just brushing the skin with oil or melted butter and maybe stuffing a handful of herbs inside, but a mixture of mustard and sun-dried to tomato puree brings an extra layer of pleasure. (See details low-calorie chicken recipes)
SERVES ABOUT 8-10
- 1 chicken halibut, weighing about 2-2.5kg (4 ½ -5 lb)
- 3 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard
- 3 tablespoons sun-dried tomato puree
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice finely grated zest of 1 lemon 30g ( 1 oz) butter salt and pepper
- To Serve:
- lemon wedges
- fresh parsley sprigs
- 110g (4 oz) butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/ Gas Mark 6. Season the halibut inside with salt and pepper. Mix all the remaining ingredients, mashing them thoroughly together.
Smear thickly over both sides of the halibut. Lay it in an ovenproof dish, if you have one big enough, or on the large baking tray. Roast for about 30-40 minutes, until just cooked through.
Transfer to a serving dish if necessary and tuck the lemon wedges and sprigs of parsley decoratively around it. Serve with the warm melted butter in a jug.
Halibut with Welsh Rarebit Crust
This recipe is part of my childhood; indeed, it is a regular visitor throughout my entire life. My mother made if from time as I grew up, and published the recipe in her book Fish Cookery in 1973, as flat AU Fromage- a very French name for a dish which gilds fine halibut steaks with what is, essentially, a Welsh rarebit mixture.
The sizzling, bubbling molten cheese, softened with butter and cream and a touch of mustard, is a marvelous foil to the lovely dryish texture of halibut, though it goes well with other white fish steaks, particularly cod.
In my mother’s recipe, she suggested serving the steaks with new potatoes. To that, I’d add tomato and red onion salad, dressed with good wine vinegar and olive oil. (See details salad recipes vegetarian)
- 6 halibut steaks, weighing about 200g ( 7 oz) each, or 3 x 2- portion halibut steaks, weighing about 400g ( 14 oz) each 60g ( 2 oz) butter, softened salt and pepper
- For the Welsh Rarebit:
- 225g ( 8 oz) cheese, preferably Gruyere but Cheddar is fine too, grated
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons single or double cream
Preheat the oven to 190 C/375 F/ Gas Mark 5. Season the steaks lightly with salt and generously with pepper. Use the butter to grease a baking dish large enough to take all the steaks comfortably.
Mix the cheese with the mustard and cream to make a paste and spread it over the upper surface of the steaks. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the halibut is just cooked through. If the cheese mixture becomes too brown, protect it with a butter paper or a piece of buttered foil. Serve immediately.
Fillets of Lemon Sole on a pea and Pancetta Puree
If you grow your own peas, this is a lovely way to make the most of them when the season is in full swing and they bare maturing just beyond the perfect miniature size.
If you don’t, then it is a good way to transform a pack of frozen petit pois into a very fetching accompaniment to a fish which, even if it is not as classy as its cousin Dover, is still a fine eat when good and fresh.
- 4 Slices of pancetta butter, for frying 2 lemon sole, weighing about 400g (14 oz) each, filleted plain flour, seasoned, for coating salt and pepper lemon wedges, to serve
- For the Pea and Pancetta Puree:
- 1 onion, chopped
- 60g (2 oz) pancetta, cubed
- 60g (2 oz) butter
- 250g (9 oz) shelled fresh peas or thawed
- 1 fresh mint sprig
- 200ml (7 fl oz) light chicken stock
- 2000g (7 oz) peeled potato, diced
- 1 fresh thyme sprig
- 3 tablespoons single cream salt and pepper
To make the pea puree, sauté the onion and pancetta in half the butter until golden. Add the peas, mint, stock, potato, thyme, salt and pepper and bring up to the boil. Simmer gently, half-covered, until the potato is tender.
Remove the sprigs of mint and thyme. Puree the whole lot together, then stir in the cream. It should be quite runny so, if necessary, add a little extra chicken stock or cream to loosen the mixture. Re-heat when needed, stirring in the remaining butter and adjusting the seasoning.
Shortly before serving, preheat the grill and grill the slices of pancetta until crisp. Melt some butter in a frying pan and heat until it foams. Meanwhile, dust the sole fillets with seasoned flour. Fry in the hot butter for about 1-2 minutes per side, until barely cooked.
Spoon a puddle of pea puree on to each plate (or tip it all into one warmed serving plate) and arrange the sole fillets and pancetta on top. Serve immediately, with the lemon wedges.
Lemon Sole Meuniere
This is a dish only to be made with the freshest of flatfish. It is, naturally, sensational with sole but also an excellent way to cook the lesser members of this group, even the lowly flounder and dab, as long as they have not been kept lingering on the way from the sea to your kitchen.
At first glance, the recipe seems simplicity itself, though it takes a degree of patience (it really is worth clarifying the butter first) since the fish are best cooked one on time. Unless you eat in the kitchen, it is probably a dish to save for a twosome rather than to feed a crowd.
- !00g ( 3 ½ oz) unsalted butter
- 2 whole lemon sole
- plain flour, well seasoned, for coating
- To Serve:
- fresh parsley sprigs lemon wedges
- Clarify 60g (2 oz) of the butter.
Heat half the clarified butter in a frying pan large enough to take one of the soles. When it is foaming, coat the first sole in seasoned flour and shake off the excess.
Put the sole in the butter and cook for about 1 ½ minute on each side, until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer to a warm dish and keep warm.
Tip the used butter out of the pan and add the remaining clarified butter. Cook the second fish in the same way.
Tip out the butter in the pan and wipe clean with a piece of kitchen paper. Add the unclarified butter and melt, then let it cook over moderate heat until it turns a tempting light hazelnut brown. Immediately pour it over your sole, tuck parsley sprigs and lemon wedges around the side and serve immediately.
Megrim with Anchovy, Tomato and Red Pepper Sauce
Roasting the megrim in foil preserves all of its flavors but it still benefits from a perky sauce like this one. The sauce can be made well in advance and reheated whenever required.
It goes well with all kinds of white fish, as well as with the delicate Quenelles de Brochet. (See details dessert sauce)
- 4 megrim, weighing about 400g ( 14 oz) each, trimmed and cleaned
- salt and pepper
- For the Sauce:
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 large red pepper, de-seeded and chopped bouquet garni of 1 bay leaf, 1 fresh thyme sprig, and 1 fresh parsley stem, tied together with string
- 45g (1 ½ oz) unsalted butter
- 400g (14 oz) tin of chopped tomatoes1 tablespoon tomato puree
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 150ml (1/4 pint) dry white wine
- 1-2 tablespoons anchovy essence
- 110ml ( 4 fl oz) double cream salt and pepper
To make the sauce, put the onion, garlic, carrot, red pepper, bouquet garni, and butter into a saucepan, cover, and sweat over low heat for 10-15 minutes, until the onion is tender, stirring occasionally.
Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, sugar, and white wine and bring to the boil. Boil until reduced to a moderately thick sauce. Stir in a tablespoon of the anchovy essence and then season with salt and pepper.
Cool slightly, then remove the bouquet garni and process until smooth. Rub through a sieve, back into the saucepan, and stir in the cream. taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more anchovy essence if you think it necessary. Re-heat when needed. Preheat the oven to 200C/400 F/Gas Mark 6.
To cook the megrim, tear off four large rectangles of foil and grease the center of each one with butter. Place a megrim in the center of each piece of foil, dot with a little more butter, season with salt and pepper and then wrap in the foil, sealing the edges neatly.
Lay the parcels on baking trays and bake for about 15-18 minutes, until just cooked through. Serve the fish in their parcels, passing the sauce around in a jug for everyone to help themselves.
Roast Plaice with Mushroom and Dill Salsa
Somehow, plaice and heavy cream sauces seem all wrong for each other but a small touch of sickness is another thing altogether. In this recipe the plaice is baked with a shake of Noilly Prat and not much more than that, then served with a warm mushroom salsa, bound lightly with cream. The luxury of a modest kind.
- 2 whole place, weighing about 450g ( 1 lb) each, cleaned
- 20g ( 2/3 oz) butter
- 100ml (3 ½ fl oz) Noilly prat or dry white wine salt and pepper
- 2 fresh dill sprigs, to garnish lemon wedges, to serve
- For the Mushroom and Dill Salsa:
- 250g ( 9 oz) mushrooms, wiped and fairly finely diced
- 45g ( 1 ½ oz) butter
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons creme fraiche or soured cream salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/Gas Mark 6. To make the mushroom and dill salsa (it can be re-heated), fry the mushrooms in the butter over a gentle heat.
At first, the juices will flow out but keep cooking and stirring over a gentle heat until they have evaporated, leaving a moist mixture. Drew off the heat, stir in the dill and cream and season with salt pepper.
Trim the fins from the plaice with scissors. Make three slashes across the thickest part of the fish on each side. lay in a lightly greased, shallow baking dish or roasting tin.
Dot with the butter and pour over the Noily Prat or wine. Season with salt pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes, until just cooked.
Reheat the salsa gently without letting it boil. Put a dollop of the salsa on each plate alongside the plaice, moistened with a little of the pan juices. Add a sprig of dill and a wedge or two of lemon.
Golden Pan-fried Plaice with Roast Tomatoes and Mint
This is such a pretty, cheerful dish, with the golden-brown of the cornmeal on the Plaice itself and the dark red of the tomatoes, brushed with brown where they’ve caramelized in the heat of the oven.
It’s the dish of contrasting textures and flavors, too, with the softness of the fish against the crunch of the cornmeal and the melting sweetness of the tomatoes redolent of garlic and mint.
- 2 whole plaice, weighing about 450g ( 1 lb) each, cleaned
- fine cornmeal (polenta)
- 30g (1 oz) butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil salt and pepper\
- 2 fresh mint sprigs, to garnish lemon wedges, to serve
- For the Tomatoes:
- 4 plum tomatoes
- 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, cut into slivers
- 8 fresh mint leaves
- 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
- coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 220 C/425 F/Gas Mark 7. Start with the tomatoes. Cut them in half lengthwise and place, cut-side up, in an ovenproof dish. Push the slivers of garlic into the tomato flesh and, with the handle of a teaspoon, wedge a mint leaf into each half as well.
Drizzle over the olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and season with pepper. Roast for about 40-50 minutes, until meltingly tender and browned and charred at the edges. Keep warm or reheat as needed.
Now for the Plaice. Trim off the fins with scissors. Season a few tablespoons of cornmeal with salt and pepper. Cost each fish in cornmeal, shaking off the excess.
Heat the butter and olive oil until hot and foaming, in a pan large enough to take the Plaice (you may have to cook them separately).
Fry the fish for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until just cooked through. Lift on to serving plates, add the roast tomatoes, garnish with mint sprigs and lemon wedges and serve.
Grilled Dover Sole
Just one of the most perfect ways to cook this most delicious of fish. As with many simple recipes, it requires attention to detail-only prime fresh fish, good butter, a little sea salt- and, above all, an attentive cook who doesn’t let the fish overcook.
This is the kind of thing that I’d choose to cook as a treat for myself all alone, after a long hard day, or to share with one special friend when I wanted something that didn’t require enormous amounts of preparation but that showed I cared.
Grilled Dover Sole Fillets
I prefer to cook the fish with nothing more than a protective brush of melted butter but, if you want to touch more definition in the outer layer, you coat the fish lightly in seasoned flour after brushing it generously with butter.
Traditionally, the grilled sole is served just as it is, pure and simple, but if you want a sauce with it, why not? hollandaise or a lemony beurre blanc would honor such a choice creature very well. (See details spicy sauce recipes)
- 1 Dover sole, 350-450g (12-14 oz), cleaned and skinned melted butter coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- To Serve:
- fresh parsley sprigs
- lemon wedges
Preheat the grill thoroughly. Line the grill rack with kitchen foil. Brush the foil with melted butter. Brush one side of the sole with melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Lay on the grill rack, buttered side towards the heat.
Grill about 507.5cm (2-3 inches) away from the heat, until just firm and cooked through, having lost that translucent look some 2-3 minutes.
Turn the fish over carefully and brush the other side with butter. Season with salt and pepper and pop back under the grill until the other side is done, too.
Serve immediately with sprigs of parsley and lemon wedges.
Fillets of Sole with Anchovy Butter
An old favorite of mine, which is based on the main course of an amazing meal I managed to sneak in on years ago, down amongst the vineyards of Bordeaux, in one of the grand chateaux there. Not somewhere I get to visit often, I’m sad to say.
There they made this dish with very small sole; here I find it easier to buy fillets of sole, which actually makes life much simpler in the kitchen.
The anchovy butter can be made several days in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge; it can even be frozen if that suits better. Leftovers are wonderful on baked potatoes or steamed potatoes and on other plainly cooked vegetables, too, especially cauliflower.
- 2 * 700g ( 1 ½ lb) Dover soles, skinned, or lemon soles, filleted plain flour, seasoned clarified butter lemon wedges, to serve
- For the Anchovy Butter:
- 110g (4 oz) unsalted butter, softened
- 6 tinned anchovy fillets
- 1 ½ tablespoon double the cream lemon juice
Process all the ingredients for the anchovy butter until smooth and evenly amalgamated. If you don’t have a food processor, liquidize the anchovies with the cream and then beat into the butter with the lemon juice.
Completely gadget-less? Chop the anchovy fillets finely and they mash with 30g (1 oz) of the butter. Beat with the remaining ingredients. Pile into a bowl and chill.
Dust the sole fillets with seasoned flour. Heat a little clarified butter in a frying pan until foaming. Fry the fillets quickly on either side until golden. You’ll probably need to do this in several batches speed up the process by using two large frying pans.
Replace the butter with a fresh knob if it darkens too much. Serve quickly with the lemon wedges, handing round the cool anchovy butter separately.
When sole Veronique is made carefully, with love and attention, the freshest sole and sweet-sharp grapes, and little or nothing in the way of floury thickening for the sauce, it is as palely elegant to view as it is good to eat. It’s the more slapdash approach, to mask sole that is too old for grilling, that leads it astray far too often.
I’ve only recently come round to it, thanks to that genial, talented chef Phil a Vickery.
He cooked his version of Sole Veronique for the cameras when we were filming together recently, and showed me the charm of the dish, which I’d failed to register in the past.
- 2 * 700g (1 ½ lb ) Dover soles, skinned and filleted
- 30g (1 oz) butter
- 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
- 85ml (3 fl oz) Noilly Prat
- 225ml ( 8 fl oz) Fish Stock
- 300ml (1/2 pint) double cream
- 40 seedless grapes, halved lemon juice salt and pepper
Season the sole fillets with salt pepper (if you are particularly keen on the pale purity of the dish, use white pepper rather than black). Heat half the butter in a frying pan with half the oil.
When it is foaming pat the fillets dry on kitchen paper, then lay as many in the pan as will fit in a single layer ( with a generous pan, you should get half of them in).
Fry gently for about 1-1 ½ minutes on each side, then transfer to a serving dish and keep warm. Tip out the fat and repeat with the remaining butter, oil, and fillets.
Tip excess fat out of the pan and then deglaze with the Noily Prat: in other words, pour it in and bring up to the boil, stirring and scraping in the residues from frying the fish.
Boil until reduced to a thin film on the bottom of the pan. Add the fish stock and boil until reduced by two-thirds. Now stir in the cream and simmer for 3-5 minutes or so, until reduced to a pleasing consistency.
Stir in the grapes, a dash of lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a minute or so longer, to warm the grapes and allow some of their juice to sweeten the sauce.
Tip any juices that have gathered around the sole fillets into the sauce and stir in. Taste and adjust the seasoning and then spoon the sauce over the fillets and serve immediately.
Turbot Aux Chicos
This is a rich, celebratory dish from the north of France but it is also, as are so many good things, remarkably simple. It relies absolutely on the quality of its ingredients.
The turbot, finest of all flatfish, must be fresh and pearly, the chicory crisp and pale, it’s tapering, ivory leaves edged with bands of pale gold (not green, which indicates that it has been left out too long in the light and will be too bitter to enjoy), the cream thick and unctuous. If you can get these three right, then a fine supper is within your grasp.
- 1 * 1.5kg (3 ¼ lb) turbot, filleted 85g (3 oz) unsalted butter 2 heads of chicory, trimmed and sliced 5mm (1/4 inch) thick
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- 450ml ( ¾ pint) creme fraiche or double cream freshly grated nutmeg
- lemon juice (if you use double cream)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chervil or parsley salt and pepper
Cut the turbot into 4 portions, each weighing around 200g (7 oz). Season the fillets with salt and pepper and set aside. Melt the butter in a deep frying pan and add the sliced chicory.
Cover and cook gently until tender, about 5-10 minutes. Now add the sugar and cook for a further 3-4 minutes. Next, stir in the cream and season with salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg.
Simmer until reduced by about one-third, to a good coating consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning, stirring in a squeeze of lemon juice if you used double cream.
While the sauce simmers, steam the fillets for about 5 minutes, until just cooked through. Drain thoroughly. Place a portion of the turbot on each plate and spoon over some of the sauce. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chervil or parsley.
Seared Turbot with Wild Mushrooms
Just when I was pondering on a second recipe for the turbot section I stumbled, almost literally, across a hoard of small boletus mushrooms growing beneath trees near our house.
They may not have been the finest variety but, taken straight from the field to the kitchen and cooked within hours of picking, they were still way above-bought mushrooms.
A wild luxury, and just the thing to cook with the king of the flatfish, the turbot. This, then, is the dish that came into being, a rare treat, though now that you can buy wild mushrooms from some supermarkets (chanterelles, trompettes de la mort, and girolles would all be excellent for this dish), not as rare as it might once have been.
If you haven’t got any reduced fish stock, you can use straight fish stock ( you’ll need twice as much ) but will have to allow extra time for it to boil right down to a sticky, syrupy, so start the sauce before you cook the fish.
- 2 pieces of skinned turbot fillet, weighing about 175 (6 oz) each
- salt and pepper
- For the Sauce:
- 30g ( 1 oz) butter
- ½ tablespoon sunflower oil
- 1 shallot, very finely chopped
- 110g (4 oz) small wild mushrooms (e.g. baby ceps, chanterelles or whatever is most easily available), cleaned, cut in half or sliced if on the large side
- 150ml (1/4 pint) Reduced Fish Stock
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil salt and pepper
Wipe a heavy-based pan lightly with oil and then put it over high heat. When it is intensely hot, brush one side of each turbot fillet with a little more oil and lay it in the pan. Leave for 3 minutes before turning.
Reduce the heat a little and cook for a further 1-2 minutes, until just cooked through. Keep warm until needed.
In a separate pan, make the sauce. Heat half the butter with the oil. Fry the shallot gently until tender, then raise the heat and put in the mushrooms. Cook over a good heat, stirring once or twice until they are soft and cooked through.
Add the reduced fish stock, chervil, salt, and pepper and bring to the boil. Simmer for 1-3 minutes until syrupy, then reduce the heat slightly and whisk in the last of the butter, cut into small pieces, to thicken the sauce.
Taste and adjust the seasoning and spoon the sauce over the turbot. Devour immediately.