“Fish,” claimed Jonathan Swift, “Should swim thrice: First it should swim in the Sea, then it should swim in Butter, and at last, Sirrah, it should swim in good Claret.”
Nature will provide for the first part of Swift’s prescription for what to do with a fish. This pretty and elegantly simple way of preparing sole or flounder will have the fish swimming in butter–and lemon and parsley besides. And you will have the fun of choosing the good cheer for “The Last Swim”–thus bringing Mr. Swift’s formula to a successful and most satisfactory conclusion.
Fillets of Sole or Flounder with Lemon Butter Sauce (for 6 people or 8 people): The fish is most easily prepared in two pans (half of the fillets in each one.) There’s no need to adjust the amounts of ingredients for the sauce–it will be enough in either case–whether 3 or 4 fillets are sautéed in a pan.
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A Timing Note: The fillets and sauce are best if made right before serving them. The actual cooking time is quite short and the ingredients may all be arranged, ready to put together, in advance.
- 6 (or 8) Fillets of Sole or Flounder: Sole fillets are used in the photographed version of the dish. A whole fillet of sole will be in 3 pieces–1 larger and 2 smaller ones. If frozen, the whole fillets may come individually wrapped. Thaw them in the refrigerator, then separate each whole fillet carefully into 3 pieces. They are delicate and tear more easily than flounder. The 2 smaller pieces of a sole fillet will look a bit raggedy. Arrange them beneath the larger piece when dividing the fillets among the plates. (As noted above, there’s no need to change the amounts of any ingredient other than the number of fillets, whether the dish is made for 6 or 8 people.)
- About 1 cup of Flour, seasoned with 1 teaspoon of Salt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground Black Pepper: mix the flour, salt and pepper together with a fork on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper
- Olive Oil: enough to cover the bottom of each of 2 pans and just rise up the sides of them a bit
- 2 medium-sized Lemons
- 200 grams (about 7 ounces or 14 Tablespoons) of Butter, cut in pieces and divided into two parts of equal weight–100 grams each (3 and 1/2 ounces or 7 Tablespoons)
- 4 Tablespoons of fresh Parsley, flat-leaf or curly, finely chopped and divided into two equal portions, plus a small branch of Parsley to garnish each plate of fillets before serving them
- 2 large rimmed Baking Sheets, lined with Parchment Paper: one for flouring the fish and the other on which to place the sautéed fillets while you make the sauce
- 2 wide, flat-bottomed Pans
- some Aluminum Foil for covering the sautéed fillets while making the sauce
- a Whisk
1. Peel the lemons, removing both the zest and the pith, so that the segments of the fruit are revealed whole. Run a knife down between the sides of the segments and remove them whole. Then, break them up into smaller pieces. Put the segments of both lemons into a small bowl and set them aside at room temperature. Squeeze out the juice remaining in the lemons, divide it into 2 equal portions and set these aside as well:
2. Place the 2 portions of cut-up butter on two small plates or in small bowls (100 grams in each bowl, or, about 3 and 1/2 ounces or 7 Tablespoons). Put the butter in the freezer while the fillets are being prepared.
3. With a fork, on one of the parchment lined, rimmed baking sheets, mix together the cup of flour, a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
4. Pour enough olive oil into 2 wide, flat-bottomed pans to cover the pans’ bottoms and rise up the sides just a very little. (There should be enough oil in which to quickly sauté the fish, but, at the same time, there’s no need to waste good olive oil.)
5. Heat the pans of oil gradually over a Medium Low flame and, while the oil heats, place the fillets in the seasoned flour and turn them just to coat them lightly:
6. When the oil is hot and just barely shimmering, place half of the fillets in each pan and sauté them (turning them once as they cook) to a light golden colour. Transfer them to the second baking sheet lined with parchment and cover them lightly with aluminum foil to keep them warm while making the sauce. (The fillets will go back into the sauce for a brief re-heating, too.)
7. Spoon out all but about 1 Tablespoon of oil from each pan. Place the 2 portions of cold butter bits and the 2 portions of lemon juice conveniently near the stove. Arrange the serving plates out on a counter or work space so that the fillets may be served quickly once the sauce is done. Place the segments of lemon and branches of parsley near the plates for garnishing the fillets.
8. Prepare the sauce, 1 pan at a time: Place a pan over Medium heat. Whisk in half of the bits of butter, a piece at a time (100 grams, equivalent to 3 and 1/2 ounces or 7 Tablespoons). When all the butter is has been added, whisk in half the lemon juice and 1/2 of the minced parsley.
9. Return half of the fillets to the pan of sauce and turn them gently so that they are covered in sauce and begin to absorb it. Set the pan aside, off the heat, and make the second pan of sauce in the same manner and add the rest of the fillets to it.
10. Arrange the fillets on plates. Garnish each plate of fillets with some of the lemon segments. Drizzle whatever sauce remains in the pans over the fillets and place a small whole branch of fresh parsley on each plate. (It looks pretty.)
A Note: Fillets of Sole or Flounder with Lemon Butter Sauce is adapted from a recipe that appeared in the Austrian cooking journal Gusto in 2006 (No. 10-a). It is the Main Course for the Lunch Menu: A Cold Winter’s Day Luncheon Menu Reminiscent of Sunny Climes.
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© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012