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A Little Bit of Sole

May 21, 2008

The warmer months tend to bring about thoughts of salads and vegetables and all-around healthy eating. It’s around about now that my wintertime heavy cream binging starts to feel like a bad idea, and all my suddenly extra squishy bits start shouting at me, demanding green things and, inevitably, fish. I am not generally a seafood eater. I don’t get excited by the idea of lobster or oysters or salmon or mussels. I still remember the first time I found myself enjoying fish (at a restaurant called Skates in Oakland when I was 13), and similar memories are, well, few and far between. But around about May, when my mac and cheese regrets kick in, I find myself lingering at the seafood counter and buying things like sole.

Yes, it’s the annual “Please Try to Be Healthy, Laura” fest up in here, and I’ve now had sole for dinner two nights in a row. And you know what? I think I’ve also managed to form two new positive fish memories. Tuesday night I took another cue from Blake Makes and Bon Appetit and wrapped my sole fillets with a bit of asparagus up in parchment. Tonight, I threw caution to the wind. I cooked without a recipe of any kind. And I think I’ve decided sole might be one of my favorite kinds of fish. Who knew?

It would probably have been better if I hadn’t decided to do a little sole research this afternoon, and read that sole is a bottom-feeding fish. There’s just something about the phrase “bottom feeder” that puts me in mind of, well, of things I don’t want to eat. We’re going to forget about that, though. Sorry I even mentioned it. Sole is a lovely, delicate, white fish that cooks up flaky and tender, and nothing anyone can say about it will turn me away.

Both methods of cooking the thin fillets—in the oven wrapped in parchment and on the stove with a bit of olive oil and a seasoned crust—produced excellent dinners. The fish cooked through perfectly (no raw seafood bits for me, thanks, unless its in sushi), and the fish took on the flavors of the various seasonings and sauces quite nicely: not enough to overwhelm it, but enough to make things interesting

Sole and Asparagus in Parchment

  • about 1/2 lb. sole fillets (the pieces I bought at the market were about half an inch thick and six inches long)
  • about 16 stalks of asparagus, rough ends trimmed off
  • 1 T. butter
  • juice from one orange (I used a tangelo, actually, because oranges are just not flavorful or juicy where I am)
  • about 1/2 tsp. of the zest from the orange/tangelo
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar
  • a pinch of salt and some pepper
  • a small handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut two pieces of parchment paper, about 10 or 12 inches square, and butter each piece of parchment. In the center of each piece, lay half of the sole and arrange half the asparagus around it. Dot the top of the sole with bits of butter.

In a small bowl, mix together the orange juice, zest, balsamic vinegar, mint leaves, and a bit of salt.

Working with one parchment-fish bundle at a time, carefully fold up the sides and pour in half the orange liquid. Sprinkle a bit of pepper on top, fold the edges of the parchment paper together, and crimp it to seal the bundle. This is not quite as easy as it sounds, but it doesn’t have to be perfection. Just close it up enough so the liquid doesn’t escape. (I will confess: I had to wrap another bit of parchment around my parchment-fish bundle because I tore the paper in my folding attempts. I am not graceful.)

Place the fish bundles on a baking sheet, and throw them in the oven for about 15 to 17 minutes. That is one of the fastest and easiest dinners ever, and it looks elegant and impressive.

As delicious as my parchment fish was, however, tonight’s sole stole the show.

I made this up as I went along, with only a vague idea what I was doing. And except for the fish falling apart a bit on its way from frying pan to plate, everything worked out perfectly. This more than made up for the kitchen disasters of last week (damn you, roasted red pepper sauce! I am still cursing you in my mind!).

I decided to add a grain to dinner tonight because asparagus and fish alone did not provide sustenance enough last night and allowed me to get a little too tipsy on the wine. You could probably do this with couscous or rice, or, if you can find it (why can’t I ever find it?), Israeli couscous, or pearl pasta. I used the pantry staple and all-time favorite, Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains.

Lemon Pepper Sole with Beans and Harvest Grains

(Ok, that is not an entirely great name for this, but it’s going to have to do because I can’t think of anything else.)

  • about 1/2 lb. of sole fillets
  • 1 T. lemon pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried dill
  • 1 T. coriander
  • a bit of salt
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • about 1 c. rice/grains/couscous/what-have-you, and a little more than enough chicken stock to cook them
  • 1/4 c. chopped manzanilla olives (the kind stuffed with pimentos)
  • a good handful of frozen haricots verts (I used a mixture of yellow and green beans)
  • about 1-2 T. ponzu (citrus soy sauce)
  • salt and pepper

While the grains/rice/couscous/what-have-you are cooking, mix together the lemon pepper, dill, coriander, and a bit of salt in a shallow bowl or plate. Dip each piece of fish into the mixture so its well coated on both sides.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the oil is nice and hot, carefully place the fish fillets into the skillet. Make sure they are not too crowded, because no one (and no fish) likes to be crowded. (Well, maybe fish don’t mind being crowded when they’re alive, but it’s not very good for the cooking.) Cook the fish for about three or four minutes on each side, and remove from the skillet. You might want to cover them with tin foil so they don’t get cold.

When the grains are almost completely done cooking but there is still a bit of liquid in the pot, transfer the grains and the extra liquid into the skillet you just used for the fish. Add the beans and the chopped up olives, and a good healthy splash of ponzu. Let it all cook together over medium-high heat so the liquid bubbles and the beans cook and all the flavors come happily together for a little party in the pan. Season it all with a bit of salt and pepper and serve with the fish on the side. It’s good times, I’m tellin’ you.

With these two excellent fish cookery experiences under my belt, I might be willing to try my hand with another new fish next week. Maybe I’m more open to becoming a seafood person than I thought. Maybe I will even, one day, enjoy eating mussels. Ok, maybe not.

What is your favorite fish for eating? Do you have any particular cooking method that never fails?

(PS: Whoo! How do you like my new look? I’m still playing around and customizing CSS, so let me know what works and what you hate and whether you really can’t abide by change at all.)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2008 7:56 pm

    Um, with mad blogging (and photography) skills like this, we need to get you guesting on Blake Makes. Thanks for the shout out! Love, love, love your blog! bk

  2. May 22, 2008 7:48 pm

    Thanks! I must say, though, that I think the new camera deserves more credit than I for the pictures.

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