All Sole Day

27 Sep

Tell me something…

Manhattan Bridge

Have you ever made Sole à la Meunière? You know, the über-classic French dish of sole cooked in butter and then served covered in foamy beurre noisette?

No? Well, you should. Today.

Go on. I’ll wait while you skip down to the fish monger to pick up a sole fillet for each of you, a bunch of parsley and a lemon.

Tap, tap, tap. Back? Okay, good, let’s get started!

Manhattan Bridge

You’ve got a small sautée pan, right? Good, put 2 tablespoons of butter into it and heat it over a low flame. There should be a white film at the bottom and foam on the surface. When the foam dissipates (or nearly so) and the butter is clear pour it into a larger sautée pan and add a glug of olive oil. My butter went beyond pale yellow to a nutty brown and it was just fine, so don’t panic. Heat the fats in the larger sautée pan over medium heat.

Rinse your sole (heh), season with salt and pepper and dredge lightly in flour and place immediately in the pan. Do not crowd the pan or you’ll never be able to flip them. Turn the heat down to lowish and allow to cook for 5 minutes or so. I flipped my sole when it began to feel firmer and I could see the edges becoming opaque.

Manhattan Bridge

Now the fun part. It might help to have an extra set of hands around for this one. If you’ve got a fish spatula, use it. If not, use your biggest, yet thinnest, spatula and a fork or something to try and flip your fish. Be delicate. The fish is incredibly flaky and there’s a large quantity of very hot fat in front of you. My sole broke. I know, tragic, right? But I survived and you will too!

Allow the fish to cook on this side until it loosens from the bottom and feels firm when you poke it. Move your sole to the plates you’re going to eat off of and cover with a smattering of washed, picked parsley and if you’re feeling sassy, a few capers. Drain the cooking fats from the pan and return it to the heat. Add 2 tablespoons of your very best butter and heat slowly. Don’t take your eyes, or your nose, off it for a second.

This is the time to use the good stuff lurking in your fridge, you know, that fancy pants French beurre you paid an arm and a leg for? Yeah, this is the time. You’re making beurre noisette mon amie! The word noisette here doesn’t refer to actual hazelnuts, instead it refers to the aroma the butter will release when it is heated to a certain temperature. It will turn a light golden brown and smell of roasted filberts. I kid you not.

Manhattan Bridge

This will happen in a few minutes time. When it does, immediately turn the heat off and remove the pan from the flame and pour directly over the fish. It will hiss and pop and make all sorts of wonderful noises and release delicious aromas. Take the plates to the table, squeeze some lemon over your sole and dig in. This is seriously good stuff and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

I awoke to this adventure on Saturday morning after a late night of playing poker with friends. I was neither bright eyed and most certainly not bushy tailed when the Boy returned from the gym, much to my dismay, perky, enthusiastic and babbling on about how the fish guys have soul.

Manhattan Bridge

Now, I’ve seen these guys and they most likely do not have rhythm and probably cannot sing the blues so I had to assume that he meant sole, not soul. I was skeptical. I’m not a huge fish person (aside from clams), but he looked so excited. I agreed to play along.

I had no idea what to do with sole so I turned to The Madame. That recipe above, that I distilled for you into about 400 words, runs on for 2 1/2 pages in La Bonne Cuisine, but, as with my Sauce Périgueux, it turned out perfectly.

Sole a la Meuniere

To accompany I braised some fresh lima beans with prosciutto and dried porcini mushrooms. I’m kind of sad that this recipe played the Miranda to the sole’s Carrie, because it was so good. The mushrooms and their soaking liquid along with the cured meat add so much heft and depth and profundity to this lowly, unloved bean.

Luckily though, there were limas left over, and we had them for dinner last night, heated through and tossed with farro pasta and a little cheese. Boy was that a vavavooom dinner!

Luscious Lima Beans

So I hope this has encouraged you and heartened you to try making this bistro classic in your own home. Don’t be afraid of the smells (if your fish is fresh and you have good ventilation, no problem), or the flipping or the butter browning.

It’s all doable and will impress that pants off your hubby or wife or mother-in-law, or hell, even the Pope. But he’s German, so he’d probably hate it (you know, because it’s French).

Head below the jump for the recipes for The Madame’s Sole and Luscious Limas.

The Madame’s Sole

prep time: 5 minutes ~ cooking time: 30 minutes or so

  • 2 tbsps Butter + 2 tbsps very good Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Sole fillet per person (2 for this recipe)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Flour
  • Parsley, washed and picked
  • Capers, rinsed
  • 1 Lemon, cut in wedges

Place a small sautée pan over low heat and put the first 2 tablespoons of the lesser butter into the pan. Melt and then clarify the butter by heating slowly. The butter is clarified when it is clear like olive oil. There may be bits of foam around the outside or the butter may have gone from pale yellow to light brown. This is okay. If it’s any darker, start over.

Transfer the clarified butter to a larger sautée pan, add a glug of olive oil so that there’s a layer of fat, about 1/4 in covering the entire pan. Heat over medium heat. Rinse the sole, season with salt and pepper and dredge lightly in flour. Shake off the excess flour and place the sole directly (and carefully) into the hot fat. Do not crowd the pan. Turn the heat down slightly.

Allow the fish to cook about 5 minutes or until the fish has released from the bottom of the pan, become a bit firm and the edges have begun to turn opaque. Flip the fish by any means necessary and allow to cook another 5 minutes or so, or until the fish releases from the bottom of the pan and is nice and firm. Move the fish to the plates they will be eaten from. Sprinkle the sole with a little parsley and a few capers.

Drain the excess fats from the sautée pan and add the 2 tablespoons of the good butter. Heat over a low flame until it is light brown and smells of hazelnuts (this will take a few minutes). When the butter reaches this stage, turn off the flame and immediately pour it over the sole. It will crackle and hiss and pop and make wonderful noises. Take the fish immediately to the table and squeeze some lemon juice over it. Dig in and enjoy!

Luscious Limas

prep time: as long as it takes to shell the lima beans + 30 minutes ~ cooking time: 20-30 minutes

  • Olive Oil
  • 2 slices Prosciutto cut into lardons
  • 3 medium Leeks, cut into half moons and rinsed
  • 1 Shallot, sliced
  • 4-6 cloves Garlic, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups dry Vermouth
  • 1 packet dried Porcini Mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup hot water
  • 2 cups shelled Lima Beans
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Lemon Juice

Add a glug of olive oil to a dutch oven and heat over medium flame. Add the prosciutto and cook until it begins to get crispy. Add the leeks, shallot and garlic and cook until softened. Add the vermouth, porcini mushrooms and their liquid and the lima beans.

Allow to cook uncovered at low simmer for at least 20 minutes and then continue to cook until the liquid has all but disappeared. Season with salt and pepper and a hint of lemon juice.

This is delicious as is, but even better as leftovers tossed with farro or whole wheat pasta, some grated cheese and a glug of extra virgin olive oil. Enjoy!


12 Responses to “All Sole Day”

  1. Experiment 1 September 27, 2007 at 9:09 am #

    Yum – I think I’ll try cooking this on the weekend, I’ll let you know how it goes!


  2. Lisa (Homesick Texan) September 27, 2007 at 11:32 am #

    If you’re worried about a fishy smell, you could always bake a cake for dessert.

  3. Lisa (Not Homesick, Not Texan) September 27, 2007 at 1:14 pm #

    Thanks for bringing this classic back! I was a bit surprised at how good the lima bean dish sounded. I was traumatized by lima beans as a child (my Mom, bless her heart, was a terrible cook) and haven’t had any since. But I will definitely try them again prepared the way you did

  4. Lydia September 27, 2007 at 1:39 pm #

    A beautiful and classic meal. Next time, invite me!

  5. Kevin September 27, 2007 at 7:49 pm #

    Get this. Outside of when in Europe, I’ve never seen fresh sole for sale in Western Canada. How sad is that. And to make a sweeping generalization [always wise, I know], ‘flatlanders’ – ie. people NOT living on the coast – typically know crap about fresh fish. Living quite far inland has its disadvantages.

  6. ann September 28, 2007 at 7:44 am #

    Hi Experiment 1 — Thanks for stopping by. Let me know how it works out if you try it.

    Lisa(ht) — Well now, why didn’t I think of that! Genius!

    Lisa (nhnt) — Thanks. I love lima beans, personally. Somehow my mom never tortured me with them as a kid. I bet you’ll be surprised at the texture of fresh ones, they’re so pleasant. Meaty, buttery, delicious.

    Lydia — lol. Of course!

    Kevin — Well, if we’re making sweeping generalisations… Even in this day and age where you can get anything from anywhere I still won’t eat fish when I’m more than a couple hundred miles away from the coast. Like, when we were in Colorado, uhuh, no fish, unless it was local trout. Crazy, right?

  7. izzy's mama September 28, 2007 at 9:38 pm #

    Ah yes..Sole A La Belle Meuniere..I prefer not to think about it for it once changed the course of my life. Not sure for better or for day I shall blog about it. Since that fateful day, I haven’t thought about making it again.

    Yours does look awfully appealing though..

  8. david September 29, 2007 at 5:14 pm #

    This looks so good I think I’ll have to try it.

  9. Adry Long September 29, 2007 at 6:20 pm #

    I love lima beans…I’d love to try this recipe out. Also, your pictures make me want to move back to NYC. :(

  10. Christina September 30, 2007 at 10:42 am #

    Hey Ann. This post is further proof that you are a complete bean convert.

    Your bright eyed, bushy tailed comment reminding me of a New Year’s in college. I had spent the night at a friend’s house where everyone, his parents, his parents’ friends, our friends, random neighbors, were all celebrating quite happily. The next morning, I got up to get a glass of water in the kitchen. While I was pouring myself a glass, my friend’s mother stumbled into the room, still a little drunk from the night before, and asked me if I was feeling “bright tailed and bushy eyed.” Although she had no idea she had made the mix-up, since then, I’ve always considered that my standard hangover description.

  11. ann October 1, 2007 at 6:48 am #

    Izzy’s Mama — Eep! Sorry to dredge up conflicting memories!

    David — Thanks for stopping by.

    Hi Adry — Thanks for the compliment… It’s especially nice coming from you. Your photos are gorgeous!

    Christina — Hilarious! You nailed it. I was so jaded that morning. I can’t wait until it’s cool enough to make the beans you sent me! So excited :-)

  12. Julie October 5, 2007 at 11:22 am #

    Your fish looks perfect and capers and lemon juice seem like a perfect accompaniement. I still feel like I can never find really good fish in Baltimore. Seems sort of ludicrous, doesn’t it? Your lima beans also look great and good fresh limas I can lay my hands on.

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