Monday, 3 February 2014

Grilled whole lemon sole with crispy mussels, pickled cucumber and hollandaise sauce

As with most cooks and food enthusiasts, most of my inspiration comes from my experiences and memories. I was quite a fussy eater growing up and would demand dry, plain pasta or breaded chicken. I hated marmite, mushrooms or anything with even the slightest hint of a sauce. I even refused to eat burgers until well into my teens, and when I finally allowed poor dad to cook me some they had to be cremated to within an inch of their lives. Oh how times have changed. But even with such rigid tastes, for some reason I took an early liking to fish and would be the first to snaffle a stray mussel or order a seafood pizza (something that I definitely wouldn’t nowadays!). I guess my dad was the driving force behind this, as his love for all things fishy almost matches mine.

My memories of eating lemon sole are deep rooted and happy. As kids we would often holiday driving through France or Spain, singing songs or deep in sleep in the back of a huge estate car. We would stop off camping along the way, spending the evenings fishing with bamboo rods and the days (much to our displeasure) looking at local castles or art. Sorry mum! For dinner we would often drive to the local harbour towns and pitch up at a restaurant along the front, the sort laid with baskets of bread and concentrated garlic butter and heady with sangria and sweaty mosquito repellent fumes. Despite many holidays I only remember ordering one thing; whole baked flatfish with garlic and herb butter. And I would order it again and again. Despite my adventurous ordering you must remember I was still very much fixed in my tastes! It would be back to a bowl of rice with the accompanying pile of picked out mushrooms upon my return… 

Funnily enough I have barely eaten it since. It’s just been one of those meals that seems so obvious when at home but flies from your mind when it comes round to doing the shopping. So I was very happy when I left Jonathan Norris with a couple of superb lemon sole the other day. Although less fashionable than the dover sole, for my money they are just as tasty and a whole lot cheaper. Now is the perfect time of the year to eat them too; they are large and plump, and just starting to take on a little bit of roe. Although I have added a few accompaniments in this recipe, it all comes back to the wonderful taste of the freshly cooked, moist fish. After one mouthful I could have been back on holiday again. 

Serves 2


For the lemon sole: 

2 large lemon sole, gutted and outer skirt trimmed 
20g butter 
Half a lemon, juice only 
Olive oil 
Salt and pepper 

For the crispy mussels: 

6 live mussels, de-bearded 
Splash of white wine 
1 egg, beaten 
4 tbsp plain flour 
4 tbsp panko breadcrumbs 
Sunflower oil for deep frying 
Salt and pepper 

For the pickled cucumber: 

Quarter of a cucumber, quartered lengthways, de-seeded and cut into thin slices 
4 tbsp white wine vinegar 
4 tbsp caster sugar 
1 bay leaf 
6 black peppercorns 

For the hollandaise: 

4 tbsp white wine vinegar 
1 bay leaf 
6 black peppercorns 
200g butter, melted 
2 egg yolks 
1 lemon, juice to taste 
Salt and pepper 

To finish: 

Chervil leaves

To pickle the cucumber, heat the vinegar, sugar, bay leaf and peppercorns in a small saucepan until combined and just boiling. Put the sliced cucumber into a small bowl and cover with the strained hot liquid. Set aside to cool down. 

Put a dry saucepan onto a high heat. When hot add the mussels and the white wine, which will bubble straight away. Seal with a tight fitting lid and shake well. Cook until the shells only just open, about one minute then remove from the heat. Carefully remove the plump flesh, discarding the shells. Scatter the flour onto one plate, the panko onto another and beat the egg in a small bowl, seasoning each. Roll the mussels in the flour, then dip in the egg before finally covering in the breadcrumbs. Set aside until needed. 

For the hollandaise sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan then transfer to a jug and allow to cool slightly. Reduce the vinegar, bay leaf and peppercorns in a separate small saucepan until only one tablespoon of liquid is left. Put the two egg yolks into a small food processor and combine well with the cooled vinegar reduction, a little salt and pepper and a splash of warm water. With the machine running pour in the butter very slowly, adding more water if the mixture looks too thick. When all of the butter has been emulsified, squeeze in a little lemon juice and taste for seasoning. Keep warm while you cook the fish. 

Pre-heat the grill to medium-hot. 

Pour 2 inches of sunflower oil into a saucepan and heat to 170⁰C. 

Drizzle a little oil onto the bottom of a non-stick oven tray and season well. Rub oil all over the lemon soles and place on top, then add seasoning to the top. Cook under the grill for about 11-13 minutes, until the flesh just comes away from the bone. Baste every couple of minutes, adding the butter half way through cooking. 

When the sole is a couple of minutes away from being cooked, lower the mussels into the hot oil. Fry for 1-2 minutes, until lightly golden and crisp. Remove to drain on greaseproof paper. 

When the soles are cooked squeeze over the lemon juice and transfer carefully to plates. Top with the chervil leaves, drained pickled cucumber, crispy mussels and a few dollops of the hollandaise sauce. Eat straight away.

1 comment:

  1. Another great entry Sam....Although I am not a competent cook, I just love your enthusiasm and passion. The way you write about food and how they link so clearly to certain memories is beautiful. Keep blogging lovely xxx