Saturday night fish

After buying a whole lemon sole and then butchering it to pieces with my general purpose kitchen knife, I indulged myself in the purchase of a shiny new Sabatier filleting knife. Which is a bit weird, because I’ve always been a total minimalist in the kitchen: one knife, one chopping board, one wooden spoon and one pestle-and-mortar; that’ll basically do me for any and all cooking tasks. But I love my new filleting knife! And I love the daft sense of satisfaction I get from filleting a fish (fairly) well.

So these are the various fish we’ve tried on our new “lockdown Saturday night fish suppers” along with a few comments on the fish, the filleting and the accompaniments…

Sea bream was good. We had it with roast garlic and butternut squash puree, leeks and plenty of chilli sauce. Pan fried, floured first, it was perfect white fish with a distinctive taste (maybe from being farmed?). It was okay filleting it; cut behind the gills, then cut along the spine to the tail, then carefully cut free the fillet. Scraping off the scales was a bit of a pain, and the pin bones were big enough to need removing.

Skate wing is always excellent, pan fried. It usually needs the lid put on the pan with the heat off for five minutes, just to make sure it cooks through. Often put a spoonful of capers in the pan once the fish is out, and then spoon that caper butter over the fish. Usually we serve with potato and leek, and perhaps some kind of sauce. Romesco is good.

Gurnard is a good fish, meaty texture without being chewy, and flavourful. Filleting is not much trouble, just cutting in behind the head and then down the body. It was good with a ravigote sauce; easy to make and nicely mustardy, this time with a boiled egg chopped into it to give extra body.

Lemon sole I like a lot. Its a big floppying thing to fillet, you stick your knife in one end beside the spine and work down between spine and edge to the tail, then cut away the meat over the sticky-up spine, and finally cut the rest of the fillet away. As usual I floured it and pan-fried; it’s a thin and delicate fish so really needs about one minute each side.

Dover sole is very different from lemon sole, being altogether more meaty and very delicious in flavour… almost nutty? We had a monster that actually made two meals; you start filleting by cutting right down the centre line on top of the spine, and then fillet away on either side, so you end up with four nice fillets. First time we had it with potato and leek along with a very pungently smoky romesco sauce.

Arctic char is a pale pink colour and quite firm, in some ways it feels like a bit of a cross between salmon and white fish. I may have slightly overcooked it, but I’d say on the whole it deserves its price point of “cheap fish” – it’s not quite as good to eat as salmon, but still perfectly delicious with some flavoursome sauce.

Brill is another flat fish, and I found it to be closer to lemon sole; white and delicate (almost crumbly). It’s a similar process to fillet it, and actually I now understand that the process I’ve sketched for lemon sole vs dover sole really works for any of these flatfish, it just depends whether you want four fillets or two, and probably a bit on the size of the fish. Fennel salad is lovely with any fish: mandolin half a fennel bulb, then toss it with the juice of half a lemon, some extra virgin olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper.

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