Brighton Aquarium has a 70 year old turtle called Lulu in residence. I’d like to think she was named after the singer rather than the prostitute who gets murdered by Jack the Ripper in Alban Berg’s eponymous opera. She’s overweight (the turtle). Apparently the zookeepers at her previous home didn’t realise she was a vegetarian, and fed her steaks. Apparently she didn’t realise either, and ate them.
I know this from my chat with the very helpful aquarium keeper when I visited a couple of weekends ago. Oddly enough though, she couldn’t tell the difference between the plaice and turbot in the less exotic tanks. I don’t blame her, though, they’re an aquarium for chrissakes, not a fishmonger. Nobody goes to an aquarium to see eating fish…
Anyway the way to tell the difference between plaice and turbot is that plaice, hilariously, has red polka dots on its skin. I don’t believe in god, but if he exists he obviously has a great sense of humour. A polka-dotted fish! He must have dined out for years on that one.
So here is a recipe for plaice featuring two of my favourite ingredients from the high English summer – salty samphire and lemony sorrel.
350-400g plaice fillets. If you are filleting the fish yourself this probably represents the yield from 2 plaice of about 500g each (4 slender fillets per fish). There’s nothing particularly special about plaice in this recipe – indeed it might work better with a fish where the skin crisps up more easily, like bass or bream.
Salt and pepper
For the pancakes:
About 130g samphire
The contents of an egg, separated
Salt and pepper
60g self-raising flour
A pinch of baking powder
1 tbsp butter
For the sauce:
2 green onions/scallions
A bunch of sorrel
100mL hot vegetable stock
100mL white wine
2 dessert spoons of crème fraiche
Salt and pepper
- Pre-heat the oven to 100C.
- Wash and slice the green onions finely. Remove the sorrel leaves from the stalks. Pile them on top of each other and roll into a cigar shape and shred finely.
- If the fish still has the frills attached, trim them off.
- Examine the samphire and remove any woody-looking or overly fat specimens – they will be stringy and unpleasant to eat. Rinse. Boil for one minute. Drain. Rinse in cold water to stop the cooking.
- Whisk the egg yolk, flour and baking powder together, and then whisk in the milk to form a smooth batter. Season. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add the samphire to the batter and fold in the egg whites gently until just combined. You do not want to deflate the egg whites by stirring too much.
- Put a large non-stick frying pan over high heat and melt the butter. When foaming, pour the batter into two dollops in the pan (10-12cm food rings will help make a consistent shape). Reduce the heat to medium. Fry for a couple of minutes, then flip and cook for a further couple of minutes so that they are golden brown on both sides and cooked through. Transfer to the oven to keep warm.
- Wipe the pan clean with kitchen paper and return to a high heat. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil, then place the fish fillets, skin side down, in the pan (you may need 2 pans; or fry them in batches). Fry for 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillet. Reduce the heat to medium. Flip and fry for a minute or 2 on the other side, or until cooked through. Season and transfer to the oven to keep warm.
- Add a little more olive oil to the pan. Add the green onions and soften for about a minute. Add the wine and stock, turn the heat up to high and boil vigorously until reduced by at least half. Add the sorrel leaves (reserving a few for a garnish. This is quite important. Sorrel goes an unattractive grey/green colour when cooked; a few reserved leaves scattered over the top of the finished dish makes it more attractive). Add the crème fraiche and continue to reduce until of a satisfactory sauce consistency (a couple of minutes). This requires a bit of judgement. Continuously taste and examine the consistency with a spoon until you are satisfied. Season to taste.
- Place a pancake in the centre of each of two plates. Arrange the fish fillets on top and then pour the sauce over. Garnish with the reserved sorrel leaves.
Wine suggestion – oh, basically any decent white wine will go nicely, but I recommend a dry chenin blanc from the Loire Valley, such as the 2009 Chateau de Putille Anjou Sec (£8.50 from Stone Vine & Sun). Sorrel is very lemony so you need a wine with very high acidity, and sufficient body to match the creaminess of the sauce and the stodginess of the pancake. This is a charming wine, with aromas of dried apples, honey and hay, and has a fat palate with tight, creamy acidity on the finish, and goes down very nicely indeed.