- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

After swooning over a dish in a good restaurant, I often ask if the chef will share the recipe. Much to my delight, the head of the kitchen usually sends the waiter back with some general directions, which I transfer to a small notepad.

Several weeks ago in Paris, I had such an experience. At a small Left Bank eatery called Les Ormes, I ordered sole with pistachios. Every bite was pure bliss, so I chatted with the waiter and took notes about this splendid main course. Later I made my own version. Though delicious, it needed a flavor boost.

The sole had been prepared a la meuniere, which translates to “in the style of the miller’s wife.” This simple technique calls for thin fish fillets to be dipped in milk, dusted with flour, then quickly sauteed in butter until golden. A drizzle of melted butter, a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of parsley are final touches.

The chef had prepared the sole this way but then had sprinkled chopped pistachios over the fillets. The beautiful green color as well as the crunchy texture of the nuts gave new life to this classic.

On a second visit to the restaurant, I ordered the sole again and this time hit pay dirt. The chef appeared at our table at the end of dinner, eager to talk about the fish. Within minutes, I knew my rendition would approximate his if salted pistachios were used. Voila. I had the secret.

True sole (called Dover sole) is rarely available, and when it is, it’s often astronomically expensive in the United States, so I tried gray sole and flounder fillets. Although not as firm-textured as the Dover sole I cooked in Paris, they worked well.

Fish prepared a la meuniere is best served to a small group, so I plan to make these fillets the centerpiece of a dinner for four. However, you can cut the following recipe in half for a special dinner for two.

Green beans and saffron rice will accompany the fish, and in keeping with the menu’s French spirit, I’ll offer salad and cheeses afterward and end the evening with a sorbet.

Sole with salted pistachios

1/4 cup shelled, roasted and salted pistachios, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1½ teaspoons grated lemon zest (colored portion of rind)

1/3 cup milk

3/4 cup flour

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

6 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more if needed, divided

11/4 to 1½ pounds fresh flatfish fillets with a fine, firm texture (see note)

Salt

2 teaspoons lemon juice

4 lemon wedges for garnish

Chop pistachios and combine them in a small bowl with parsley and lemon zest. Set aside.

Pour milk into a shallow bowl, and spread flour on a dinner plate. Dip each fillet in the milk, then dredge in flour.

Place two large skillets, preferably nonstick ones, over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and 2 tablespoons butter to each. When butter has melted and is very hot but not smoking, add half the fish in a single layer to each pan. Salt and cook until golden brown on underside, about 2 minutes.

Using a metal spatula, turn and salt fish on other side. Cook until golden brown on other side, about 2 minutes more. Add extra butter to pans if needed while sauteing fish. (Because these fillets are so thin, they cook very quickly, usually in less than 5 minutes total, so watch carefully.) Using the spatula, transfer fillets to 4 dinner plates and cover loosely with foil.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in one of the skillets and stir in lemon juice. Then pour melted butter and lemon juice over the fillets. Sprinkle each serving with some of the pistachio, parsley and lemon mixture and garnish with a lemon wedge. Serve immediately. Squeeze juice from the wedge over each portion. Makes 4 servings.

Note: True sole is a flatfish found in European waters off coastal areas from Denmark to the Mediterranean. The best-known is called Dover sole; it has a fine, firm and delicate flesh.

Because it is rarely available in the United States, you may substitute any of several varieties of flatfish. Rex, lemon, petrale and gray sole fillets, and also flounder fillets, will work. Ask your fish merchant to recommend flatfish fillets that are firm enough for pan frying and that are absolutely fresh.

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