Thursday, October 28, 2010

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

“Why does Sea World have a seafood restaurant?? I'm halfway through my fish burger and I realize, Oh my God....I could be eating a slow learner.”
- Lynda Montgomery, comedienne

            When we were kids, our family took the requisite summer holiday road trip across the United States.  It would always involve some beach house by the Atlantic coast.  Maine, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida.  And every year, without fail, my father would go into the ocean (he didn’t believe in the National Park Service regulations), collect something, and declare, “You know you can eat that.”  He then proceeded to dump that poor aquatic life form – sea urchins, clams, sea cucumbers, sea snails, blue crab, conch - into the red Igloo Playmate cooler for later consumption at some rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike.      
While my father was right to point us to the wide biodiversity of the ocean (80 percent of the world’s biodiversity comes in the form of marine life), it is precisely this biodiversity that makes it ripe for exploitation.  The World Wildlife Foundation estimates that by 2050, all known species of fish will be commercially extinct.[1]  Our unfettered appetite for all things marine, cod, blue-fin tuna, lobster, eel, Chilean Sea Bass, has reduced these stocks to unsustainable levels.
But sea critters are so darn tasty.  Sorry environmental conscience, but I can’t give them up.  Luckily, there is seafood that is environmentally sustainable and scrumptious (for a guide to environmentally conscious seafood choices, click here).  If you know how to cook seafood, especially fish, properly, you do not have to sacrifice your taste buds for environmental correctness.  And for me, cooking fish properly equals cooking with butter, and the classic fish dish with butter is sole meunière. Traditionally, sole meunière, is made with North Sea Dover Sole, Solea solea.  Due to overfishing (especially with the development of bottom trawling nets), the stocks are being unsustainably harvested.[2]  But before you can say, “Sacrebleu!” you can easily substitute the Atlantic sole species for the Pacific Dover Sole (called because of its resemblance), Microstomus pacificus, which has healthy stocks across the Pacific coast. Although professional cooks claim that there is a difference in both the taste and the texture between a true sole and that of the “fake” sole, once your mouth hits that butter, you are going to be too busy inhaling your sole to care. 
So seafood eaters – there is no need to say four Hail Mary’s – your Green cred is safe – just remember to choose wisely.

Sole Meunière

Browned butter goes with about anything – cooked vegetables, meat, old shoes, etc. – just remember to omit the lemon juice and season with salt.
1/2 c. all purpose flour
4 sole or flour fillets, 5 to 6 oz. each, patted dry
salt and pepper
2 tbs. vegetable oil
2 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
Browned Butter (beurre noisette)
4 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
1 tbs. parsley, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbs. lemon juice

1.     Place flour in a large baking dish, season each fillet with salt and pepper.   Let them stand for 5 minutes.
2.     Coat both sides of the fillets with flour and shake of excess.
3.     Heat 1 tbs. of oil in a skillet (you may use a non-stick pan if you like) over high heat until shimmering.  Add 1 tbs. of butter and coat the pan.
4.     When the foaming subsides, carefully add 2 fillets in the skillet, bone-side down.  Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 3 minutes, then flip fillets and cook 2 minutes longer.
5.     Repeat the process for the last 2 fillets.
6.     For the browned butter, heat butter in a small skillet until the butter melts.  It is important that you use a pan that is reflective, otherwise you will not be able to see when the butter browns properly.
7.     Continue to cook, swirling constantly, until the butter has small browned particles at the bottom and smells nutty. Do this slowly, as the milk proteins will burn easily.
Remove from heat and sprinkle fillets with parsley.  Add lemon juice to butter and pour upon the fillets.  Serve with lemon wedges.

[1] Living Planet Report 2002.  World Wildlife Fund. (Cambridge, UK: Bamson Productions), 2002.
[2] ICES FishMap gives detailed population data on a number of fish species in the North Atlantic, including those commonly used for commercial purposes.  For further information on Solea solea and other fish species using ICES FishMap, see

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