The French value fish and know how to cook it at home in the most delicious ways. In contrast, in America fish is largely a restaurant dish. Few of us are familiar with good fish recipes, yet we can learn from the French and make sole, trout, or salmon a delight of every Sunday dinner.
Let me share today my favourite French recipe where sole, a very popular fish in France with firm, white, and unquestionably delicious flesh, is featured as the main ingredient. Follow the recipe, do not skip the ingredients, and you will be rewarded with a flavour and taste of the real fish cuisine of Provence!
Filets de Sole Bonne Femme (Filets of Sole with Cream Sauce):
Sole if a fish readily available in our supermarkets. Shop only for very fresh filets that have not been frozen (frozen fish is mushy in texture and inferior in taste). Three filets of small Dover sole or two filets of larger Grey sole will be just right to feed one person. If you are lucky enough to also obtain fish heads, tails and skeletons from your merchants, grab them to make wonderful fish broth called in for this recipe. However, you can use home-made chicken broth instead of fish stock. Shrimp butter is another necessary ingredient – and I will teach you how to make it at home.
Butter a baking dish and evenly distribute 1 finely chopped onion on the bottom. Lay the sole filets on top of the onions without overlapping, bring several cups of fish or chicken stock to boil and pour over the fish. Immediately transfer the dish to an oven preheated at 300 degrees. Poach the sole pieces until they are tender, from 5 to 15 minutes depending on their thickness. When ready, carefully transfer the filets onto a heated platter, cover them with a piece of aluminium foil or parchment paper, and keep warm in the oven while making the sauce.
For the sauce, strain the stock into a large skillet and bring to rapid boil. Whisk in about 1 cup crème fraîche and 1 tbsp shrimp butter and continue boiling until the sauce has reduced to the consistency of thick cream (for about 10 to 15 minutes). Season with sea salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
To serve, pour the sauce generously over the sole fillets neatly arranged on individual heated plates. Sprinkle on finely chopped parsley. This dish goes beautifully with steamed red baby potatoes, rice, and colourful vegetables.
How to Make Fish Broth:
Place fish heads and bones into a large stainless steel pot, add 1 tbsp vinegar, cover with cold filtered water, bring to boil, and skim. Add 1 coarsely chopped onion, 1 carrot, and several stalks of celery. Tie together a few springs of fresh thyme and parsley and add to the pot together with 1 bay leave. Season generously with salt and pepper. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 4 hours. When ready, strain fish stock into clean containers. It can be kept for about 4 days in the refrigerator or for about 1 month – in the freezer.
How to Make Shrimp Butter:
Place about 2 cups tiny cooked shrimps in a food processor to form a coarse paste. Add 1/4 cup butter and process until well blended.