Not a ‘true’ sole as such (it’s actually a flounder), this flat fish is identified by a sandy brown skin, with a pure white belly. The outline of the sole resembles a lemon and it has lemon piping on the edge of the gill flap or cheek that is its most recognisable marking.
This fish is generally covered in a generous coating of slime, which needs to be rinsed off before preparation.
It is caught in waters from the Bay of Biscay and as far north as Iceland, and it is at its very best from July through to the end of January. At other times of the year it is full of roe and spawning, everything it eats goes to produce roe and it loses condition. When the fish is ‘skinny’ it has less texture and flavour.
Unlike Dover sole which has very firm textured flesh, lemon sole has softer flakes, but has a sweet delicate flavour and fine texture.
This fish rarely reaches above 2kg in weight and can be filleted into a ‘cross-cut fillet’ where the whole top and then underside fillet are removed as one. A chef would normally ‘quarter cross-cut’ the fish resulting in four smaller fillets that are easier to skin, cook and serve.
Try these sweet citrus marinated lemon sole skewers – quick to prepare and grill for a delicious dish.
Classically this fish is skinned, rolled in seasoned flour and pan-fried in very hot butter – a single fillet takes around 50- 60 seconds to cook. It can be finished with more butter that is cooked to a ‘beurre noisette’ or nut brown and then finished with a splash of lemon juice and capers to pour, sizzling, over the fish. Equally it is also lovely pan-fried in coconut oil, this gives a much lighter and delicate finish to a very delicate flavoured fish.
Alternatively the fish can be cut into ‘goujons’ (finger length strips) and rolled in flour, egg and fresh bread crumbs to bake or pan-fry.
One of the simplest and lightest ways to cook this fish is to poach in a lightly acidulated ‘court bouillon’ (a vegetable stock used for poaching fish with a splash of wine of white wine vinegar). Strips of fish take seconds to cook through. Flavour the poaching liquid with simple herbs including tarragon and parsley or add Oriental influenced flavours including lemon grass, chilli and kaffir lime.
All of the above work as well with plaice as an alternative.
CJ Jackson – CEO of The Seafood School at Billingsgate