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“Fish,” claimed Jonathan Swifet, “Should swim thrice: first it should swim in the sea, then it should swim in butter, and at last, Sirrah, it should swim in good Claret.” Nature will provide for ‘the first swim’; this pretty and elegantly simple recipe will have the fish swimming in butter (and lemon and parsley as well). And you may have the fun of choosing the good cheer for ‘The Last Swim’.
A timing note: The fillets and sauce are best if made right before serving them. The actual cooking time is quite short and the ingredients may all be arranged, ready to put together, in advance.
A preparation note: The fish is most easily prepared in two pans (half of the fillets in each one.). If you would like to increase the number of servings to 8, increase only the number of fillets. There’s no need to adjust the amounts of ingredients for the sauce. There will be enough sauce in either case, whether 3 or 4 fillets are sautéed in each pan.
You will also need:
1. Two large rimmed baking sheets, lined with parchment paper: one for flouring the fish and the other on which to place the sautéed fillets while you make the sauce.
2. Two wide, flat-bottomed pans.
3. Some aluminum foil for covering the sautéed fillets while making the sauce.
4. A whisk.
For the fillets and the sauce:
1. Peel the lemons, removing both the zest and the pith, so that the segments of the fruit are revealed whole. Run a knife down between the sides of the segments and remove the flesh of each segment whole. Then, break them up into smaller pieces. (A photo illustration of this step may be found on the related link.) Put the segments of both lemons into a small bowl and set them aside at room temperature. Squeeze out the juice remaining in the lemons, divide it into 2 equal portions in two separate cups and set these aside as well.
2. Place the 2 portions of cut up butter on two small plates or in small bowls (3 and 1/2 ounces or 7 tablespoons in each portion). Put the butter in the freezer while the fillets are being prepared.
3. Pour the flour into one of the parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheets. Add the salt and pepper and mix them into the flour with a fork.
4. Pour enough olive oil into 2 wide, flat-bottomed pans to cover the bottom of each and rise up the sides just a very little. There should be enough oil in which to quickly sauté the fish, but, at the same time, there’s no need to waste good olive oil.
5. Heat the pans of oil gradually over a medium low flame and, while the oil heats, place the fillets in the seasoned flour and turn them just to coat them lightly.
6. When the oil is hot and just barely shimmering, place half of the fillets in each pan and sauté them (turning them once as they cook) to a light golden colour on each side. Transfer them to the second baking sheet lined with parchment and cover them lightly with aluminum foil to keep them warm while making the sauce. (The fillets will go back into the sauce for a brief re-heating, too.)
7. Spoon out all but about 1 tablespoon of oil from each pan. Place the 2 portions of cold butter bits and the 2 portions of lemon juice conveniently near the stove. Arrange the serving plates out on a counter or work space so that the fillets may be served quickly once the sauce is done. Place the segments of lemon and the sprigs of parsley near the plates for garnishing the fillets.
8. Prepare the sauce, 1 pan at a time: Place a pan over medium heat. Whisk in half of the bits of butter, a piece at a time (7 tablespoons or 3 and 1/2 ounces each). When all the butter has been added, whisk in half the lemon juice and half of the chopped parsley.
9. Return half of the fillets to the pan of sauce and turn them gently so that they are covered in sauce and begin to absorb it. Set the pan aside, off the heat, and make the second pan of sauce in the same manner and add the rest of the fillets to it.
10. Arrange the fillets on plates. Garnish each plate of fillets with some of the reserved lemon segments. Drizzle whatever sauce remains in the pans over the fillets and place a small whole branch of fresh parsley on each plate.
An acknowledgement: Fillets of Sole or Flounder with Lemon Butter Sauce is adapted from a recipe that appeared in the Austrian cooking journal ‘Gusto’ in 2006 (No. 10-a).
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