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Sunday
Oct312010

Pan-fried plaice fillets with chunky salsa verde, puy lentils and garlic croutons

I tried out this dish for the first time the other night and it was fan-f**king-tastic. Wow! I would say this is the closest I have got to perfection for a while.

I thought it would be nice to follow up the salsa verde post with a dish that uses it, albeit not quite in its pure form. I would like to take full credit for the recipe, but I have a vague recollection of eating something like it at The Giaconda Dining Room last year. I was plied with several glasses of albarino (albarino, albarino) at the time, hence the hazy memory, but there are a few details which I remember clearly; white fish, lots of herbs, capers and croutons. The croutons were the key to the dish, giving it a wonderfully dynamic texture and providing a perfect contrast to the delicate flesh of the fish.

I have used this as the basic premise and taken it a step further by replacing the simple mix of herbs and capers with a roughly chopped salsa verde and I think it works, well, fan-f**king-tastically. The lentils I added for substance and because they go well with parsley. I found their earthiness well balanced with the tart, citrusy dressing.

The only thing that wasn’t quite right was the fish. The texture of the flesh was spot on; meltingly soft and flaky. However, I would have liked a crispy skin and this is hard to achieve with plaice. I bought plaice because it was the freshest fish on the Sainsbury’s fish counter and wary of buying fish in a supermarket anyway, I always go for the one they say came in that day. Next time I will try it with john dory, bream or seabass, which can have both a crispy skin and tender flesh when cooked right.

I choose to oven roast croutons because I find that less oil is needed and I think it is the best way of to achieve an even colour without burning. You could of course pan fry the croutons instead.

Despite the lengthy recipe, this dish is actually quite quick and easy to make. As is always the case with fish dishes, the only difficulty is getting the timing right so that everything is ready to go when the fish is done. I have tried to communicate the timing as clearly as possible in the recipe.

Serves two as a main course. I hope you enjoy it as much as me. 

Ingredients

For the lentils

150g puy lentils
400ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
 

For the chunky salsa verde

50g flat leaf parsley leaves
25g coriander leaves
25g dill fronds
1 anchovy
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp caper vinegar (i.e. the vinegar which the capers are pickled in)
1 tbsp lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp capers
 

For the croutons

50g stale white bread (good quality, crusty hearth bread, e.g. baguette)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
25ml olive oil
Salt, to taste
 

For the fish

2 plaice fillets (approx 450g)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
 

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C.

For the lentils

Rinse the lentils and put them in a saucepan with the stock, garlic clove and bay leaf. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until tender, this will take about 20 minutes. Drain, stir through the butter and season with salt and pepper. 

For the chunky salsa verde

Roughly chop half the herbs, leaving the other half as whole leaves. Put in a mixing bowl and leave to one side. Mash the anchovy with a fork and add to a separate bowl along with the olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice. Whisk with a fork and season with freshly ground black pepper. Just before serving, give the dressing a quick whisk again, add the capers and toss with the herbs. 

For the croutons

Roughly cut the bread into small, thin slices or chunks. Mix the garlic with the olive oil and season with salt. Pour into a roasting tin and toss with the stale bread. Put in the oven for about 6 minutes or until golden brown all over; you may need to take the tin out and toss the bread a few times to achieve this. Leave the croutons in the roasting tin and put them back in the oven for a minute before serving. 

For the fish

Cut the plaice fillets in half down the middle so that you have 4 smaller fillets. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the fish flesh side down first and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Plaice is extremely delicate, so be very careful when turning it and removing it from the pan.

To serve

Just before the fish is ready, distribute the lentils between two plates, toss the warm croutons with the salsa verde and pile most of it on top of the lentils, leaving a small amount to garnish the fish. Arrange the fish on top and finish with the rest of the salsa verde and crouton mix. Serve immediately.

Skip croutons for a gluten-free meal.

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Reader Comments (12)

O wow I'm definitely going to give this one a go. Can you recommend best fish to try from Sydney fish market that can tolerate crspby skin ? - would snapper be good? blue cod?

November 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMa

Hi Ma, yes snapper would be a very good choice. Cod would also work, but you shouldn't be buying cod if you care about sustainability, which I know you do a little bit!

I found some sites with some good tips on how to get crispy skin, which I plan to condense into a tips and techniques post when I get the chance to test some of them. For the time being, here are the sites:

* Ehow - How to make crispy skin
* Wright food - Yielding the perfect crispy fish skin
* Magic999 - Masterchef Crispy skin on your fish

November 1, 2010 | Registered CommenterVix

You are right to mention sustainability.The blue cod is actually a New Zealand fish, and isn't the same family as Atlantic cod. But you got me worried so I just checked out wikipedia which led me to the Best Fish Guide , an NZ publication . It seems the Blue Cod is not an endangered species to the extent that Atlantic cod is , but they admit that modern trawling methods could be a threat, and suggest we should aim to eat "line caught".

November 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMa

Ah yes, I should have known it might be different over that side of the world. Well that is nice that you can still eat cod in some places without feeling guilty. I think the last point applies to everything (i.e. trawling vs line caught), but it is not always possible to get your hands on that.

November 3, 2010 | Registered CommenterVix

I want this in my tummy NOW!!! xx

November 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmba

If we manage to get a dinner in before Christmas I would happily make it for you! Missed you this weekend :( Hope you had a nice rest. x

November 7, 2010 | Registered CommenterVix

Ma made this a couple of nights ago...unfortunately i wasnt around to eat the entire dish but i did manage to sneak some croutons dipped in the salsa verde and it was YUM!!!

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Brown

I finally got a chance to try this .We had some left over Ling in the fridge - still very fresh.I loved it, especially the textures- but Dad thinks I was too heavy handed with the capers.I'm not sure if the problem was was too many capers or too much dill. He felt the powerful flavours overpowered the fish.
I think next time I might experiment using fewer capers and less dill.

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMa

I did measure it when I did and liked the result, but the flavours are certainly v. bold. I am a big fan of capers and dill, so it may well be that my preference is not to everyone's taste. Of the two though, I think the capers would be the thing most likely to overpower, so maybe 1/2 tbsp next time or less of the caper juice. Just a thought - could you have misread the bit about the juice and put in 2 tbsp capers rather than the caper vinegar?

January 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterVix

I made this last week and absolutely loved it. I've never really cooked lentils before but love salsa verde so thought I'd give it a go. I ended up using John Dory for the fish and it worked really well. Yum, yet another amazing dish Vix. Even my flatmate who swears he doesn't like anchovies or capers loved it

April 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

I'm glad you loved it, and especially that you managed to convert your new flatmate!

April 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterVix

I am in Spain ,with the three little maids from school. I used the salsa verde recipe to serve with merluza ( hake) , and this time i got the capers about right. I used your advice to cook the merluza steaks - as I wasn't sure about pan frying them. You suggested wrapping them in tin foil with some herbs ( i used dill) and lemon, and cooking for 15 - 20 minutes in the oven at 180-200. It worked a treat, nice and flaky, so they thought I was a genius!!! x x

July 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterma

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