When I was a young child, Mom rarely made fish for dinner. It was just something we had now and then. That suited me just fine because the thought of eating fish made me cringe. When Mom did cook fish, it was usually sole drenched in Cream of Mushroom Soup, or baked with a sprinkling of breadcrumbs till it was all dried out. It’s odd to think about because Mom loved sole, especially sole made with the classic French butter and wine sauces, but she never made her favorite sole dishes at home. Fortunately, attitudes toward eating and preparing fish have changed since the 60’s, mine included. Now, I love fish and eat it at least once a week. When I want a change of pace, I make filet of sole for a special treat.
Sole is a common flat fish with tender white flesh filets. The meat has a subtle fish flavor and is very moist. The filets will easily break apart if cooked too long and requires gentle cooking methods. The only tricky part about cooking sole is making sure you don’t overcook it. I discovered from Cooks Illustrated, a great technique of rolling up each filet with a mixture of herbs, then cooking the filets in the oven. This method sways the odds in favor of getting perfectly cooked sole and one I use often.
One of my favorite ways to cook fish is to oven poach it with wine or fish stock, as in Salmon in Spinach Butter Sauce. This technique is not a true poaching method, but also creates steam to cook the fish. There is a layer of liquid in the bottom of the baking dish and a piece of parchment paper nestled over the fish. The parchment paper captures the steam rising from the liquid and cooks the fish. This technique never fails to produce moist and tender fish. It is a perfect method for cooking filet of sole wrapped in fresh herbs rolled up in a neat package.
Choose what herbs you like to fill each sole filet. I left that part of the recipe open-ended for you to make it your own. The herbs in a blend don’t need to be in equal amounts either, but it is nice to taste the presence of each herb and not have one herb dominate the rest. If you only want to use two herbs, parsley is a good foundation and either dill or tarragon are wonderful with fish. All the herbs listed have a prominent taste, so keep in mind the other herbs used in your accompanying side dishes.
It wasn’t until I read the cookbook, Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, that I got braver about combining more than one fresh herb in cooking. I learned from this book that a prominent characteristic in Middle Eastern Cuisine is the generous use of fresh herbs. All these fresh herbs create food that is fresh tasting and vibrant. A classic herb blend in the Middle East is parsley, cilantro, dill and mint and works well with sole. For a French twist use Fines Herbs, it is a mix of parsley, tarragon, chervil, and chives. This blend of herbs inspired my Fresh Herb and Goat Cheese Omelet.
For special occasions I like to make a sauce with the pan juices. Unfortunately, the butter sauce I made was too rich and turned me off. So, I nixed it and am totally happy about it. This meal does not need it. There is enough flavor between the herbs and fish without adding the extra rich sauce and calories. Save some room for dessert like this Lemon Saffron Syrup Cake. The poaching liquid with the herbed sole keeps the filets moist and has a mild flavor of its own. Use the pan juices sparingly, as a time-saving and healthy alternative to butter sauce. If you want a butter sauce use the poaching liquid from the sole and make the spinach butter sauce linked in this post.
Helpful Kitchen Tools for Cooking Sole
Often, I stay away from specialty kitchen gadgets, especially one’s that only have one purpose. They are pricey and take up valuable space. However, a fish spatula, aka slotted offset spatula, is one I highly recommend. The good news is, fish spatulas are affordable and useful with other foods besides fish. This sturdy, thin and flexible spatula slips easily under fish without ripping at the fresh. Regular spatulas don’t have the same ease of use and flexibility as the fish spatula has. I use this spatula every day and often use it instead of tongs because it does not rip up the food. The best rated fish spatula is by Victorinox available on Amazon, and housewares stores. Not all fish spatulas are alike, so I recommend reading the article linked above to learn about the differences between the brands.
Oven-Poached Sole Wrapped in Fresh Herbs
- 8 filets grey sole about 4 - 6 oz (125 g -175 g) each
- 1 heaping cup (250 ml) 2-3 types of minced fresh herbs like parsley, dill, tarragon, cilantro, or basil. About 1 TB of minced herbs covers each filet of sole. An additional tablespoon of the minced herbs is used in the bread crumbs.
- Zest from 1 1/2 lemons
- 2 ½ TB butter divided
- 1/3 cup (75 ml) panko bread crumbs, or homemade
- 3/4 cup (185 ml) dry white wine, dry vermouth, fish or vegetable stock, or a combination of wine and stock.
- 8 half-moon slices of lemon about 1½ lemons
Preheat the oven to 350°F / 175°C / Gas Mark 4
Butter the bottom of a baking dish large enough to just fit all rolled up sole filets.
Gather all the herbs you are using. Make sure they are washed as parsley and cilantro get very sandy. I used parsley, dill and tarragon but not in equal amounts. Another mix I also recommend is parsley, basil and tarragon, or parsley, dill and cilantro. Mince the fresh herbs and add to a small bowl. Add the grated lemon zest to the herbs and mix to combine.
Reserve all but a heaping tablespoon of the mixed herbs.
In a small bowl add the breadcrumbs and 1 TB of mixed herbs and stir to combine.
Toast the breadcrumbs. Add one tablespoon of butter into a skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. Once the butter is melted, add the breadcrumbs and stir to coat them with the butter. Toast the breadcrumbs until they are golden brown, about 3-5 minutes.
Pour the toasted breadcrumbs on a plate to stop cooking. Reserve.
Lay your sole filets, skin side down on a clean work surface and lightly sprinkle Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper over each filet. Evenly spread about a tablespoon of the herb and lemon zest mixture over each filet.
Start at the tail end, it looks pointed compared to the squared off head end, and roll up each filet. Place each filet of sole into the buttered baking dish seam side down, and arrange the half-moon slices of lemon between each filet. Arrange any extra lemon slices around the fish in the baking dish.
Cut up 1½ TB of butter into 8 pieces and place on top of each filet. Pour in the wine, or liquid of your choice. Add a sprig of one of the herbs you put in the herb mixtures into the wine. Lightly butter a piece of parchment paper large enough to fit inside the baking dish and cover the fish. Nestle the buttered piece of parchment paper into the baking dish so it completely covers the fish and creates a domed cover. Cover the baking dish with a piece of aluminum foil.
Place in the oven and bake for 12 minutes. Peek at your filets to gauge how they are progressing. Continue to cook until and check every 3 minutes until the sole filets are done. Mine took about 15 minutes, but they could take up to 20 minutes. The filets are done when they look milky white. As the fish cooks the flesh will turn from translucent to opaque and easily spring back when touched. The fish should also look moist. If it flakes apart it is overcooked. You can remove the fish from the oven just shy of being done, and allow the residual heat to continue the cooking process.
Once done, arrange the filets with the lemon slices on a warm serving platter, or on individual plates. Pour some of the poaching liquid over the filets then sprinkle each filet with the bread crumbs and more minced herbs.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
My family loves cod because they like the delicate taste of white fish with large flakes and sturdy body. Unfortunately for us in the Northeast US, Atlantic Cod is on Seafood Watch list of fish to avoid. I don’t usually buy frozen fish, but I came across frozen Pacific Alaskan Cod at Trader Joe’s and wanted to try it. As I mentioned in my post Arctic Char with Basil Sauce, I try my best to buy sustainable fish when I can. Since cod is an affordable fish and works in so many different types of recipes, I was happy to consider frozen Pacific Cod as a viable option.
I also treated myself to a small tin of Spanish saffron and everyday I have dreamed about how to use it. Remembering a Spanish seafood stew, I decided to prepare the cod with Mediterranean flavors and style. Additionally, I wanted the saffron to be the primary seasoning, creating a recipe elegant enough to be served on Christmas Eve.
Tomato and saffron are a classic Mediterranean pair. Both ingredients balance each other because of the saffron’s warmth and distinct flavor cuts the acid in the tomatoes. To be honest, I love anything made with saffron but particularly enjoy tomato saffron broth with fish. The floral scent of crocus drifts up while I am cooking with saffron, and I feel like I am walking through a field of crocuses. Put these two family favorites together, and we have a special family dinner of cod braised in tomato saffron broth.
I am a big fan of using the simple technique of braising fish of which cod is very suited for. The fish is gently cooked in a broth that is also an integral part of the meal. The chunky tomatoes make the broth more substantive, while still keeping the broth bread dunking worthy. The final result is a fish dinner that is moist, delicate and multidimensional in flavor.
The total cooking time will vary depending of the thickness of the fish. Figure on the total cooking time to be anywhere from 7 to 15 minutes until done. My Pacific Cod fillets ranged in size from 5 oz to 6 oz, and was at most an inch thick. They took about 8 minutes to cook. Atlantic Cod tends to be thicker at the head end and should take longer to finish cooking. The fish is done when the meat sections gives way to the gentle pressure of your finger, and the sections begin to separate. The color of the fish will be a translucent white.
Do Ahead Tips for Cod Braised in Tomato Saffron Broth
To make life easier you can prepare the braising liquid ahead of time. About fifteen minutes before you want to eat, heat up the broth, then braise the cod. This recipe is very easy to make and flexible in design to fit into any schedule and a great meal to make for entertaining.
For those of you who like to serve fish for Christmas Eve dinner, or any special occasion, cod braised in tomato saffron broth would be a delicious treat. To send this recipe over the top, serve with saffron aioli smeared over toasted bread. Dunk the aioli smeared baguette into the broth and delight in a double saffron indulgence. Saffron aioli with cod in tomato saffron broth is out of this world delicious. Jamie Oliver has a short cut saffron aioli recipe with his Fabulous Fish Stew. It is really easy to make using store-bought mayonnaise. The instructions for the aioli saffron begin at step 2 in his recipe.
Hope everyone has a wonderful Hanukkah and a Merry Christmas. Enjoy!
Cod Braised in Tomato Saffron Broth
- 2 Tb olive oil
- 1 leek cleaned, cut in half lengthwise, then thinly sliced across the width (can substitute with 1 shallot, minced)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 28 oz / 794 g can whole tomatoes
- 1 cup / 250 ml dry white wine
- 1/2 cup / 125 ml fish stock or clam juice
- 1/2 cup/ 125 ml juice from the can of tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 sprigs of thyme tied together
- 1/2 tea saffron thread
- 1/2 tea Kosher salt
- 1/2 tea granulated sugar optional
- 4 4-6 oz / 113 - 180 g cod fillets or other white fish fillets black sea bass or halibut
Peel the garlic then slice each clove in half lengthwise. If there is a green grem remove it. Thinly slice each half across the width. Set aside.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large 12" saute pan, (see note.) Add the sliced leeks or minced shallots and saute until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add the the sliced garlic to the leeks and cook until it becomes fragrant, 1 minute. Do not let the garlic brown. Turn up the heat to medium high and add the tomatoes, breaking up each tomato with your fingers or a knife while you add them to the pan. Add the wine, fish stock, canned tomato liquid, bay leaf, bundled thyme sprigs, saffron and Kosher salt. Stir to mix and bring the sauce to a gentle boil.
Turn the heat down to medium and cook the sauce for about 15 minutes at a gentle simmer. Stir occasionally. Taste the sauce and correct the seasoning. If it is too acidic add the sugar and add more Kosher salt if needed.
Place the fish fillets evenly spaced in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer and cover the pan with a lid. Cook the fish fillets until just done. The amount of cooking time will depend on the how thick the cod fillets are. I cooked using Pacific cod and they were thinner than Atlantic cod. The cod was just cooked at around 7 minutes. The cod is cooked through when you pres down on the thickest part of the fillet with your finger and the flakes give into the pressure and start to break apart. The flesh will have a translucent white color.
Spoon some broth in 4 large wide-mouth soup or pasta bowls. Place a fillet in each bowl with the broth. Garnish with minced fresh parsley. Serve with crusty french bread to help soak up the broth.
A sautee pan with its high sides is a perfect pan for braising fish. If you only have a skillet by all means give it a try, as long as you have a matching lid. Another option is to make the tomato saffron broth in whatever pan you have, then pour the broth into a large baking dish. Add the fish fillets and cover the fish with a sheet of parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F / 175 degrees C / Gas Mark 4, oven for 10 minutes. Check for doneness, and, if necessary, continue cooking checking every couple of minutes until done.
© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
According to Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, Arctic Char is a “sustainable seafood superstar,” especially when farmed in recirculating aquaculture systems. Recirculating what? I know there is a lot of information out there about fish and the fishing industry. It is a big and complex issue, and one that I do care about. So, when I learn about any fish sold in the market that is a non-polluter or is sustainably caught, I feel a lot more comfortable about buying it.
Several years ago, when my youngest son was in High School, he had to write a research paper about over-fishing. When he was all done he looked up to me and asked, “Can we stop eating fish? This is really bad.” My heart broke in several places. First, my heart broke witnessing my child come to a scary realization concerning his future. It wasn’t the first, or be the last time he perceives a troubling reality, but no parent ever wants their children to feel vulnerable and scared.
Second, the prospect of the fish population completely disappearing was a hard concept for me to wrap my mind around. Up until then, I had always taken the fish population for granted. My heartbreaking list goes on, but if I am completely honest, selfishly I like eating fish and there is only so much chicken a person can eat. I gave my son what I hoped was a reassuring look and offered a heartfelt, but generic parent response, “I understand. We can try.”
© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.