Dover Sole

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


Appears in

Floyd on Britain & Ireland

By Keith Floyd

Published 1988

  • About


A fresh Dover sole is the finest flat fish there is. The flesh is firm and white, it comes easily away from the bone and is a pleasure to eat. A frozen fish is no substitute. I think that the two best ways to cook a really good sole are grilling or frying in butter. Either way you must first prepare your sole.

With a sharp knife make an incision under the black skin at the tail end and then, with a strong tug, rip off the skin. Turn the fish over and scrape the scales off the outer skin, cut an incision just behind the head and remove the innards and then, with a pair of scissors, trim off the tail and the little bits of fin and bone that run along the sides of the fish. If you want to grill or fry your sole in butter, but you don’t like bones, which, as I have already said, are easy to deal with in this fish, then by all means fillet the little beauty, though in my view a sole must be cooked on the bone. (Incidentally, plaice, lemon sole and similar flat fish should be prepared in the same way, and it is worth bearing in mind, because sole is so expensive, that it is better to have a fresh plaice or lemon sole than a frozen Dover sole.)

First, then, to grill a sole. Prepare the flesh as I have described and, with a sharp knife, make a couple of diamond-shaped slashes in the white skin. Season with a little salt and pepper and brush with unsalted melted butter. Make sure that your grill is already very hot and put the fish under the grill, white skin side up. (If you have the kind of grill where the heat comes from underneath as in, say, a charcoal grill, place the fish white skin side down.) Keep the thin end of the fish-that is, the tail – furthest away from the heat so that it doesn’t dry out before the thicker head end is cooked. A fish weighing about 1 lb (500 g), will probably need a cooking time of about 6 minutes on each side. After the first 6 minutes, turn the fish over, brush it with a little more butter and continue cooking. Add a little more salt and pepper.

You can serve this with a good wedge of lemon and some melted unsalted butter served separately in a jug; or, of course, you could melt parsley or anchovy butter over it. Alternatively, you can always serve it with a béarnaise or tartare sauce. But to my mind it needs no more than just melted butter and the lemon juice. Serve it with the white skin side up – it will have been attractively charred by the bars of the grill.

For a sole fried in butter (sole meunière), prepare the fish as before. Wash it well and with fresh running water and dry it very carefully. Season the fish with salt and pepper and dredge it lightly in flour. In a pan large enough to take the fish, heat some clarified unsalted butter. (To make this, melt some unsalted butter in a saucepan and when the scum has floated to the surface, remove it and pour off the clear melted butter, avoiding the milky whey that has settled at the bottom.) Cook the fish in the clarified butter for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, taking care that the butter does not burn. Now take the sole out and place it on some kitchen paper to remove excess fat. Throw away the residue from the frying pan, clean it quickly and pop in a fresh lump of unsalted butter. As the butter begins to foam and turn very slightly brown, pop the sole back into the pan, add a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of finely chopped parsley, and eat at once.

These are simple ways of cooking a luxurious dish and they need little accompaniment – some new potatoes, one lightly cooked fresh green vegetable and, of course, the best white wine you can afford. It would be a pity to spoil the fish for a ha’porth of plonk.