Whole Boned Deep-Fried Sole “Colbert”

Some dishes never grow old, and although this dish was meant for Dover sole, petrale or any firm-fleshed flatfish will do, even a small halibut or turbot.

This dish is easily done for two, but don’t cook it for four, unless you love to deep-fry and are comfortable doing it safely in larger quantities.

The filling can be anything you want: a mixed warm vegetable salad like asparagus, green beans, and fava beans boiled and tossed in butter, or just a sauce, such as rémoulade, tartar, or Montpelier butter or lemon fig relish.

Whatever the filling, it is pure pleasure to be able to cut into this whole fish and find no bones.

Ingredients

  • 2 1-pound whole Dover or petrale sole, cleaned, scaled, gills removed
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 6 cups vegetable oil (peanut or canola)
  • ½ cup Russian dressing
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

Method

Have the fish seller remove the gills and guts from the sole.

Put the sole, white skin side, upon a clean cutting board that will not slide around on the table (put a damp cloth under it). Then, using a sharp, thin boning knife, cut down the center line along the backbone from the tail to the head, all the way to the bone. Then insert the knife at a right angle to the cut, between the fish flesh and the bone, and work along the back bone, to within ¼ inch of the sides of the fish. Repeat, freeing the flesh from the bone on the other side of the cut.

Snip the head and tail ends of the backbone with scissors, severing them completely. Now take one end and lift the bone up and away from the fish. Tradition says that you should remove the black skin before doing this, but at home that is easier said than done. If you don’t like the black skin, don’t eat it. I do.

Rinse the fish in cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. First, immerse the sole in the milk, then put it into the flour on both sides, then into the beaten egg, and finally into the breadcrumbs, patting them into the interior as well. If the flaps do not stay open outward, put toothpicks in them to hold them back. Refrigerate the fish for 10 minutes (or up to 30 minutes) to set the coating.

When ready to serve the fish, heat the oil to 375 degrees and deep-fry the fish for 6 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the fish, making sure that the flaps stay open and curl up and outwards. Cut into the fish at its thickest part to test for doneness. The fish is done as soon as there is no more translucent flesh at the cut. When the fish are cooked, put them on paper towels for a minute to drain. Serve on heated oval platters just bigger than the fish, sprinkle with the chives and parsley, and spoon some sauce into the center of the fish cavity. Pass the rest of the sauce separately.

The only bones left will be around the edges of the fish, and these are easily scraped aside before eating the fish.

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