saute sole flounder flat fish simple

Snooty foodie moment of the week: I caught myself wondering whether the sole I had in my fridge was fresh enough to eat. It was three days old.

By three days old, I do not mean three days since I bought it. I mean three days since it was brought to me straight off the boat by a local fisherman. As I stood there looking at it and thinking, “Should I eat it…shouldn’t I?”…then I gave myself a quick reality check.

Were I anywhere but Cancale, I’d be lucky—LUCKY—to find fish that was only three days old! (In Britain, a recent study revealed that “fresh” fish from supermarket seafood counters could be up to 9 days old. Imagine if I’d had THAT sitting in my fridge for three days!).

But Cancale has spoiled me. I’ve got a commercial fisherman living right across the street (the one who brought me the sole). There are a few other fishermen around Cancale who sell seafood straight off their boats at makeshift stands in their backyards and garages. And if none of those will do (or are open), there’s always the farmers’ market seafood hall where vendors do a brisk enough business to keep things fresh. It helps to know who gets their fish where, too…and when the boats come in. I am also now clued into the restaurants around town that source their fish locally and if I find myself eating anywhere else, I’ll be eating anything but fish.

That’s because once you’ve tasted fish as fresh as I can get it in Cancale, it’s hard to settle for less. (Don’t even get me started on farm-raised salmon…)

Which brings me back to my three-day-old sole. It was plenty fresh, and plenty delicious, sautéed in a little butter and served with the last of the cherry tomatoes and some Leek Green Champ (which wasn’t very pretty when I tried to photograph it with the fish.)

I’m glad I ate it when I did, though. Four days might have been the tipping point…

Below, you’ll read how to cook sole “portion,” (as in each fish is the size of one portion) in Cancale, as taught/shown to me by my neighbors on the port. It’s similar to sole meunière, minus the flour and the lemon juice added to the pan. (Who needs either with fish this fresh? Though I admit a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice wasn’t amiss.) The method works with any small flat fish, like flounder.

sole flounder sauté fish simple butter

Sautéed Sole “Portion”

1 to 2 ½-pound soles or other flat fish like flounder, cleaned and skinned
3 to 4 Tbs. (45-60 g.) butter
chopped parsley, optional
lemon wedge, optional

Pat the soles dry with paper towels.

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it stops foaming and is just beginning to clarify. Add the soles ,2 of them, max (don’t crowd the pan – you want the fish to sear, not steam), and cook 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side until lightly browned. Reduce the heat to medium, and then cook the fish an additional 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until both sides are browned and the flesh comes away from the bone easily when tested with a knife. You may have to fiddle with the temperature to keep the butter from getting too hot; if you’re worried about burning it, you can always cook the fish in oil, then drain it off and add some butter to the pan at the last minute. Serve with chopped parsley and lemon, if desired.