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In past years when you'd order sand dabs in our favorite California town, you got whole fish with heads. The waiter would offer to remove fillets from the bone at the table if you needed help. Locals, of course, looked on this like biking with training wheels. Now you if you order sand dabs you get small half fillets that, frankly, lack the taste and texture of traditional preparations. So only the home chef can now enjoy our first simple classic and variations.
Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a paper bag: add fish and shake.
Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat until it barely foams.
Cook flatfish just two to four minutes per side.
Serve immediately. Top with melted butter and side with lemon wedges.
After removing the flatfish to a heated plate in a warm oven, add either a half a cup of white wine OR fish stock OR clam juice to the cooking skillet. Raise the heat and reduce liquid volume by half. Serve sauce over fish.
In a separate dish cook eight sliced mushrooms in two tablespoons of butter and use this to garnish the fish. Other garnishes include: small shrimp or julienne of vegetables - one carrot, one onion and two celery stocks cut into matchsticks.
These options also work to garnish fish poached in wine sauce, our next series of recipes.
SIDE DISHES: We generally serve this dish with a risotto or steamed red potatoes drained and rolled in a bit of butter and parsley in the cooking pot.
FISH POACHED IN WHITE WINE
A series of sauces compliment the basic wine recipe below. Some add butter and flour paste for thickener. Others use egg yolks. Some use cream. And you can use all of these in combination.
Buttered brown paper - shopping bags sans the logo side work.
Heat oven to 350 degrees - 325 degrees if you use a convection oven.
Sprinkle half the onions into a baking dish. Salt and pepper both sides of the fish and place them on the onions in a single, tightly packed layer.
Add dabs of butter and the rest of the onions. Add ONLY enough stock to barely cover fish. NOTE: you can stretch stock or wine with water if you must.
Bring the dish to a bubble - minimal simmer - over medium-low heat on the stove. Cover with the buttered paper and cook 8 to 12 minutes in the middle of the oven. Fish should not be flaky or dry!
Turn the oven off. Remove fish and drain liquid into a pot. Return fish dish to oven with the door slightly ajar so the fish stays warm.
Heat the sauce liquid over high heat until it reduces to about a cup. Add the butter/flour paste and whisk it to remove lumps. Then add one-half the milk/cream. Bring to a hard simmer. Add remaining milk/cream and whisk or stir.
Remove fish from oven and turn on the broiler. While the broiler heats spoon the sauce over the fish and top with cheese and, if you like some dabs of butter. *
Broil for a couple of minutes or until sauce browns.
* Serve immediately.
* We make this dish ahead and hold it in the refrigerator for a day. To reheat we bring it to a minimal simmer on the stove and then brown off the sauce under a broiler.
You can brown a quarter pound of mushrooms per guest in a couple of tablespoons of butter and top the fish with them just before saucing.
You can also top the dish with poached oysters, simmered shellfish or crayfish or some shucked steamed clams or mussels. We freeze leftovers for this purpose.
Want something fancy? Instead of topping the dish with the above ingredients use them as stuffing for rolled up fillets of flatfish. The key here is a smaller pan to minimize poaching liquid by packing the rolls in tightly.
This dish came by way of a Russia's Caspian Sea that Louis visited some years back on a sturgeon fishing trip We find it ideal way for larger flatfish like big flounders and other species that chunk up nicely. It serves four to six, prepares in 20 minutes and cooks in the same time as the rice. Note: low fat sour cream works for calorie counters too.
Bring water to a boil and add bay leaves, salt and half the parsley root/parsnip and onion and the crushed peppercorns. Add the fish, simmer for ten minutes and transfer the fish to an ovenware dish. RESERVE THE
COOKING LIQUID! Cover the fish with the chopped onions and the rest of the parsley root/parsnip, black pepper, parsley, dill, fennel seeds and a pinch of saffron or turmeric.
Either steam the dish or cook it over very, very low heat for about 10 minutes.
In another pan over medium heat add the onion and carrot and sauté until it softens. Add the fish liquid, raise heat and bring to a boil. Add rice.
Let liquid return to boil and add rest of pepper and saffron. Reduce heat to low, stir and cover the pot. Cook over low heat for ten minutes. Remove pot from heat and let rest for five minutes.
TIP: Start the rice cooking as soon as you start to simmer the fish and everything will be ready at the same time.
Serve the fish in the cooking dish and the rice in a bowl. Squeeze a little lemon to the fish before serving. We like this with a carrot salad seasoned with dill.
FLOUNDER STUFFED WITH RICE & MUSHROOMS
This dish requires some careful work with a fillet knife. You cut the fishalong the backbone and bone towards the dorsal and ventral fins. Use scissors to cut both ends of the backbone and remove it. You can usually remove the entire skeleton if you're careful. Make sure to fillet out the small bones along the edge of the fish. You should have a boneless fish that you can either scale or skin before the fillets on top are folded back to envelope the stuffing.
After fish are prepared brush them with oil, salt, lemon juice and chili powder and hold in a cook place while you prepare the stuffing. Note: You can also make the stuffing head and hold the fish for overnight. Then on meal day you just stuff the fish and let them bake while you enjoy your guests.
Fry the garlic, green onions and chilies in the oil for two minutes over high heat; add the mushrooms and cook for one minute before you stir in the rice until its well-coated with oil. Add the stock, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes. Move the rice into a bowl and stir in the olives, tomatoes and cilantro.
Heat oven to 350. Lay fish into a well-oiled cookie sheet and spoon the rice on top of each fish. Sprinkle on a little additional oil and cook for 15 minutes before serving immediately after you add the optional garnish.