Pan-Fried Plaice with Lemon Caper Brown Butter Recipe by Chef Cathal Armstrong
Plaice is a flat fish, similar to flounder, found off the coast of Ireland. It’s a delicate, sweet, white-fleshed fish. For my money, it’s a more elegant fish than the renowned Dover sole.
The recipe calls for Wondra flour, which is an important ingredient to chefs. If you use all-purpose flour to coat fish fillets, the water in the flour releases when it hits the hot oil, mixes with the gluten and creates a batter of sorts. Wondra is very fine, freeze-dried flour that will form a thin, crisp coat to the exterior of fillets coated with it rather than a batter.
The fish is pan-fried using a basting method similar to pan-roasting (frying just uses more oil).
I suggest accompanying it with boiled new potatoes, for me one of the most exciting times of the year is when the first new potatoes come in, in the late spring and early summer in our region. Few things evoke memories of Ireland more than the sensation I get from boiling up the first potatoes of the season, pulling one out of the pot, breaking it in half with my fingers, and eating it piping hot with not a thing on it but a knob of cold butter and a sprinkling of sea salt.
For the fish
– 2 (2-pound) plaice or flounders, eviscerated, with head, tail and skin removed
– 4 tbsp canola oil
– Wondra flour, for dusting
– 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
– 1 tsp chopped garlic
– 1 tsp unsalted butter
– Boiled Potatoes, for serving (Recipe Below)
For the brown butter
– 7 tbsp unsalted butter, cold
– 1 shallot, minced
– 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
– 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
– 2 tbsp chicken stock
– 2 tbsp capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
– 3 tbsp chopped fresh chives
For the boiled new potaoes
– 8 golf ball–size new potatoes, skins on and scrubbed free of dirt
– 1 tbsp cold unsalted butter
– 1 tbsp chopped parsley
Make the boiled new potatoes
1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring 2 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook them for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserts into them easily.
2. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Add the butter and parsley and gently stir to coat completely. Serve immediately.
Make the fish and the sauce
1.Season the fish: Sprinkle salt over both sides of each fish.
2. Make the sauce: In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and cook until it stops bubbling and turns pale brown (the color of hazelnuts), about 2 minutes. Stir in the shallots and sauté for 30 seconds. Stir in the lemon juice, Worcestershire Sauce, chicken stock, and capers.
3. Stirring constantly, add the remaining 5 tablespoons of butter 1 tablespoon at a time, incorporating each completely into the emulsion before adding the next.
4. Once all the butter has been added, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chives. Move the pan to a warm part of the stove while you prepare the fish.
5. Pan-fry the fish: In a large sauté pan or well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, heat the canola oil until it shimmers.
6. Dredge the fish lightly in flour and place them side-by-side in the pan.
7. Pan-fry the fish for 5 minutes, until nicely browned on the bottom.
8. Baste the fish: Using a fish spatula, turn the fillets over. Use one hand to tilt the handle of the pan toward you so the oil pools. With the other hand, scoop up some oil in a dessert spoon and baste the fish with it; continue to cook for several minutes more while repeating the basting over and over.
9. To test for doneness, insert a cake tester in the center to the spine bone and press it to your lips. It should feel warm to the touch. When the fish is done, add the butter, thyme, and garlic to the pan and cook for 30 seconds more, basting as before.
Assemble and serve
1. Transfer the fish to a warm platter (discard the cooking oil). Pour the brown butter into a small pitcher or sauceboat. Divide the fish among 4 dinner plates and serve immediately with the brown butter. And boiled potatoes, of course.
Native Dubliner Cathal Armstrong was born into a family with a passion for food that fuelled his love for cooking, not only thanks to their fruit and vegetable garden, but also by his father’s appreciation of other cultures and cuisines. Cathal was exposed to European and World cuisines from a very young age.
Spending his childhood summers in France, he learned the importance of sustainability and organic growing before they became trendy.
Today he honours that tradition by demanding the highest-quality ingredients from a handpicked network of suppliers revered for their wholesome products. His guiding principal: “Nature is perfect. Extract the flavor. Enhance it. Don’t take away from it.”
His book, co-written with Dave Hagedorn, is a celebration of Irish food and ingredients but also a gathering of compelling stories such as the day he met President Obama or the time Julia Child came to lunch. Cathal’s homage to Irish cuisine sees dishes like Dublin coddle, “marrowfat” peas, scones, seafood and many other classics together with some surprises that show his creative side.