Neptune's Bounty: Eating 52 species in 52 weeks to explore alternatives to cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and prawns.
Neptune's Bounty this week sees me beginning to introduce flat fish. Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) is one of the most popular flat fish in the UK and one you are likely to see on a chip shop menu or perhaps in a good seaside restaurant. For the seafood beginner it's easy to identify with its orange or red spots on the upper side of the skin (its belly has white skin), and is reasonably available in fishmongers, at fish counters on vac packed on supermarket shelves, usually as skin-on fillets.
It has a good flavour and like many flat fish the fish is fairly delicate. It can be deep fried in batter (my fish shop fish of choice, especially in the south west), baked, pan fried and steamed, especially in dainty, rolled up fillets which just a slight hint of the seventies (no bad thing in my view). I've also had some success with them as a buffet dish for a crowd, the fillets rolled up an prepared ahead with mediterranean vegetables and tomato and herb sauce, then simply baked in the oven and kept warm in a chafing dish.
It's agreeable flavour, availability and versatility make it a good choice if you are not sure where to start with flat fish. It's not as dear as something like a dover sole and you can try it out first in a fish supper. Like other soles it is a dextral flatfish, which means its eyes are on the right side of its head (sinistral have theirs on the left). They often lurk on the seabed on their side and half bury themselves in the sand as camouflage, their odd anatomy allows them to see using both eyes (A. Davidson, North Atlantic Seafood, Penguin, 1980, pp.143).
Sustainability-wise plaice has been an important and in demand fishery in Europe, but its once common abundance is threatened due to its popularity. Currently the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Guide Good Fish Guide app recommends choosing fish caught in the North Sea or Western Channel, where stocks are assessed as healthy and using a demersal otter trawl. High levels of discards are common and the MCS recommends eating mature fish over 30m and avoiding the breeding season, January to March. Like most fish, if we are eating a good variety of species from sustainable and reputable sources we can enjoy such fish occasionally throughout the year and do our bit to respect Neptune's Bounty.
Filleting a flat fish is a supremely satisfying skill, and one I am going to cover in the very near future. The skin-on fillets available to buy can be skinned if you have a sharp filleting knife. With the fish flesh side up make a small incision across the fish at the thinner end of the fillet, leaving a small bit of flesh to hold onto with your non-fish wielding hand. The cut should go down to the skin at a 45 degree angle. Wriggle the knife so it is horizontal against the skin under the flesh and slice through the fish, keeping the skin taught by holding on to the thinner end of the fish. Let the knife do the work and keep as close to the skin as possible. Remember you can ask your fishmonger or fish counter to do this, preferably with you in view of the action so you can try it yourself next time.
Plaice goujons with parsley and Parmesan
This is an easy way of cooking plaice, you can prepare the goujons a day ahead and keep in the fridge covered on a baking tray till you’re ready to cook them. Coating them in butter helps to stop the fish from drying out, a method I picked up in a professional kitchen to make delicious chicken goujons. They are also great for kids! Be sure to give them a good squeeze of lemon at the end to enjoy them at their best, and don't scrimp on the mayonnaise.
Serves 2-3 as a starter or snack (easily doubled)
- 2 plaice fillets (about 175g each), skinned (you can ask the fishmonger or fish counter to do this for you)
- 50g breadcrumbs
- Handful of fresh parsley (curly or flat leaved, finely chopped)
- 25g Parmesan, finely grated
- 50g unsalted butter, melted
- Salt and pepper
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges and pips removed
Good mayonnaise mixed with a little cayenne pepper, garlic or lemon juice
Oven roasted vegetables (small potatoes, courgette, red onion, tomatoes)
- Baking tray
- Baking paper
- Chopping board
- Sharp knife
- Food processor (optional)
- Cheese grater
- Small bowls
- Small saucepan (optional)
- Fish slice or tongs
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/Gas 6. Line the baking tray with baking paper.
- Take the plaice fillets and cut into finger-length strips.
- Mix together the bread, parsley and Parmesan with a little seasoning. You could blitz some stale or lightly toasted bread in a food processor with the herbs and cheese if you prefer.
- Melt the butter in the microwave in a small bowl or in a saucepan on a low heat.
- Line up your ingredients and equipment: fish, butter in a bowl, breadcrumb mixture and baking tray. Take each piece of fish and dip it in the butter, then coat well in the breadcrumbs. Use different hands to avoid getting breadcrumbs stuck to your fingers! Lay each goujon on the baking tray.
- Bake for ten minutes in the oven, checking and turning halfway through till golden.
- Serve hot with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, a wedge of lemon and one or more of the serving suggestions if desired.
What else can you do with Plaice?
- Bake in the oven en papillote, with butter and herbs.
- Cut fillets in half, gently roll up and steam for 10 minutes, add some veg towards the end for a healthy dinner.
- Freeze any unused plaice and add to a fish pie mix.
Even more ideas...