Over the last year, I spent a lot of time writing about my favorite characters in literature—and the foods they eat. These include Dickon and Colin’s picnics in their secret garden, Miss Maudie’s famous Lane Cake from To Kill a Mockingbird, and the clam chowder that warms Moby-Dick's Ishmael and Queequeg. These meals jump off the page, demanding to be recreated.
The three-course luncheon in A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf is rich in detail. Woolf evocatively describes a dish of Dover sole as “sunk in a deep dish,” blanketed with a “counterpane of the whitest cream,” and “branded here and there with brown spots like the spots on the flanks of a doe.” Yet, this still leaves room for interpretation. Is the cream thickened with a roux? Are the brown spots brown butter, a common sole accompaniment? In recreating the dish, I skipped both of these and kept the sauce simple, so the sole shines. I did add some tiny capers, whose briny bite mimics that of the sea.
The fish is the perfect starter to serve when you want to impress company. Give each guest a whole sole and bring a jug of sauce to the table so everyone can pour as much as they’d like. The fish can also be served in fillets—once cooked, the flesh pulls away from either side of the sturdy backbone, making it easy to divvy up. If you serve the fish whole, as I did, the guests remove the flesh themselves. If your friends are anything like mine, they’ll end up picking at the bones with their fingers, ensuring not a scrap is missed.