On the first Tuesday of the month, my family has a tradition of dressing up for dinner. I’m not talking about combing your hair here. Dresses with crinoline come out. My six-year-old puts on lipstick. At least one person teeters around dangerously in inappropriate shoes.
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The food doesn’t always live up to First Tuesdays, as they are known –- it might be pizza, it might be salmon again -- oh, but the fancy clothes come out of the closets in spades.
Once in a while during the week –- Tuesday, Sunday, whatever -– I feel I need to trot out the culinary equivalent of a vintage Helmut Lang dress. I like to let my kids understand what life might hold for them if they scrape their pennies. One day, far off in the future, when they are living in a dorm, they may realize that their mother is actually brilliant and that bagels for dinner actually suck and yes, there is a sense of pride that comes from cleaning off a nightstand, and get themselves to a proper restaurant.
Let me start off by telling you that as per usual, I made this dish with John Dory, a white fish I prefer because my fishmonger always has it, and it is inexpensive, cooks quickly and has a low-mercury threat (as in fairness does sole). Do what suits you.
Our recipe writer, Furey and the Feast, who is the only person I’ve seen yet who proclaims in her food52 profile that 20 guests are the ideal number for a dinner party (20! Girl, I hope you have a big dishwasher and a late bedtime!), tells you to use chicken or vegetable stock as the base for this sauce. I went with vegetable, because I had some on hand from last week’s soup blog, but I suggest you do the same as chicken might be a little heavy considering all the other goodies in this recipe.
You are doing a basic poaching sauce, with shallots and peppercorns tossed in, which will later become a savory, citrusy reduction thickened with good old fashioned butter, poured like a baby blanket over that thin little sliver of fish. While it is all reducing, whip up something nice –- I made a fennel, blood orange salad -– that will be the prom date this sole deserves on your table.
I set out cloth napkins. I lit a candle or two. I insisted that some form of manners be used. I am happy to report to you that there was ooohing. I think maybe ahhing too, but I couldn’t hear over the 6-year-old telling the 11-year-old that she should pull her shirt up, which resulted in some sort of screaming and leaving the table. But only for like five minutes.
A few notes: strain out the peppercorns as you plate this, or you will have to do so at the table, which is sort of annoying. Watch that fish as it cooks -– you don’t want to overcook it! I had only a pound and a half of fish, and while I used half the butter the recipe called for, I would up the proportions of all the liquid by a bit if you’re using the full two pounds. Play something romantic. Speak of La Grenouille.
Poached Sole with Blood Orange Beurre Blanc
Serves 3 to 4
3/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup blood orange juice (or orange juice)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 shallot, minced
7-8 black peppercorns
2 pounds sole fillets
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Combine stock, wine, blood orange and lemon juices, shallots and peppercorns in a 10-inch sauté pan over medium-low heat. (Use a smallish sauté pan so that poaching liquid covers most of the fish). Bring to a simmer.
2. With a spatula, lower fillets into poaching liquid and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until fish is opaque and flaky. Remove from liquid and set aside. Keep warm.
3. Increase heat to high and reduce poaching liquid to 1/4 cup, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, one tablespoon at a time. Season to taste. Ladle sauce over fish and garnish with lemon or blood orange slices. Serve immediately.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).