Sole with Criminis, Leeks, and Asparagus

January 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

E: For Christmas, we received Tom Colicchio’s book Think Like A Chef from my cousin Kristina and her husband Patrick—thank you both very much! We decided to make some recipes from the book over the holidays as a way to test it out. There’s a lot of great stuff in the book, and it looks like a great guide to a lot of things. Colicchio certainly likes his butter, so this isn’t the sort of cookbook you work out of every day. Instead I think it is best used for occasional special events. However, there are a good number of recipes that, with small modifications, could make for reasonable everyday fare.

looks a little messy but tastes good

This dish, however, is not one of them. This is a version of one his recipes that uses morels, ramps, and asparagus. However as neither morels nor ramps were available, we made some substitutions. The real killer in this dish is the beurre fondue—it is excellent, giving a wonderful buttery flavor without being greasy. Beurre fondue is basically butter whisked into some water, and it provides a buttery, creamy sauce that isn’t too oily or overpowering. It doesn’t feel too fatty on the palette, but considering that the recipe as written uses 2 sticks of butter (we made do with 1), this isn’t something you’d want to eat daily.

However, it is really really good, even though our version does not look nearly as pretty as the one from Colicchio’s book.

Ingredients (for our version):

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed (and peeled if necessary)
2 leeks, cut to only the white part
5-8 crimini mushrooms
3/4 to 1 lb sole, cut into serving-sized pieces
1 stick of unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Fresh chervil, tarragon, and or chives (optional)

Prepare the leeks, mushrooms, and asparagus. I chopped the leeks into rings but you could do just about any cut you want. Slice the mushrooms thinly.

mushrooms and leeks

Snap or trim off the bottoms of the asparagus stalks. If the stalks are thick, you might want to peel the bottoms of them. You can cut them in half to make them shorter if you want, or leave them whole. Have a bowl of ice water ready to shock them down after cooking.

ready for cooking, with the ice water bath in the background

Boil a pot of salted water, and cook the asparagus in it for 3 to 5 minutes until they are bright green and tender. Remove and drop them in the cold water to stop them cooking, drain them, and set them aside.

Now it is time to get your buerre fondue ready. This is just butter melted and emulsified into a little water. It isn’t hard, but yes it certainly is a lot of butter. Heat up about 1/4 cup of water to a boil in a small pot or saucepan (preferably plain metal of some sort, because you’ve got to whisk this and you don’t want to ruin a good nonstick pan). Once the water is boiling reduce the heat to medium low, and start adding the butter one small piece at a time (I used pieces about 1/2 Tbsp in size). Whisk each piece in until melted, and then add another piece. Do this for a few minutes and all your butter will be incorporated. If you want to go all out, do the full 2 sticks of butter and 1/2 cup water. I cut it down for the purposes of trying to be healthy, but I found I really could have used about twice the beurre fondue for cooking the fish.

beurre fondue, easy!

Now just keep watch on it and whisk every minute or two until everything is ready. If you see little droplets of fat forming around the outside of the pan, it means you need to add some more warm water and whisk. I had to do this a few times, so keep some warm water handy.

Wash, cut, and dry the fillets of sole. With the original recipe, you add the morels directly to the beurre fondue. Since we used crimini mushrooms, we cooked them in a skillet with a little olive oil, a few at a time, until soft and golden. If using this method, quickly saute the leeks as well to make sure they get cooked.

the secret to tasty mushrooms is cooking them a few at a time

If your mushrooms, asparagus, leeks and sole are prepared, then transfer the beurre fondue to a large frying pan or saucepan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, leeks, and asparagus to the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for a few minutes until everything is up to temperature, or until the leeks are soft if you haven’t pre-cooked them.

Then salt and pepper the fish and lay the fillets of sole on top, and get them at least immersed in the beurre fondue. Cook for a few minutes at a simmer (Colicchio suggests about 5), basting the fish with the butter sauce. You want the fish flaky, but don’t go too far in order to preserve its tenderness.

Divide and serve. Try not to break up the fillets when plating. We put them on the bottom of the pan and added the vegetables on top, which meant we couldn’t find the pieces of fish and they got scrambled up into bits.

yours can look better than this, trust me

For us this dish served four people comfortably. It is a lot of butter so the portion sizes can be a little small. Enjoy!

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