Lemon Sole, Chicory and Cockles
The long dark wintery days and snow covered ground is enough to send anyone in to a mild state of depression. From my point of view I suppose the only thing to keep me occupied or mildly sane in these current weather conditions is cooking and making dishes as colourful and interesting as possible, and the season’s treats of green leeks and red chicory is a colourful feast for the eye. This time of the year the natural British larder is a bit empty, however, the season is slowly changing and it’s good news, as the days are now getting longer with a little bit more daylight.
Cockles, lemon sole, leeks and chicory are a few named seasoanl ingredients at their very best right now.
Lemon sole is a small flat fish related to flounder, and as a matter of fact it’s not related to any of the sole family at all. Found in the shallow waters around the coast of Britain and the North Sea, they are white underneath and the upper part is brown with yellow green speckles. Sadly its name does not relate in any way to its taste or look; I suppose it’s slightly nondescript. The thin fillets means it cooks quickly, and cooking the lemon sole on the bone is perfect as this locks the moisture and juiciness in and keeps the fillets succulent and delicious.
Cockles are bivalves and a member of the clam family living in the sandy beaches of our coastline. They are small and it might feel like hard work retrieving the salty sweet cockle flesh but they are delicious. From a labour point of view I like to serve the cockles in their shell, and I must confess they’re also pretty to look at. As they live in the sand, cockles should be washed well in cold running fresh water to remove as much sand as possible.
The sweetness of the cockles and leeks and freshness of the lemon sole makes the bitter tasting chicory the perfect partner from a taste point of view, to deliver an interesting and intriguing dish.
Personally I love eating fish and when I get the opportunity to go out, which I must say does not happen often, I like to order fresh fish in restaurants. I like it when chefs are creative with the kind of fish served on their menus and also if they really think about how it’s cooked and served. Our natural style here at the British Larder Suffolk is rustic and natural; we try to “work” the ingredients as little as possible to give you the natural uncomplicated feel when eating. Saying that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea eating fish on the bone, and if it’s served still with its head on, well then the debate sparks whether the eyes should be removed or not. I leave them there and I possibly could go on and on about this, but let’s say the less it is bothered with the better…. that is my objective opinion anyway.
- 3 leeks, two cut in half and one finely sliced
- 150g unsalted butter
- 100ml white chicken stock
- 2 skinless medium size whole lemon sole, on the bone
- 2 banana shallots, finely diced
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 150g fresh cockles, washed
- 100ml dry white wine
- 1 head of red chicory, finely shredded
- Juice and zest one lemon
- Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
First braise the leeks: Heat a non-stick frying pan over high heat with one tablespoon of the butter, once it starts to foam add the leeks with seasoning and brown all over about 5 minutes on each side, add the stock, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan with a lid and gently braise for about 8 -10 minutes until the leeks are tender, leave to cool in the stock.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. In a large non-stick frying pan over high heat melt another 1 tablespoon of butter, season the sole and brown on both sides in the pan for about 3 minutes on each side, transfer the golden brown fish to a baking tray and place in the oven for 10 – 12 minutes. Leave to rest for 2 minutes before serving.
While the fish is in the oven cook the cockles. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat and melt half of the remaining butter, once it starts to foam and turn beurre noisette (when the butter turn golden brown, not black just nut brown) add the shallots, garlic, finely sliced leek with seasoning, sauté until transparent and starting to turn golden. Add the washed cockles and deglaze the pan with the wine, cover with a lid and cook over high heat for 2 – 3 minutes, shake the pan and ensure all the cockles have opened, remove the lid, add the shredded chicory and the remaining butter, stir to dissolve the butter and wilt the chicory, season with lemon juice and zest.
Re-heat the leeks, drain and place them on a serving plate, place the fish on top and spoon the cockles, chicory and butter sauce over the fish and serve.