A Series of Failures, Part Two.

Sole a la Grenobloise – Saveur

We could categorize the fact that I haven’t posted in 3 days as a failure as well, but I’m trying to be nicer to myself – if you had this kind of wicked awful heartburn, you wouldn’t want to sit here and type about food, either.  But in addition to the lemon tart, I think the Sole a la Grenobloise needs to be discussed as well, because like the tart it was really only a partial failure.


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The recipe itself is really quite simple despite the fancy name – and if we’re being honest, I love the fancy name, I’m 89% convinced the fancy name improves the taste somehow, just like Tar-ghey makes Target more than just a slightly upscale Walmart – but the problem is that while the recipe is simple, and fast, especially for something coming from Saveur, it does require clarified butter and if you have never made any I am here to tell you DO NOT TRY SHORTCUTS.

2 whole skinless sole filets (about 4 oz. each),
   halved lengthwise down center line
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
   to taste
1?4 cup milk
1 lemon, peeled
1?2 cup flour
2 tbsp. clarified butter
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. capers, drained
2 tsp. coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Season sole filets with salt and pepper; put them into a shallow dish. Cover with milk; set aside.

2. Using a knife, cut white pith away from lemon; remove segments by slicing between membranes. Cut half the segments into 1?2" pieces. (Reserve the other half for another use.) Put flour on a plate; season with salt and pepper; set aside.

3. Heat clarified butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove filets from milk; fold the thin, tapered ends under to create an even thickness. Dredge both sides in flour, shake off excess, and add to skillet. Cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to plates; cover with foil to keep warm.

4. Add whole butter to skillet; cook, stirring, until it turns a deep brown and smells nutty, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon pieces, capers, and parsley; swirl skillet to combine. Spoon sauce over sole. Serve immediately.

My first obstacle was that my grocery store did not have two 4oz sole filets – they had 4 2oz filets, so that’s what I got. Second, they were quite narrow to begin with so I did not halve them lengthwise. This put me into a mild panic already as I do not cope well with deviating from a new recipe. Third or fourth time I make something, sure, I can fiddle with it. First time? It transforms me into someone, well, let’s just say even the dog leaves the room when things go awry for me with a first-time recipe. I just know my limitations in the kitchen, that’s all.

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Actually, let me go back. The smaller filets is actually the second obstacle, the first is that I do not eat fish. I probably haven’t touched anything outside of tuna salad in a good decade, possibly longer. You might rightfully wonder why on earth I’d make a fish dish and the answer is that I am testing my limits and acknowledging that a lot of the food I “don’t eat” has less to do with what I know I don’t like and more to do with what I think I don’t like. For instance, I “don’t eat” guacamole and yet I could not tell you for certain if I’ve ever had any. So in this case, I did some research, read that white fishes are mild in that fishy flavor, and found this recipe which is essentially piccata without the white wine.

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So now that we’re back to obstacles, let me tell you about my experience with clarified butter: I once saw Alton Brown make it. That’s it. But I remembered that it looked easy enough so it didn’t worry me until I looked up how to do it* and realized that it didn’t fit into my time schedule at all. I also don’t seem to have a fine mesh sieve which I can guarantee you will be rectified in no time at all nor do I have any talent or know-how when it comes to skimming, well, anything. So I tried just melting 2 tbsp of butter in a Pyrex cup and “straining” it through a coffee filter. This did not work out as well as I had hoped. And by hoped I mean at all.

(* – there are several methods to clarify butter, nearly all of which are mentioned in the comments, but the cooking for engineers site tickles me so much I had to go with it)

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I try to be June Cleaver and have dinner on the table by 7 and almost always greatly underestimate how much time I’m going to need for prep. I managed to get it on the table in the neighborhood of 7 but there were casualties – namely, two of the filets. I didn’t have enough butter in the skillet and in addition to that, the milk fats I didn’t get out of the butter burned onto the pan, so the second set were not so much golden brown and delicious as they were scorched and falling apart. My son, being two, was kind enough to eat the shredded mess of one of them and my husband liked the sauce enough to eat the second.

The recipe itself is delicious, and the fish is light, flaky and fall-apart tender. I served mine with roasted red potatoes and steamed broccoli, both only lightly seasoned with salt and pepper since the fish was taking center stage.

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