Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Parmesan Crusted Broiled Sole

Large plate of fish with Salsa, Avocado, Lime, and Cilantro in background
Perfectly Browned Fish with Garnishes

Recipe adapted from Let's Cook

Correct me if I’m wrong, but broiled fish doesn’t sound very exciting. Especially in a class called “Succulent Seafood,” where it shares billing with bouillabaisse, seared scallops with beurre blanc, and grilled salmon with lime butter. And yet, when all was said, done, cooked, and tasted, the simplest recipe turned out to be my favorite. Instructor Eric Carter, who directs the best culinary arts program around, at Cabrillo College in Aptos, shared a surprising ingredient to make crusted broiled fish extra-crispy: Parmesan cheese! What’s not to like?

Francese bread, olive oil, lemon, thyme, salt, pepper, Parmesan
Simple Fabulous Crust Ingredients
First, let me say that the amount of Parmesan used imparts only a very subtle flavor to the breadcrumb crust. The taste of fresh fish is featured, in a crispy buttery-tasting coating. The bit of lemon zest adds a citrus note, toning down the Parmesan flavor even more. This recipe has plenty of room for variation though, so you could eliminate the lemon zest and bump up the amount of Parmesan. According to Eric, you could vary the crust ingredients to include garlic, capers, nuts, tandoori spices, Cajun spices, or crushed sesame seeds. Personally, I’ll stick with the basics: fresh fish fillet with a simply crunchy coating.

Freshness of the fish is key to this recipe. You’ll be pressing the breadcrumbs onto the fish with considerable force. Fresh fish will stand up to this extreme handling…older fish not so much. 

Individual Plate of Fish with Topping Tray
Serve with Salsa and Top Your Own
A fairly thick, sustainably-sourced white fish works best. If you can’t find thick sole, then lingcod, white seabass, black cod, or Pacific halibut will do nicely. (My pics are local lingcod.) Tilapia is a good alternative, as is striped bass, if you’re lucky enough to find some.

This simple recipe is complimented by numerous sauces. It’s perfect with homemade salsa fresca or home canned salsas. Any Hollandaise or béchamel sauce works well too. Eric also suggests any variety of tapanade, mayonnaise-based sauces (ranch dressing or tartar sauce come to mind), and even teriyaki. Feel free to change up the crust ingredients and get creative with the sauces. Post a comment if you find a combo that you like.

Individual Plate of fish with Large amount of salsa, avocado, cilantro and tomatoes
Fully Loaded Fish
Parmesan Crusted Broiled Sole
serves 4

1¼ lbs. ~¾-inch thick sole or other white fish
~¾ loaf of Francese bread
3 tbsp. olive oil
1¾ tsp. lemon zest
1½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan
salt and pepper
~2 tbsp. water

Prepare crust mixture:
You will need 2 cups of toasted breadcrumbs. Slice Francese bread into ¾ – 1 inch slices and toast in 350 degree F. oven. When bread is golden brown, remove from oven and grind in food processor. I needed 14 slices of bread, but toasted them in 3 batches to approach the 2 cups without waste.

Add olive oil, lemon zest, fresh thyme, Parmesan, and a few grinds of black pepper to food processor. Process till crumbs are fine and uniform. Remove crumb mixture to bowl.

Add water (or more olive oil) to achieve the proper texture. The rule is: “squeeze it and it stays together, shake it and it falls apart.” Add water or oil 1 tbsp. at a time, stirring thoroughly after each addition. Test for compliance with the “squeeze it, shake it” rule after each addition. Taste mixture and add salt and more pepper if desired.

Prepare fish:
Preheat broiler, or preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Remove bones from fish with heavy-duty tweezers.

Cut fish into 4 servings if desired. Spread a layer of crust mixture onto large plate and place one fish fillet on top. Cover fillet with a good handful or two of crust mixture. Press down hard onto the fish until crust mixture adheres. Turn fish over and repeat on other side. Continue until all fillets are thickly coated on both sides, using all of the crust mixture.

Cook fish:
Put fish fillets onto metal baking pan or broiler pan. Slide pan under broiler 5 - 6 inches away from heat. Check the fish every few minutes to be sure the crust is browning but not burning, and adjust distance to broiler if needed.

If fish is ¾-inch thick, it will be done in 7 - 10 minutes and need not be flipped. Fish is done when thick parts flake and look opaque yet moist.

For thicker fish, up to 1 inch, broil as above for 7 minutes and check for doneness. When cooked about halfway through, flip carefully with a wide offset metal spatula. Cook on second side until crust is brown and fish is done, about 5 - 7 minutes.

Plate fish:
Remove fish to serving platter. Serve with salsa fresca and sliced avocado or other sauce and garnish of your choice.

Food Processor with Breadcrumbs, Lemon Zest, Thyme, Parmesan, and Olive Oil
Easy Prep of Breadcrumb Crust

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