Lesley Holdship offers her tips and tricks when it comes to cooking this under-utilised flat fish
“I love the sweetness of the flesh that you get with plaice. There are some complex savoury notes too, which give a lovely depth to the flavour,” says Borough Market demonstration chef Lesley Holdship. “Plaice also has a very tender texture, especially the meat under the dark skin which is slightly different to that beneath the whiter skin on the underside of the fish.”
Lesley believes that more people should try flat fish like plaice, which is traditionally less popular than round fish such as salmon. “Maybe people find it a bit more intimidating to prepare or cook, but that is a shame because it can be wonderful”—and a sustainable option to boot.
Lesley’s father is a French chef and she has fond memories of having lunch in the restaurant when she was a child, eating plaice and other such fish cooked in a meunière style. “It is classically French—a simple and delicious way to cook fish,” she says. “It works well for plaice because it retains that lovely sweetness.”
If you want to try cooking plaice this way, it is easier if the head and fins are removed—your fishmonger can do this for you. Some people also like to skin it, but our chef prefers to leave the skin on as it keeps the flesh nice and moist during cooking. “Dust the whole fish with some plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper, then pan fry it in butter and a little oil over a medium heat,” Lesley explains. “Adding the oil raises the smoke point of the butter, giving you the best of both worlds.”
Place the fish dark skin-down first for three or four minutes, then turn over and cook for a little less time—about three minutes—and you should have a beautifully cooked piece of plaice. “The heat level is important. If it is too high, you will overcook the fish and dry it out,” says Lesley—so keeping an eye on it is crucial.
“Plaice really works with eastern flavours like soy and ginger, or there is an excellent recipe from New England that pairs it with a dish called succotash. For this one you want to use fillets as opposed to the whole fish, and I would suggest two per person,” Lesley advises. “Create plaice paupiettes by rolling up the plaice fillets starting at the thinner tail end, and use a cocktail stick to hold the roll together. Then simply steam the rolls over water with aromatics—I normally add a bay leaf and some peppercorns.”
A very tasty meal
To make the succotash, sweat some onions and garlic in butter, “but don’t colour them”. Then add some cooked butterbeans and sweetcorn. “It is best if you can get fresh sweetcorn.” Mix these together, add some double cream, then season with salt and pepper. Simmer the mixture for about five minutes to cook the sweetcorn through, and finish off by adding lots of fresh herbs. “I like coriander, parsley and some dill, but you can experiment by trying different herbs you like,” says Lesley. “Once the herbs are mixed in, the succotash is ready: simply serve it with the steamed fish, cocktail stick removed—a very tasty meal indeed.”