I confess that, until today, I hadn’t made breaded plaice for years. Breadcrumbing isn’t onerous, but it is an extra step, and generally I think of fish as quick and easy. Still, there was plaice on the fishmonger’s slab this morning and it got me thinking about the pleasing contrast of white fish and crisply gilded crumbs.
So plaice is what I bought and crumbing is what I did.
This being late April, the greengrocer’s along the road had a large display of perky British asparagus. The homegrown spears seem to appear in the shops earlier each year (you will often find it in March these days – the result of clever growing as much as warmer springs – and it appears again in a “reverse season” in autumn), but the traditional season starts on St George’s Day, so I’m actually a week late.
Anyway, the robust flavours of anchovy and lemon seemed like a good way to bring the two together.
Ingredients (Serves 2)
4 small plaice fillets (or two large ones, divided lengthways), neatly trimmed
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
4-6 handfuls fine, dry breadcrumbs (finely ground panko would be good here, or other bought crumbs)
250g asparagus, woody ends trimmed
8-10 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste
Grated zest and juice of a lemon
1 ½ tbsp capers, drained
Vegetable oil, for frying
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Start by breadcrumbing the fish. Lay out three shallow plates. Cover one with a good layer of flour, seasoning it well with salt and pepper. Put the beaten eggs in the next and the breadcrumbs in the third.
One by one, dip the fillets into the flour, shaking off the excess. Next, dip the fish in the egg until well coated, allowing any gloopy bits to drop off, then into the breadcrumbs, patting them onto the surface. If there are bare patches, you can always dip the fillets into the egg and crumbs a second time. Once all the fish is coated, put to one side.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the asparagus and cook for 3-4 minutes, depending on size, until just tender. Drain and quickly plunge into a large bowl of icily cold water to cool (add a handful of ice cubes if you have them). This will stop them cooking and help keep them green. When they are cold, drain thoroughly.
Put the butter in the empty pan (the one used to cook the asparagus), add the garlic and anchovies and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in most of the capers and most of the lemon zest. Add a few grinds of pepper, plus half the lemon juice. You want the flavour to be bright, but balanced, so add more lemon as you see fit. You can always squeeze more directly over the fish at the end. Add the drained asparagus to the butter and stir together.
In a large, non-stick frying pan, heat about 5mm depth of oil over a medium heat until breadcrumbs sizzle when dropped into the fat. Add the breaded plaice and cook for about 2½ minutes each side until a rich golden brown, turning carefully. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper.
While the plaice is cooking, gently warm the asparagus in the anchovy butter for a minute or two.
Divide the asparagus between two plates. Add the fish, sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt, then spoon the anchovy butter over the top of both the plaice and the asparagus. Scatter with a few extra capers and a little extra lemon zest and juice, if you feel it’s needed, and finish with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.
Lucas Hollweg is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author and cook. A former Sunday Times journalist and cookery columnist, he writes for a wide range of food publications. His most recent book isGood Things to Eat.