Sole piccata, a light and delicate dish that consists of lightly browned sole fillets bathed in a lemon, caper, and white wine-laced pan sauce, is a classic for a reason: The fresh, bright acidity of the sauce wakes up the flavour of the fish.
To ensure our thin fillets were crisp and golden brown on the outside and moist and flavourful on the inside, we started with the coating. We produced the perfect crust without heavy eggs or bread crumbs by simply drying the fillets, seasoning them with salt and pepper, letting them sit for 5 minutes, then dredging them in flour.
A nonstick skillet coated with a mixture of oil and butter prevented sticking and ensured that we had enough fat left to build our Lemon-Caper Pan Sauce.
Flounder is a good substitute for sole. Try to purchase fillets that are of similar size. If using smaller fillets (3 ounces each), serve two fillets per person and reduce the cooking time on the second side to about 1 minute. You will need to cook smaller fillets in three or four batches and wipe out the skillet with paper towels after the second and third batches to prevent any browned bits from scorching.
PAN-FRIED SOLE WITH LEMON-CAPER PAN SAUCE
Start to finish: 45 minutes
4 (6-ounce) skinless sole fillets
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 recipe Lemon-Caper Pan Sauce (recipe follows)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 F. Pat sole dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper, and let sit until fish glistens with moisture, about 5 minutes.
Spread flour into shallow dish. Dredge sole in flour, shake off any excess, and transfer to plate. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add 1 tablespoon butter and swirl to melt.
Gently lay two sole fillets in skillet and cook until golden on first side, about 3 minutes. Turn sole over using 2 spatulas and cook until second side is golden and fish flakes apart when gently prodded with paring knife, about 2 minutes. Transfer to ovensafe platter and keep warm in oven. Wipe skillet clean with paper towels and repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1 tablespoon butter, and sole fillets; transfer to oven.
Prepare sauce using fat left in skillet. Spoon sauce over sole and serve.
Lemon-Caper Pan Sauce
(Makes about 3/4 cup; enough for 4 servings)
This sauce pairs best with fish and shellfish.
1 small shallot, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup lemon juice (2 lemons)
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces and chilled
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet. (If necessary, add oil to equal 1 tablespoon.) Add shallot and cook over medium heat until softened, about 1 minute. Stir in broth, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to simmer and cook until liquid is reduced to 1/3 cup, about 4 minutes.
Stir in lemon juice and capers and simmer until liquid is reduced to 1/3 cup, about 1 minute. Off heat, whisk in butter, 1 piece at a time, until melted and sauce is thickened and glossy. Stir in parsley and any accumulated meat juices. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.