Today is the 22nd anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake that devastated the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989. I was driving on the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge and my mother, down for a visit, was waiting for me at my apartment. It was eerily quiet as I tried to get home. The earthquake had knocked out the local radio towers and you could hear conversations in cars several lanes over. Everyone was unbelievably polite. There were no car horns honking, no jockeying for position on the freeways, the tires on some cars were stuck in the crevices that had opened between lanes and people jumped out to help. Everyone was in shock and just wanted to get to their destinations and find their family members.
As I crawled along in the traffic I could see smoke rising from the direction of my home and all I could hope was that my mom was safe. She was visiting because she wanted to be with me to watch the World Series instead of staying at home alone. We had lost my father earlier that year and I couldn’t bear losing my mother too. It turned out to be a blessing to have her there because it was comforting to have someone to sit up all night with.
I remember driving around the next day stocking up on food and water, with the top down on the convertible because it was a stunningly gorgeous fall day. The sun was shining, the sky was piercingly blue and there wasn’t a breath of wind. It was strange to think that we were in the middle of a national disaster zone.
All of this reminiscing has me missing both my parents (I lost my father 22 years ago and my mother in 1998) and remembering some of the wonderful times we had together as a family. A lot of my memories revolve around food because we always had dinner together as a family. There was no excuse good enough to get us out of eating dinner with our family – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Because I was the youngest in my family, I got to go out to restaurants a lot more than my brothers. I always went along on my parent’s business dinners and trips, so I had a lot more experiences earlier in life than my brothers. There are certainly advantages to being the last of four!
One of my father’s favorite meals was today’s recipe. He loved Petrale sole and would always order it if it was on the menu. While he appreciated fine dining, the simplicity of beurre blanc appealed to his Hoosier roots. You can add herbs and shallots if you like, but this recipe presents the sauce at its purest. I remember having it nearly every time we ate at the wonderful seafood restaurants in San Francisco.
Petrale is found from British Colombia in Canada down the West Coast to Central California. It is a flat, tender, white fish, very mild in flavor. It is similar to its larger cousins English sole, rex sole and Dover sole. You can substitute any white fish in this recipe, but halibut is probably your best bet. Just remember that the cooking time will need to be increased to compensate for this thicker fish.
If you are serving people who don’t like fish but do like shrimp, they also are delicious served with this sauce. And beurre blanc is a classic napped over steamed vegetables. There is something for everyone in today’s recipe!
Did you know there are different types of lemons? The most common commercially grown varieties are Eureka and Lisbon, the large fragrant ones we see in the grocery store. But if you want a sweeter version look for Meyer lemons. Originally discovered in China by Frank Meyer and brought to the U.S. in 1908, this is a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. It is one of the most prized citrus fruits and it’s season runs from late summer to late spring. The Meyer lemon is rounder and juicier, with a thin skin that is often closer to orange than yellow. The thin skin makes it difficult to transport the lemons so you are more likely to find them at Farmers’ Markets and specialty stores than national chains.
When a recipe calls for both lemon zest and juice, always zest the fruit first. It is much easier this way! And to get the most juice from citrus fruits, you can microwave them for about 5 seconds and then, using the palm of your hand, roll them back and forth on a hard surface, pressing down. This helps break down the fibers inside the fruit which in turn releases more juice. You can use regular lemons in place of the Meyers of course, but you may want to increase the sugar slightly to compensate for the increased tartness.
Growing citrus trees is a common hobby for many people in California and Florida. I recommend it if you are in a part of the world where citrus thrives. There is nothing like going outside to pick your own organically grown fruit to cook with. Another benefit of growing lemons, the leaves make perfect molds for chocolate leaves as well as stunning accents in floral arrangements. When you add in the intoxicating aroma of the flowers when they are in bloom and the evergreen foliage, I would say that citrus trees are absolutely perfect for virtually any garden.
It is traditional to serve bread alongside seafood. There is the thought that it may help push down any bones you may accidentally swallow. I love bread and butter so any excuse is a good one for me! Remember this versatile sauce when you are making other dishes as well. Don’t you just love a recipe that works in a whole lot of ways? I sure do!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
There is a subtle but distinct difference between common (usually Eureka) and Meyer lemons, but you can use either in any recipe. If you are working with regular lemons, you can add a splash of tangerine juice to soften the edge of the flavor profile, mimicking Meyers a bit.
- Flour for dusting
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1-1/2 lb Petrale sole fillets, halibut, shrimp or steamed vegetables
- 8 tbsp butter, cut into 1 tbsp pieces
- 2 tbsp freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
- 1 tbsp grated Meyer lemon zest
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- Chopped fresh Italian parsley or dill, optional
- Dill sprigs, for garnish, optional
- With damp hands, run your fingers over all the surfaces of the filets, looking for any bones that are protruding. Pull out anything you find.
- On a work surface spread with plastic wrap, scatter about 1/2 cup of flour. Dip the fillet pieces lightly in the flour, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and set aside.
- In a frying pan, heat 2 tbsp of the butter over medium-high heat. When foaming, add the fish fillets, a few at a time, not crowding the pan. Sauté until golden, about 1 minute, turn and fry the other side, another minute. Remove to a plate and keep warm until all are completed.
- In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the Meyer lemon juice and zest. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the remaining 6 tbsp of butter, one at a time, whisking to melt.
- Arrange the fish on a platter, or 4 individual plates, and drizzle with sauce. Serve immediately.
- Wine pairing: Butter sauce with the lower acid Meyer lemon will be fine with a moderately tart wine, which does not need excessive "buttery-ness" to match. Try an Italian Chardonnay or Oregon Pinot Gris.
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What a harrowing experience, Jane. Thankfully it all worked out safely. When we were kids, there’s was no way we could ever get out of family meals. I too wouldn’t have it any other way:)
I’ve recently been using Meyer lemons more often. Around here they seem to be less expensive than “regular” lemons. I can just imagine the flavor they impart with the sole. Thank you so much for sharing…
P.S. If you get a chance, pop by my blog. This week’s Cookbook Party entries are awesome!!!
Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook
I love Meyer lemons and just wish we could get them all year long! I will be happy to swing by your blog. Your cookbook parties are becoming legendary :o))