Delicate, flaky Dover Sole baked with butter and caper berries is a classic quick dinner. The nutritional value of fish cannot be emphasized enough. We have all heard and read about the miracle of fish and krill oils — the positive effect omega 3 fats have on our vascular system, joint health, immunity and brain function. This is all exciting and true, but I would encourage you to forego the supplements and go straight to the source.
Lots of people don’t like fish, and I can understand why. Many grocery stores stock fresh fish past the “best by” date, leading to a nauseating fishy smell that permeates the meat counter. Frozen fish can be chewy and rubbery because the process of freezing delicate fish actually explodes the tiny cells within the flesh, leading to a tougher texture.
The key to enjoying fish is to find a market or grocery store that stocks fresh fish caught within the past 24-36 hours at most. Fresh fish doesn’t smell fishy. It simply smells of the sea — salty and natural. While our noses aren’t the keenest on the planet (I thank my lucky stars for that), they have evolved enough to warn us when something may not be good for us, which is why bad smells turn our stomachs and kill our appetites. If a fillet of fish smells bad, it probably is bad.
The first time I visited a truly fresh fish stand, I was astounded. I couldn’t smell anything but salt! A huge tuna was strung up from a high beam, and I didn’t even notice it until I turned around and stared right into its gleaming eye. I sniffed at it and couldn’t smell it beyond the fresh saltiness inherent in its flesh. The firm fish, flat fish, deep sea fish, swordfish, octopi, squid, scallops, shrimp, clams, razor clams and mussels were all caught the previous night/early that morning and I couldn’t smelly any fishiness. What a revelation.
In addition to paying attention to a fish’s smell, look at the eyes if there are whole fish available. They should be clear and gleaming. If they’re milky or opaque, you’re looking at an older catch, so don’t bother.
Fish truly is brain food, especially oily fish like mackerel, wild salmon, sardines, trout, herring and anchovies. Wikipedia helpfully explains that oily fish contains up to 30% fat in their flesh, as opposed to white fish like cod, haddock and varieties of flat fish like dover sole, which contain oil mostly in their livers (hence, cod liver oil). As Nina Planck said in her informative book, Real Food, What to Eat and Why, “The brain is an astonishing 60 percent fat, of which half is docosahexaeonic acid (DHA). DHA is found only in fish.”
Those Omega 3 fatty acids are especially important because our modern diets are extremely heavy on Omega 6 fatty acids which are found in soy products, canola oil, and corn products, one of which (but usually two or more) is present in nearly every packaged item in stores today. Next time you’re shopping, have a look at the ingredients list for those “all natural” crackers you picked up, or your favorite cereal, or that can of soup or bottle of barbecue sauce. As with most things, our bodies crave a balanced Omega equation.
Again I salute Costco for their selection of fresh fish. Almost all the fish I have bought from Costco has been fresh, delicate and delicious, barring a few whole rockfish whose eyes I didn’t scrutinize and turned out to be fishy in smell and flavor. The Dover Sole at Costco is Pacific Dover Sole, which is a more delicate version of the prized Dover Sole found in the English Channel and off the coast of Holland. The fillets are thinner, so I like to layer them to slow the cooking process and preserve the gorgeous light texture that would easily become chewy and tough if overcooked.
2-3 lbs Dover Sole
5 Tbsp butter (a rough guideline)
4 tsp capers (or more if you like)
Heat your oven to 375F/190C. Grease a baking tin/casserole dish with butter, then layer the dover fillets on top of one another. When you’ve layered half of your fish, add a little more butter and two teaspoons of capers, and a little shake of salt and pepper. Finish layering the remaining fish and top with the rest of the butter and capers, then sprinkle a little more salt and pepper.
When I say sprinkle some salt, I mean about the amount you would use when salting something that is ready to eat before you — less than a quarter of a teaspoon, evenly distributed. It is better to salt too little than too much. Also, I’ve included measurements for the butter and capers, but they are just guidelines. If you need or want to add more, do so! I’ve found that, other than baking which demands precision, most measurements in recipes are loose guidelines. If you love the green, briny flavor of capers, use more! And as far as butter, err on the side of too much rather than too little.
Tuck your dish into the warm oven and cook for 15 minutes. When time is up, stick a fork into the very middle of the dish and lightly pull to check for doneness. The fish should easily flake apart. If it tugs slightly at the fork without pulling apart, cook for another 3 minutes. When it’s nice and flaky, I like to turn my oven up to broil for 3 minutes to brown off the tips of the top fillets — but no more than 3 minutes or you’ll overcook your fish.
Take out of the oven immediately. Top off each serving with a spoonful of the melted butter and a little freshly ground black pepper.