A flat fish, pan-fried in brown butter, with a squeeze of lemon, capers and shallots, cannot be bettered.  This method should be viewed more as a way of cooking, rather than a recipe to be strictly followed.

A 1kg turbot

Filleting the flat fish is easy, especially if you don’t bother to gut it or cut off the head first.  Just score around the head, and down the middle of the spine to divide the top of the fish in half.   With a filleting knife, or boning knife, work outwards from the spine to the edge.  Then turn over and repeat.   The skin of a flat fish tends to be more knobbly than scaly fish, so I remove it.

Once you’ve finished filleting, always reserve the carcass for stock making at a later date.  At this stage I gut the carcass properly, rinse off any blood, and remove eyes and gills to stop the stock from turning bitter.

Turbot with top two fillets removed

Crisp green winter samphire

Recipe – Pan fried turbot with samphire, and caper-butter sauce
Serves 4 – Cooking and preparation time 15 minutes total

The sweetness of the shallots and butter balances the sharpness of the lemon and capers, enlivening the tender and delicately-flavoured turbot.  Err on the side of under cooking the fish – a minute too long, and there will be pained regrets about what could have been.

4 small fillets of flat white fish, with skin removed (equivalent to a 1kg turbot)
75g of butter
1 shallot, finely diced
75ml white wine, pernod, or sherry (if using pernod, you might also like to saute a little fennel along with the shallots instead of adding capers at the end)
50g nonpareille capers (or larger capers chopped)
Squeeze of lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Small handful of samphire per person

1.  Put serving plates in the oven to warm along with one spare, to rest the fish on when cooked.  Put the kettle on to boil.
2.  Melt 25g of butter in a wide frying pan and sauté the diced shallot.  When soft, but not yet coloured, scrape out into a small bowl and put aside.
3.  Add a further 25g of butter to the empty pan and place over a high heat.  Watch carefully.  After the butter has foamed, and starts to turn brown place the fish fillets carefully in the hot pan.  If you think it is starting to get too hot, then add a little more cold butter.
4.  Pan fry the fillets for 2 minutes on the first side, and the turn over and fry the other side for just 30 seconds.  Remove to a warmed plate (they will continue to cooking slightly)
5.  Pour boiled water from the kettle into a sauce pan, and add the samphire.  Let it boil for a couple of minutes, whilst you make the sauce.
6.  To make the sauce, deglaze the fish pan with the white wine, pernod or sherry.  Add back the sautéed shallots, remaining butter, and – using a sauce whisk if you have one – mix, pouring in a little water if the butter separates from the liquid.  Then add the capers, squeeze of lemon, and season to taste.  Remember the samphire will be very salty, so add less salt than you might normally: I added none.
7.  Drain the samphire, and put a small handful on each serving plate.  Carefully place the fish on top, and pour over sauce.

Serve simply with new potatoes