#376 Eliza Acton’s Sole Stewed in Cream

Eliza Acton (1799-1859) was a cook and poet. She was the first person write a cook book for normal folk like you and I, all the previous ones were written for the housekeepers and kitchen staff that ran houses and stately homes. Eliza was also the first to include cooking times and ingredients lists in her recipes. Years later Mrs Beeton based her much more popular book on Acton’s writings. Cheeky!

This recipe comes from her famous book Modern Cookery, for Modern Families published in 1860. Old that it is, its simplicity seems quite modern to me; there are very few ingredients, just sole, salt, cream, mace, Cayenne pepper and lemon juice, and it was designed to show off the excellent flavour of a delicate fish.

If you can’t get hold of sole, use any other flat or white fish like brill, turbot, cod, haddock, pollack etc., though they will need to be cooked for longer.

Her recipe starts: Prepare some very fresh middling soles with exceeding nicety…

Ask the butcher to gut and scale a nice sole. At home, prepare it by trimming off the fins and place it in a close-fitting dish or pan. Pour around it boiling water that almost covers it, plus a teaspoon of salt, then let it simmer for just two minutes. Carefully pour away the water and pour in some cream so that it goes half way up the fish. Bring to a simmer and baste the fish with the hot cream until cooked through. This takes only four or five minutes, but if the cream thickens too much, let it down with some of the cooking liquid or some water.

Remove the sole to a serving dish and finish the cream sauce by adding some saltand a little ground mace and Cayenne pepper. Lift the sauce with a squeeze of lemon juice – a little under half a lemon did for me.

Pour the sauce over the fish and serve with boiled potatoes and some blanched and buttered cucumber dice, says Jane, though I expect it would work very well with a green salad or some quickly-steamed asparagus spears.
#376 Eliza Acton’s Sole Stewed in Cream. I loved this. The fish was lovely and moist and it flaked away from the bone very easily. The sauce was not as rich as you might expect, and its mild creaminess complemented the fish very well. There was also the added bonus of finding a large and handsome roe within the sole which also ate very well. Very good and very simple 8/10

#302 Caveach of Sole

I decided that I needed to get back into doing some proper cooking now that I have a new stove in my new apartment. I invited some people around from work and their various spouses and kids. It is pretty hot here in St Louis at the moment so I needed to choose a recipe that was nice and summery and not all hot and stodgy. It needed to be buffet-style as there would be eight of us in all and I can only fit four around my little table. It also needed to be one that is prepared in advance so I wouldn’t be rushing around in the 35°C heat on the day. I don’t ask for much do I? Oh, and it also couldn’t be weird. My options for this kind of food are rather limited in the book now, but I happily found this one that seemed fresh and clean and rather Mediterranean in style.

The sole lies on its side on the sea bed to camouflage itself.
Over time, natural selection has reacted to this by moving one eye
so that they both sit on one side of the head.

The word caveach refers to a method of preserving fish by cooking and then pickling it and comes from the Spanish escabeche. I did a little research on the preservation method and could only find books from the early-to-mid nineteenth century that mention it in any detail; though it seemed popular in both Britain and America at that time. The recipe below is more of a dinner party adaptation where the fish is only left for a few hours to pickle and isn’t intended as a preservation method at all. You can caveach any fish you like – the most popular seemed to be mackerel, herring and sardine, presumable because they were the cheapest and most common seafish at that time.

It is also nice to cook a receipt from the Seawater Fish section of the book – options are limited in America because there are different species of fish found commonly in their waters compared to European waters. However there is some common ground and the newly-discovered and very excellent grocery store Straub’s has a great selection of fish and meat as well as some other tricky-to-find ingredients, so I’ll be using them quite frequently during my time here in Missouri.

First of all prepare your sole fillets – you’ll need eight in all. Flatten them a little with a rolling pin, season with salt and pepper and fry them quickly in a little olive oil so that they brown a little. Cut them into thirds and arrange the pieces on a serving dish. Slice a medium red onion thinly and scatter over the fish along with the thinly sliced pared rind of a lemon and a couple of bay leaves cut in two. Next mix together seven fluid ounces of olive oil with three tablespoons of white wine vinegar and pour over the fish. Season again with salt, pepper and some Cayenne pepper too. Cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours, but preferable over night. When it is time to serve, scatter over some chopped herbsparsley, coriander or chervil are suggested by Griggers. I went with coriander. Serve with bread and butter and a salad.

#302 Caveach of Sole. This was everything I had hoped it would be – fresh, clean and slightly piquant. The delicately flavoured sole was not overwhelmed at all by the onions and the mild seasoning. A very good recipe this one – and simple too. I think I am going to try it with other, cheaper fish in the USA like tilapia or catfish. Any fish would work I reckon. A dinner-party stalwart this one will be, I feel. 8/10.