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Why You Should Try Lemon Sole

Not quite the luxurious Dover sole, similar but not quite the same as plaice or flounder, the lemon sole is a highly prized flatfish that deserves its own place on every seafood lover’s menu. If you are looking for a white fish with the subtlest of flavours and delicate texture, maybe it’s time to give the lemon sole a try.

What is a Lemon Sole?

The Microstomus kitt belongs to the Pleuronectidae family, which also includes other popular flatfish like plaice and halibut. Found in the temperate waters around the northeastern Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, lemon soles typically measure between 30-40 cm in length and weigh around 1 kg.

These bottom-dwelling fish have a distinctive oval shape and a brownish-yellow colour on their topside, which camouflages them perfectly on sandy or muddy seabeds. Their underside is a pristine white, and they have a small mouth and eyes on the topside of their body, a characteristic of all flatfish. They feed on small crustaceans and other invertebrates that live on the seafloor.

Why Is It Called “Lemon Sole”

The lemon sole is not actually related to true soles, like the Dover sole (which belongs to the Soleidae family). Neither does it have a lemon flavour. 

The name “lemon sole” is thought to come from the French word “limande,” which was used to refer to most flatfish. The term “limande” may have originated from the French word “lime,” meaning “file,” possibly referring to the rough texture of the fish’s skin. Some sources suggest that “limande” may also come from the French word “limon,” which means “silt” and could refer to the fish’s sandy habitat. Others suggest the orange patch typically found behind the lemon sole’s pectoral fin, giving it a lemon-like coloration, may have contributed to its name. 

What Does Lemon Sole Taste Like?

Lemon soles are highly prized for their delicate, sweet flavour and firm, flaky texture. Compared to other flatfish, lemon sole has a milder, less “fishy” taste. The flesh is white and lean, with a subtle briny taste reminiscent of the ocean. Unlike some oily fish, lemon soles have a delicate, almost buttery quality that makes them a versatile canvas for various flavours and cooking methods.

When cooked properly, the flesh of a lemon sole remains moist and tender, with a delightful flakiness that practically melts in your mouth. When fresh, lemon sole has a tender, almost translucent flesh that flakes apart easily, without the firm, meaty quality of some other white fish. 

This delicate texture pairs beautifully with simple preparations and gentle cooking techniques that allow the natural flavours to shine, such as pan-frying, baking, or grilling with a light seasoning of lemon, butter, and herbs.

Is Lemon Sole a Healthy Fish?

In addition to its delicious taste and texture, lemon sole is also a highly nutritious choice. As a lean, white fish, it is an excellent source of high-quality protein, providing all the essential amino acids the body needs. Low in calories and total fat, making it a good option for weight management.

Lemon sole also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their heart-healthy benefits, (although in much lower amounts than oily fish like salmon or mackerel). These healthy fats can help lower cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, and support brain and cognitive function.

Furthermore, lemon sole is a good source of various vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, niacin (B3), selenium, and phosphorus. These nutrients play important roles in maintaining healthy blood, bones, and immune function. 

Lemon sole is also considered low in mercury compared to some other fish species, making it a safer choice especially for pregnant women and children 

For those looking to incorporate more seafood into their diet, lemon sole is a fantastic option. Its mild flavour and versatility make it an easy fish to incorporate into a wide range of dishes, from simple pan-fried fillets to more elaborate seafood stews and casseroles.

Where Can You Buy Lemon Sole and How Do You Prepare It?

Lemon sole is wild-caught in UK waters, particularly the English Channel and in the Cornish waters and so it is widely available both fresh from local fishmongers and in tinned or smoked forms from specialty food shops and supermarkets. 

When purchasing fresh lemon sole, look for fish with bright, clear eyes, firm flesh, and a fresh, briny aroma. Avoid any fish that appears discoloured or has a strong, unpleasant odour, or has damaged fins and tail. 

Here are the steps to prepare fresh, whole lemon sole: 

  1. Rinse the lemon sole under cold water and pat it dry with paper towels.
  2. Using kitchen shears or scissors, cut off the dorsal fins running along the top side of the fish as well as the tail fin.
  3. Make 2-3 shallow incisions or slits along the top (darker) side of the fish. This helps the heat penetrate and cook the flesh evenly.
  4. If desired, you can remove the tough grey/brown skin on the top side by gently inserting a knife between the flesh and skin near the tail and slicing towards the head to separate the skin. The skin on the bottom fillet can be left on.
  5. The fish can be cooked whole on the bone at this point for maximum flavour. 

You can also fillet the fish by running a knife along the spine and rib bones to remove the top and bottom fillets from the bone structure. Remember to handle gently to prevent breaking them apart!

You can buy lemon sole fillets ready to be cooked if you don’t feel like prepping and cooking the whole fish. Glasgow’s Fish Plaice offers fresh lemon sole fillets delivery.

How Do You Cook Lemon Sole?

The beauty of the lemon sole lies in its versatility and ability to shine with minimal fuss. Given its mild taste and delicate texture, the best recipes and cooking methods are gentle and have light flavours.

Here are a few simple yet sublime ways to prepare this fish:

  • Pan-Fried Lemon Sole with Lemon Butter Sauce: Dredge lemon sole fillets in seasoned flour and pan-fry until golden brown. Serve with a lemon butter sauce made with melted butter, lemon juice, and fresh parsley.
  • Baked Lemon Sole with Herbs and Breadcrumbs: Top lemon sole fillets with a mixture of breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan, and fresh herbs like parsley, thyme, and chives. Bake until the fish is opaque and the topping is golden brown.
  • Tray-Baked Whole Lemon Sole: For those who may be asking how to cook a whole lemon sole in the oven, this recipe is for you. Tomatoes, oregano, parsley, balsamic vinegar, spring onions, olives, lemon and olive oil are laid out on a tray and baked together with the whole fish on top.
  • Grilled Lemon Sole with Lemon and Dill: Brush lemon sole fillets with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Grill until cooked through and garnish with fresh dill and lemon wedges.
  • Lemon Sole Meunière: A classic French preparation, this dish involves pan-frying lemon sole fillets in butter and serving them with a simple sauce made from the pan drippings, lemon juice, and parsley.
  • Lemon Sole Grenobloise: Similar to meunière, this dish tops the pan-fried lemon sole with a sauce containing lemon, parsley, capers, croutons and sometimes cucumber .
  • Lemon Sole en Papillote: This method involves baking lemon sole fillets in a parchment paper pouch with a variety of aromatics, such as sliced lemon, garlic, and fresh herbs. The fish steams in its own juices, resulting in a tender and flavorful dish.

Remember, the key to enjoying the full flavour of lemon sole is to keep the preparations simple and let the natural taste of the fish shine through.

Where to Buy Lemon Sole?

Ready to try one of these recipes at home? Order fresh lemon sole fillets from us. We deliver across the UK.

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