Brilliant brill, baked with a bunch of basil and a brushing of white miso – one modest-sized fish per person makes the cooking of it so easy!
Brill comes from the same fish family as turbot, Dover sole, plaice, flounder and lemon sole. It’s quite an aristocratic family with the plaice the poorest relative.
Brill is up close to the top rung occupied by turbot. To be honest though, I don’t know if I prefer turbot to brill or a Dover sole – it depends on the actual specimen, its freshness and the way it’s cooked. And what I fancy on that particular day.
They are expensive fish apart from lemons and plaices, so I always want them cooked in the way that will waste the least. If the fishmonger only has huge beasts, ones that will feed the multitude rather than the two of us, I ask him to fillet the turbot or brill. But smaller fishes are absolutely the best cooked whole – ideally a one person sized.
I’m aware of the fact that whole fish looks daunting or even frightening to many home cooks who tend to buy safer, seemingly easier to handle fillets. (That always reminds me of my mother who, although not vegetarian, was positively squeamish about eating meat or fish that looked like a part of or the whole animal rather than a slab of flesh!) Sometimes I agree: otherwise delicious red mullet or sardines are just so messy to scale, gut and prepare.
It is not so with flatfish, the cleanest and neatest of the ocean goods. Plus they are usually gutted by default which is a bonus. It is apparently standard practice for flatfish to be gutted onboard the boat by special machinery – another proof how accommodating and easy-going those brills and soles are.
How to prepare flatfish for cooking?
When it comes to Dover soles you might want to skin them. It is not so hard to do; if you dive to my Grilled Dover Sole recipe you’ll find out how. I usually cook brill and turbot with the skin on and trimming is the only chore before the feast.
To trim the dorsal fin that runs the length of the fish on both sides, use poultry cutters or kitchen scissors. It will not only improve the eating experience but save space on the baking tray.
Baked brill on bed of basil
It is a very good trick to make a bed for your fish to lie on when baking it whole. I usually nest it with lemon slices and herbs. For this brill recipe the choice of basil isn’t only for the flavour, you see – doesn’t ‘baked basil brill’ sound rather nice?
Don’t overcook your brill
Once the fish is in its baking bed, seasoned with salt and brushed with miso paste then slicked with olive oil, it won’t take longer than 15-20 minutes to cook it. Make sure the fish is brought to room temperature before it goes into the oven.
Use the digital thermometer to jab the fish in the thickest part to see if it reads 60-65C, not more. If you haven’t got a probe and it’s a home dinner not a party piece for show, prod it underneath the skin with a fork to see if it flakes easily.