From the tail, up to the head, use a scaler or a knife to scrape off the scales. A sole—any kind of sole that you’re going to cook—has tough scales compared to most fish. You should work against the lie of the scales because it lifts them up and helps pull them away from the body of the fish.
Then, take a pair of scissors and cut off the lateral fins. It’s not essential for the taste, but to fit it snugly in a pan, or for presentation’s sake, so it’s best to get rid of them. Again, run from the tail to the head, against the fins, because that is the easiest way to take them off.
After that, it’s time to take the skin off the fish. Take a sharp knife, and if it is the one you used to scale the fish, then wash it to prevent adding a few of them back onto the fish. With the knife, score into the flesh, vertically up the body rather than horizontal, and lift up a small flap of the skin. Take the flap of skin, and pull it away from the body. A neat trick is to use a touch of salt on the flap in order to get an extra bit of purchase. If you use an even, smooth motion, then you should be able to remove the skin in one go, without any stray bits clinging onto the fish. Turn the fish over and repeat the process.
As a digression, it’s an interesting fact that the eyes of flat fish, like sole, have an odd way of maturing. Initially, in their youth, their eyes often start like your standard fish’s eyes, like salmon’s for instance, one on either side of the body. But as the body becomes flatter, so as to rest on the bed of the ocean or sea, one eye starts to travel around the side of the head. As a result, the fish has two eyes facing up to watch the action above them, rather than place one facing into the sand.
Anyway, dust both sides of the fish with a sprinkling of salt, and then place in a shallow dish of flour, covering both sides with salt and then the flour. Shake and then pat the fish to make sure it’s only a light dusting of flour on the fish. Too much will not be of use in the frying. Add a few splashes of vegetable oil to the pan, and then a couple of fingers of butter for flavor. By mixing the flour with the oil, you protect the butter from burning. You should have a medium flame underneath the pan, and wait for it to be up to temperature before adding the oil or butter.
Lay the sole down gently into the pan. You’ll need four or five minutes on both sides. And the heat really shouldn’t feel anything more than moderate, because the flour will burn otherwise. Use a meat thermometer and place it into the center of the fish. It needs to be 60 degrees centigrade. Any lower, and if you were to attempt to take the fish off the bone, then it would prove awkward and stick. At this temperature, properly cooked but still moist, it should be easy to lift off and serve just as fillets.
Lift the fish out of the pan and place on a chopping board. Using a large, sharp knife, slide the lateral bones away from the top and the bottom of the fish. Using the same knife, slide the sharp edge into the spine, and under the fillets, lifting them away from the body but not fully detaching from the tail. The firm flesh of the sole should make it a relatively easy task compared to other fish.
Then, lift off the head away from the body. Use the knife to slide it underneath the backbone to help you lift it out away from the length of the body. It’s much easier than repeating the above process after flipping the fish. Then you can slide the top fillets back on top of the bottom pair. Transfer the fish onto a plate.
Once you’ve done that, you can choose any sauce you wish, but a traditional pairing to is to make a beurre noisette, with butter that is fried and just on the turn, before it burns. Add some finely chopped parsley and some freshly made croutons to soak up the spare butter, and then add a sprinkling of lemon juice to cut through the richness. Serve with boiled baby vegetables.
What does this have to do with international week? Absolutely nothing, but it’s far more interesting and a much better use of your time than watching Roy Hodgson and Gary Neville waste their and our lives every couple of months.