Roasting whole fish has got to be one of the simplest ways to impress a table full of diners—throw in a fancy British fish name or two and you've got yourself a winner of a party. Plaice is one of the most common flatfishes eaten in Europe, and lucky for us, it and some of its more familiar neighbors are being fished in sustainable manners here across the pond.* In The River Cottage Fish Book, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher espouse the wonders of whole plaice, praising its subtle, sweet salinity. To bring out the sweetness of the fish, they roast cherry tomatoes alongside, which caramelize and burst in the hot oven, adding their own luscious nectar to the roasting pan.
*Check the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch for fishing information about specific species. Some flatfish, like Atlantic flounder, are overfished and should be avoided.
Why I picked this recipe: The casual elegance of whole roasted flatfish is undeniable.
What worked: Bright, juicy cherry tomatoes paired impeccably with the soft, sweet fish. The roasted caramelized sugars also made this dish a great segue into fall.
What didn't: These guys love their bay leaves. I'm not a huge fan of bay, so I dialed back from 6 to 2. No harm done.
Suggested tweaks: If you don't want to roast (or have a hard time finding) a whole flatfish, try using fillets. Just start the cherry tomatoes 10 to 15 minutes before adding the fish.
- Olive oil
- 1 large plaice, weighing at least 2 1/4 pounds, scaled and gutted, but skin on
- A generous tablespoon of unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 pound sweet cherry tomatoes, such as sungold
- About 6 sprigs of thyme
- About 6 bay leaves
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Oil a baking sheet large enough to accommodate your plaice. Season the surface of the baking sheet and place the fish on it, pale side (underside) down. Drizzle the fish with olive oil and massage it in. Season all over with pepper and lots of salt and dot the little pieces of butter over it.
Scatter the cherry tomatoes around the fish, along with the thyme and bay leaves. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the fish is just cooked and the tomatoes are blistered and soft.
Once roasted, the flesh of the plaice should lift easily from the bone in neat fillets. Remove the top two fillets using a fish knife and fork. Ease the skeleton away to reveal the remaining two fillets from the underside. Serve the fish with the tomatoes and all the buttery, salty-sweet roasting juices.