I grew up beside the waters of Pudget Sound and every day before school, after school (and sometimes during school), I could be found beside a river or a bay with a fishing rod in my hands. By the time I was 12, I knew everything you need to know about cooking fish. The important thing was to catch your fish - say a half-dozen trout or a salmon - early in the day. Then, that same day, you dotted the fish with butter, put it under a broiler for very little time, and served.
I have since learned that this is not the way things go in real life. In real life we buy fish of uncertain origin and indeterminate age, as often as not frozen, and we try to compensate with a sauce.
A good fish sauce - and that is the challenge of today's meal - has always been a problem. Back in the early 1800s, novelist Thomas Love Peacock wrote his lament: "The science of fish sauce . . . is by no means brought to perfection; a fine field of discovery still lies open in that line . . . I can taste in my mind's palate a combination which, if I could give it a reality, I would christen with the name of my college, and hand it down to posterity as a seat of learning indeed."
Today's sauce has been christened with the name of the school that has meant the most to me personally. Tonight it will be fillet of sole with hard knocks sauce.
Shopping Note: If your fish store doesn't have sole, don't fret. Settle for flounder. That's usually what you get when you order sole in restaurants, any way.Your most important concern is freshness; the fish should have a springly quality and no pronounced fishy smell.
The Staples: Make sure these are all on hand: eggs, salt, pepper, parsley, paprika, cream, dry white wine, grenadine syrup.
The Shopping List: Fillets of sole or flounder (3 pounds will do for 6 people); butter; grated parmesan cheese; eggs; 2 onions; 6 medium-sized potatoes; 1 green pepper; 1 bunch broccoli; slivered toated almonds (1/4 pound); 2 lemons; selection of fruits in season.
Prepare Anytime: The fruit salad.Peel the fruit, chop them, add a few dashes of grenadine syrup, mix well and refrigerate until used.
5 P.M.: Potatoes O'Brien is one of the best things that can happen to leftover potatoes. Assuming, however, that you don't have leftover potatoes on hand, you'll begin my manufacturing some. Boil your unpeeled potatoes in a pot of water on medium-high heat until a fork passes easily into them - 20 minutes should do the job. Then remove from heat and drain away the water.
As the potatoes are boiling, melt 1/2 stick of butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Peel 1 of the onions, cut it into small pieces and add to the frying pan. Remove the seeds from the green pepper, cut it into small squares and add that. Fry together for 5 or 6 minutes, then remove from heat and set to one side.
5:30 P.M.: Now the broccoli. Rinse the broccoli and cut away the tough portions of the stems. Cut the rest of the stems into small chunks and cook in boiling water. After approximately 5 minutes, add the rest of the broccoli and cook until just tender.
As the broccoli is cooking, melt 1/4 stick of butter in a saucepan, add almonds the juice of 1/2 lemon, salt and pepper to taste. When broccoli is cooked through, drain away the water and add the broccoli to the almond mixture. Set to one side.
5:50 P.M.: Peel the skins from the cooked potatoes and cut the potatoes into small cubes. Add the cubes to the large frying pan with the onions and peppers; stir together; add salt and pepper to taste; set to one side away from heat.
6 P.M.: The decks are now clear for the hardest part of the meal, the fillet of sole and the hard-knocks sauce.
Put 2 cup of dry white wine - vermouth is ideal - in a large frying pan and add 1/2 an onion, chopped very fine. As this comes to a boil over medium-high heat, add a large pinch of minced parsley, and lower heat.
6:15 P.M.: Start the potatoes cooking over medium heat and add butter, if needed. Stir occasionally.Warm the broccoli mixture over medium-low heat. Start some water boiking in the bottom portion of a double boiler.
Back to the fish. Add the fish fillets to the simmering wine and poach them gently for a few minutes, until you can flade the fish with a fork. Transport the fish fillets (careful, careful!) to a buttered baking dish.
Set the wine-fish broth cooking over high heat until it has boiled down to about 1/3 cup.
Now lower the heat under the double-boiler - water should be hot, not boiling. Melt 1 stick of butter and add the remaining fish-wine broth. Now add the yolks of 4 eggs and stir until sauce thickens. Add 2 tablespoons of cream, mix, and pour the sauce over the poached fish fillets. Add a generous scattering of parmesan cheese, a few dashes of paprika, and put it under the broiler until sauce just starts to brown. Remove and serve at once with potatoes and broccoli.