In 1919, after a jaunt to Normandy to visit friends, Alice B. Toklas and her lover, American writer Gertrude Stein, stopped at the village of Duclair on their way back to their apartment in Paris. There they took room at an unnamed hotel overlooking a stretch of the Seine and proceeded to feast on the town’s high-calorie fare. “At Duclair everything was cooked in cream: chicken, cabbages, indeed all vegetables and most meats,” Toklas observed. “We stayed there several days before this bored us.”
Though the hotel escaped mention in The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (Anchor, 1960), its food-conscious author was admiring of the hotel’s widely admired menu, especially Sole de la Maison, or sole, house style. The dish Toklas remembered is a curious but memorable one celebrating the glories of the sea—a milk-white filet of sole decorated with oysters and shrimp and enrobed in a cream sauce spiked with sherry. I made it, and it looked as elegant as it tasted—even if I was forced to use tilapia, because the grocer was all out of sole. Once I can figure out whom to invite and impress, we’ll be serving it again.
SOLE DE LA MAISON
SOURCE: The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (Anchor, 1960)
2 filets of sole [I used tilapia]
4 oysters [I used canned]
4 large shrimps [I used frozen]
Dry sherry [I used the cheap kind]
Place the filets in a large skillet with enough milk to cover them; add salt and pepper. Cover and simmer gently over a low flame for 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the filets. Drain thoroughly. Place on a preheated carving dish and keep hot. Poach in the leftover milk, only long enough to heat, the oysters and the shrimps. Place them alternately on the filets, so that each filet has two oysters and two shrimps. Cover with several spoonsful of heavy cream sauce made with heavy cream, [a sprinkling or two of flour], and flavoured with 2 tablespoons dry sherry.