“To fry, or not to fry” is probably the most famous recipe line in the world and its chef perhaps the most widely interpreted. When well prepared, “Hamlet’s Fried Sole” has been described by some food critics as being a religious experience. Others note that Hamlet is fundamentally a Sophist cook, pointing to his question “what taste may come…who is to say?” They further note that the lack of specification in his ingredients, “or other herbs”, is conducive to a relativistic philosophy of cooking.
Others like the noted Austrian chef and food commentator S. Freud place Hamlet’s dish in an overwhelming psychoanalytical sauce, usually speculating something about his mother having been a bad cook. We the editors feel that Freud overcooked and over-sauced most of his food – probably from secretly over-indulging in the Greek take-away joint near his office – and we think the flavors of “Hamlet’s Fried Sole” are more satisfyingly interpreted in a simpler, though more complex, systemically physiological manner. In this version of the dish Hamlet’s questioning and resultant inaction is interrupted by Shakespeare himself who, after all, did have a restaurant to run.
The Ingredients of the Recipe:
1 sole fish, filleted from itself
Grated lemon rind
Pepper & salt
Chives or other herbs
Butter or extra-virgin olive oil
The Chefs of the Dish
Hamlet – a depressed chef
Shaksper – his patient boss
Act I, sc. 1
Enter Hamlet, alone.
Hamlet: To fry, or not to fry; that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler that a sole be roasted
In the oven, lightly sauced with capers and
Parsley, or be breaded, laid on heated oil
And, once browned, turned over. To cook, to sizzle –
Until done, and by done I mean barely done,
Being careful not to dry the flesh, that cork
Texture that sole is prone to – ‘tis a finished
Dish devoutly to be eaten. To fry, to bread.
To bread, perchance to flavor. Ay, there’s the rub,
For in that flavored breading what taste may come
Through frying can delight us, surprise us,
Make us go m-m-m-m. Therein lies the flavor
That makes frying the sole so appealing.
But who is to say? What if the breading
Is too salty? What if you do overcook
The fish filet? Forget to put in the
Grated lemon rind? Forget to dip the fish
In milk first? Why not oven bake instead?
Wil: Hamlet, isn’t that fish fried up yet? Just what the heck are you waiting for, an invitation from the dead? The sweet carrot and potatoes have already been blended into a puree. Get that fish in the oil before it’s too too solid flesh melts, over thaws and resolves itself into a smelly heap. I dunno’ Hamlet, sometimes you are just such a piece of work.
Hamlet: God I’m such a looser, such a rogue, such a peasant slave. He’s right, my Will, as if I lack a will of my own. I cannot decide any thing of my own free will, cannot decide ‘this thing’s to do,’ cannot will myself…
Shakspear: (off-stage) Hamlet!
Hamlet: Right. (speaking very quickly) Just dip the filets in some milk then the flour seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon rind and whatever fresh herb you like and fry it in some extra virgin olive oil or good butter turn once and serve with a medium bodied white. (pause) It’s as simple as that. The rest is, ah, the rest is…
Pause. Exits with a puzzled expression in his eyes. Exit recipe
The real recipe:
Sole or other flat fish filets
Grated lemon rind
Salt and pepper
Basil, sage, parsley or other fresh herbs
EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)
As Hamlet says above: simply season a plate of flour with grated lemon rind, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and whatever fresh herbs you like, if any, finely chopped. In a wide bowl or plate next to the flour pour in some milk. Dip the fish filets first in the milk, then the flour, then fry on each side in butter or oil until golden and cooked. Remove, lightly salt, and serve with mashed potatoes and/or a creamy vegetable-based dunking puree-sauce. Or you could decide to cook the filets in a pan with garlic-flavored extra-virgin olive oil, capers, parsley and white wine, but let’s keep our options limited.