I've been longing to make nasturtium butter ever since I read about it in a Jane Grigson book and have been waiting impatiently for the nasturtiums to flower. In the end I raided the gardens of a couple of friends as our plants were slow to oblige.
As for the cockle popcorn, it's a revelation if you haven't tried it: crisp-edged little morsels that taste of the sea. I used it here with sole but it makes a great snack or pre-dinner appetiser, especially with a glass of dry, chilled, sea-salty manzanilla sherry.
Lacking a lemon sole to sell me, our local fishmonger mused for a moment, took a closer look at me and suggested witch. He had the best of intentions.
Witch, also known as Torbay sole (purely for reasons of marketing, the name witch can be a hard sell), is a flounder from the same family as lemon sole and plaice. It can be very good value and it was the perfect basis for this dish, but any similar flatfish will do nicely.
Sole with Nasturtium Butter and Cockle Popcorn (serves 2)
2 sole fillets
2 tbsp plain flour
Salt and pepper, butter for frying
Lemon wedges, to serve
For the nasturtium butter:
100g butter, softened
3 tbsp nasturtium petals, chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
For the cockle popcorn:
About 90g cooked cockles
2 heaped tbsp cornflour
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying
To make the nasturtium butter, chop the petals from the nasturtiums and mix them into the softened butter with a good grind of black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Place on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a sausage shape, twisting the ends, and place in the fridge to firm up.
Put the flour on a plate and season it with salt and pepper. Dip the sole fillets into the flour so they're lightly coated on both sides. Shake off the excess.
Heat a big knob of a butter on a medium heat in a frying pan big enough to hold both fillets of fish, and fry, skin-side down, until the edges of the fish turn white, a couple of minutes.
Carefully turn over and cook the other side for a minute or so. Remove, right side up, to heated plates. Cut a couple of slices of butter and put some of each fillet.
Any leftover butter can be frozen, well-wrapped, for a couple of months.
Meanwhile heat a couple of inches of sunflower oil in a wok or deep frying pan (or use a deep fat fryer if you have one, filling it to the correct level) until very hot.
Put the cornflour in a bowl, season well with salt and pepper and dredge the cockles through it.
Dust off the excess flour and put the cockles in the wok, cooking until golden brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen paper and add to the plates of fish. Eat immediately with lemon wedges to squeeze over.