Sole and prawns in Saor

Sole and prawns in Saor

Cisame de pesse

Helen Cathcart

This recipe follows in the tradition of the sweet and sour sardines and is vivid yellow in colour from the use of saffron. The original recipe, ‘A sweet and sour dish of whichever fish you want’, comes from Libro per Cuoco by the Anonimo Veneziano: ‘Take the fish and fry it. Take onions, which have been boiled a little and chopped finely, and fry them well. Then take vinegar and water and whole peeled almonds, currants, strong spices and a little honey and put everything to boil together (with the onions) and put it above the (fried) fish.’

The clever crew at restaurant Bistrot di Venise have taken that brief description and worked it up into a really splendid first course where piles of soft, saffron-yellow onions sit atop delicate sole and fat pink prawns.


Quantity Ingredient
2kg white onions
150ml extra-virgin olive oil
50g fresh ginger, peeled and roughly sliced
500ml white wine vinegar
300ml white wine
1/2 teaspoon saffron strands
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons fine salt, plus more for seasoning
2 tablespoons caster sugar
50g flaked almonds
100g pine nuts
200g golden sultanas
sunflower oil, for deep-frying
500g lemon sole, skinned, boned and each fillet cut into thirds
500g raw medium prawns, peeled and deveined
‘00’ or plain flour, for dusting


  1. Peel the onions and cut them in half from root to tip. Place one half the onion flat side down, cut off the root, trim the tip and slice again from root to tip to form 3 mm-thick half-moon slices. Repeat with the other half and then do this for all the onions. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the onions for around 30 minutes over a very low heat so that they cook gently and do not take on any colour. Meanwhile, put the ginger, vinegar and white wine together in a saucepan and bring up to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes and then whisk in the saffron, turmeric, salt and sugar. Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse. After 30 minutes discard the ginger and pour the vinegar mixture into the onions along with the almonds, pine nuts and sultanas. Continue to cook for another 10 minutes or until the onions are really soft.
  2. Add enough sunflower oil to a large high-sided frying pan or a deep-fat fryer to deep-fry the seafood in. Heat the oil to around 175°C or when hot enough to make a small piece of bread sizzle when it hits the oil. Season the fish and prawns lightly and dust with flour. Tap off the excess. Fry in batches for around 1–2 minutes until just firm and just cooked through. Remove the seafood from the oil and drain on paper towels. Arrange in layers in a large lasagne dish with the onions in between. Leave to cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and chill in the fridge for at least 48 hours. They are ready to eat after that time but will last for another 7 days in the fridge. Serve at room temperature.
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