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From science to cooking... The brill in cider

Illustrated recipe from Catherine Ozouf reviewed by Bruno Chanet.

Why cider again? Because several members of our team Acanthomorpha (we let you guess whom they are)  originate from Normandy, have adopted this region of live in Brittany. Appletrees grow everywhere in these two regions, separated by the small river Couesnon. Cider is used everywhere there, both for drinking and cooking.

The brill (Scophthalmus rhombus), can be still fished up from French fishmongers between April and September. This low flatfish is tasty and less gelatineous than turbot. It is even juicy if cooked complete, just eviscerated. Contrary to turbot, which is more expensive and often comes from aquaculture, it is caught from the wild. The right eye of the brill has migrated on the left side — Bruno will explain how it was possible — and it stays laid down on its blind side, which is white, whilst the upper one, which is visible by its predators, is pigmented like the sandy bottoms where it lives.

Boning and skinning a brill, a rarefying species, is a kind of wound since it makes it no more recognizable, in contempt of its anatomy and the treasures it is hiding. Any fishmonger will admit that the skin is very difficult to remove without loosing pieces of flesh. If you try to obtain fillets, especially if freshly caught, the part which is close to fins will stay on the fish which is not really cost-effective. A substantial part will go to the garbage!... So then, if you invest for a brill, pay it a last tribute by cooking it entirely and amaze your children and your guests by becoming unbeatable on its anatomy and consequently, on the art of cutting out this animal.

Here is the spectacular and impossible to miss recipe, that you will keep in mind at least for one year.


  • 1 brill
  • 1 bottle of dry cider
  • 4 slices of cottage bred, toasted
  • 350g sweet oignons, or half oignons, half shallots
  • Salt, pepper
  • Salted butter
  • A small electric mincer
  • A pan
  • Gaz or electrical oven

The brill

For 6 to 8 serves, take at least a 1.500 kg brill. There will be no more left, anyway! Buy mackerels for the next meal.

In the stall, hidden among a few turbots, some may try to make you believe it’s a turbot (it happened to me!). Elude this hoax: the drill’s skin is completely smooth whilst the turbot’s skin, covered with small bony knobs, looks irregular. Comfort yourself by thinking that the Barcode (see the page) will soon permit to avoid such fraudulences.

The fishmonger proposes to remove the fillets : say “No!”.

The fishmonger eviscerates it (keep in mind that at home, you have to finish the work). Suddenly he proposes to leave the roe: say « yes ! ». Fried in melted butter and seasoned with a drop of lemon, they are rather tasty and healthy (phosphore, D vitamin, omega 3). It should not prevent you to deeply think that it is a shame to eradicate a genitor animal, but it’s too late, anyway, for this specimen. Feel concerned. Convince yourself that you just afforded to a privilege, because, however, the brill is very expensive, thus, you are not going to do it again every week!

The fishmonger takes scissors: become frenetic, shout “STOP THE MUTILATION! DON'T TOUCH THE FINS, NONE OF THEM!”. Enjoy yourself with the feedback of other customers, and quickly go and put your precious haul in a cool place.

But in which dish are you going to cook it?

Your oven drip pan will suit perfectly. Oil it with butter of a neutral taste oil. Slightly sparkle salt and pepper.

Raw on parsleyAdd a few parsley stems.

Quickly wask the drip under tap water. Using a sharp knife, scrape the bottom of the abdominal cavity to remove the kidney (very red soft tissue, sticking at the vertebrae, that may spoil the taste). Lay the brill onto the parsley across the drip with pigmented face on the upper side. If the drill is too large, you may cut the caudal fin with scissors, not the head!

The crumble

  • Mince the 4 slices of toasted bread and keep the obtained crumbs in a bowl.
  • Mince the oignons.
  • Transfert them into a pan. Rince the gear with cider. Largely cover the oignons with the cider, add a teaspoon of sugar if very dry, and bring to the boil.
  • Let the cider evaporate until the oignons are transparent and just wet. Avoid burning them.
  • Simultaneously, wash the parsley, remove hard stems and mince the leaves.
  • Once the cider is evaporated, add in the oignons 75g of salted butter and beat, to make it melt. As soon as it is done, remove from the fire and add parsley, a little bit of pepper and let infuse at room temperature.
  • Cooked brillCompletely cover the brill with this preparation which will protect the skin and help to stay soft. Don’t forget the cheek and also cover the fins! Pour some cider around the fish to prevent from drying and sticking at the dish.
  • Put in the oven (preheated 7 ten minutes before), lower level.
  • The animal will be cooked when the crust is gold and grills (30-35 min).

During that time, go to page morpho-anatomy, read it again and try to imagine how you will manage the cutting and serving

It is not so complicated:

Cutting the cheek and partsAt one end of your table, you will leave a free space or take off your own plate. Put a beam or wodden tray on which the drip will stay flat, and an empty dish to put bones and skin. You will take a sharp, pointed knife and make a longitudinal split at the level of the lateral line, until you reach the bones (vertebrae, or neural and hemal spines if you are not perfectly in the axis). You will also make splits around the head, around the cheek and across the fish in order to design 6 serves on the first side.

One partThe bases of dorsal and anal fins of the brill lay onto those of the pterygiophores, which lengthen them inside the fish. Keeping the fins entirely helps to cut out. You will raise up each precut serve with a palette knifeTaking of the first side that you make slide in flat position on the ribs, neural and hemal spines, and over the fins. The delicious small muscles recovering pterygiophores will come without sisk to have the mouth full of bones! You will serve your gusts one by one, this way, and keep the “king piece” (the cheek) for the best one. There will be crumble and sauce left, to be distributed.

Taking of the second sideThen, catch the brill by the snout and draw towards the caudal fin. The second ckeek will possibly stay in the dish, but most of the bones will be removed at a time, this way. Close upThose which will stay in the dish will be easily removed by drawing up the fins.

The second side (the blind one) remains to be cut out in the same way, including the second cheek.


Near the bone, better the flesh! But among bones there are many kind of anatomic pieces. A knowledge of their system of organization in an animal makes much easier the cutting and avoids sparing. This organization follows a general principle in all acanthomorpha. Just the proportions and sizes of these elements change. Flatfishes are among the easiest to train yourself. You can easily reproduce this receipe with a bug sole, a turbot, or a plaice.

And once you are very handful, while cutting out your fish, you can enjoy your children and guests by telling them the beautiful story of the brill metamorphosis (, and by showing them its anatomic particularities, as, for instance, that the two eyes are on the same face and the anus very close to the anus (cf. Bruno).