The secret to extra-crispy bread crumbs in this recipe for sole rolled in lemon-thyme bread crumbs is to cook the crumbs twice: first in a skillet and again in the oven. (Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post)

The secret to extra-crispy bread crumbs in this recipe for sole rolled in lemon-thyme bread crumbs is to cook the crumbs twice: first in a skillet and again in the oven. (Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post)

This fish is positively crumby — and we like it that way

The recipe calls for white fish topped with bread crumbs that you make extra-crispy in a skillet.

This is one of those dishes that feels like home to me. It is not only similar to one Mother had in regular rotation when I was a kid — when she would roll flounder fillets (often fish my dad had caught off the Long Island coast) with bread crumbs and butter, then sprinkle them with lemon juice and bake it — it also happens to be one of my daughter’s favorites and a weeknight go-to in our home.

I put my own stamp on it, mostly with the goal of making the bread crumbs as crispy as possible (because, really, who can resist crispy bread crumbs?) and with an eye on optimizing the dish’s healthfulness.

Toasting dried bread crumbs in a skillet with olive oil and a little butter before adding them to the fish gets the crumbs ultra-crispy and browned, with just enough buttery flavor, allowing the focus to be on cooking the fish just right, rather than risk overcooking it to get the bread crumbs well done.

I use whole-grain crumbs — either homemade from sandwich bread or store-bought panko — and season them with fresh garlic, thyme leaves and lemon zest. Keeping the fillets flat, rather than rolling them like my mom did, and adding the lemon juice once everything is done lets the crumbs stay crispier as well.

I still love flounder, and that works well for this recipe. But I prefer sole’s slightly firmer texture. Either way, this is a dinner I am happy to come back to again and again, and I think you will be, too.

Sole with crispy lemon-thyme bread crumbs

Here, flaky white-fleshed fish is topped with seasoned, whole-grain bread crumbs that you first make extra-crispy in a skillet. That step allows you to focus on cooking the fish just right, rather than risk overcooking it to get the bread crumbs well done.

2 teaspoons olive oil

1½ teaspoons unsalted butter

½ cup whole-wheat panko bread crumbs, or homemade whole-grain bread crumbs (see note)

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 medium clove garlic, minced

Kosher salt

4 fillets of sole, or other thin, white-fleshed fish (1 pounds)

Freshly ground black pepper

Lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the oil and the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the bread crumbs, thyme, lemon zest, garlic and season lightly with salt; cook for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant and the crumbs are crisped and a darker shade of brown.

Arrange the fillets on the baking sheet. Season them lightly with salt and the pepper, then scatter the bread crumb mixture on top of each one, pressing down slightly so it adheres. Bake (middle rack) for about 8 minutes, until the fish is just opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

Serve with lemon wedges.

Note: To make your own whole-grain bread crumbs, cut off and discard the crusts form two slices of whole-grain or whole-wheat sandwich bread. Place in a food processor and pulse to the consistency of fine crumbs. Spread on a quarter baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. The toasted bread crumbs can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Makes 4 servings. Nutrition per serving: 190 calories, 23 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 80 milligrams cholesterol, 590 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, no sugar.

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