PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PIAZZA / STYLING BY CATRINE KELTY
Besides being delicate and tasty and a favorite with amateur anglers in New England, flounder hold a fascinating evolutionary secret. As hatchlings, these bottom-dwellers swim upright, like any other round-bodied fish would, but at a certain point in their development they flop to one side and begin to swim flat-bellied against the ocean floor. Here’s the interesting part: the bottom eye, rather than staying put for an up-close view of the sandy seabed, actually migrates around to the top of the fish’s face to join its mate, allowing the flounder to better see its predators and prey. Amazing!
Most flounder available in fish markets will be about 1-2 pounds each, dressed. Dover sole, lemon sole, or sand dabs are excellent substitutes if flounder is unavailable.
An Asian-inspired fish dish, easy enough for a weeknight and way better than takeaway. Serve with garlicky, wok-cooked baby bok choy or sautéed pea shoots and some steamed jasmine rice sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Be sure to have plenty of lime wedges and a bottle of hot sauce at the table, along with cold beer or a minty limeade.
Serves 2 (can easily be doubled or expanded for a larger fish)
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced into rings, tossed to separate
1 cup neutral oil, for frying (safflower or grapeseed work well)
1 1-2 pound flounder, scaled and gutted
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and slivered
1 red chili (jalapeño or thai chili), seeded and stemmed, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
¼ cup minced cilantro stems
2 cups cilantro leaves
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Pour the oil into a skillet and add the shallots. Turn on the heat to medium and stir frequently, letting the shallots bubble and sizzle in the oil just until they turn golden brown and crispy; this can take up to 20 minutes. Watch the shallots carefully, as they go from pink to golden to black in the blink of an eye! Pour through a sieve, capturing the oil in a bowl and setting aside to cool, then shake the crispy shallots out onto a paper towel to drain and sprinkle with a little bit of salt. Set aside.
Using a brush and the reserved shallot oil, grease a baking sheet large enough to hold the fish comfortably and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Lay the fish on the tray, brown skin side up. Using kitchen shears, snip away the pectoral fin, found closest to the head. Using the center line as a guide, make four arrow-like slits into the flounder’s brown skin, angling away from the head to the tail like this: <<<< and place it, brown side up, on the oiled sheet tray.
Brush the fish with more reserved shallot oil, season with salt and pepper, and tuck the garlic slices into the slits, then sprinkle with the sesame oil, soy sauce, julienned ginger, and chili. Scatter half the scallions, the minced cilantro stems, and squeeze half the lime over the top of the fish. Roast in the hot oven 10-12 minutes.
Check for doneness with the tip of a knife, and when the fish is cooked through, remove it from the oven. Squeeze the remaining lime over the fish and garnish with the cilantro leaves, the crispy shallots, and the rest of the scallions.
At the table, using 2 large soupspoons, scrape the fish away from the bones, being sure each diner gets abundant garnishes and a big wedge of lime, with optional hot sauce on the side. Once the top filet is removed, lift off the spine and serve the bottom filet with an extra squeeze of lime.
Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, vegetable gardener and managing editor of Edible Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org