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.
For a spring meal, leeks, fresh fennel, and anise-y tarragon serve as both a seasoning for the fish and a side dish to accompany it. In the height of summer, slivered shallots or garlic, a bunch of basil, and whole, sun gold cherry tomatoes are a wonderful substitute, or chopped zucchini and summer squash tossed with chives and rosemary. This is a very simple “sheet pan” supper, with the main course and vegetable side cooking together as one, and goes beautifully with a brightly dressed green salad, a baguette, and some crisp, white wine.
Serves 2 (can easily be doubled or expanded for a larger fish)
1 1-2 pound flounder, scaled and gutted
1 large leek, well-cleaned and sliced into rounds
½ fennel bulb, thinly sliced
extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley, leaves and stems
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 lemon, for juicing
½ cup seasoned toasted breadcrumbs (see recipe on below)
Preheat oven to 450°F.
In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and add the leeks and fennel. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until softened and lightly browned at the edges, about 5-7 minutes.
Meanwhile, using a brush and a small amount of olive 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. With 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: <<<<. Season aggressively with salt and pepper, rubbing the salt into the slits, then squeeze 1 teaspoon lemon juice over the top, drizzle with olive oil, and dot with 2 tablespoons of the butter. Set aside while you finish the vegetables.
When the fennel is softened and lightly browned, add the vinegar and stir through. Add half the parsley and tarragon (reserving the rest for garnish) and remove from the heat. Arrange the vegetables around the fish on the sheet pan and roast in the hot oven 10-12 minutes.
While the fish cooks, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan and add the breadcrumbs. Heat through until fragrant and sizzling.
At the 10-minute mark, use the tip of a knife to check that the fish is opaque and cooked through, then remove it from the oven, squeeze lemon all over and sprinkle with the remaining parsley and tarragon. Allow the fish to rest 2-3 minutes before serving. Cut the remaining lemon into wedges to serve at the table.
At the table, using 2 large soupspoons, pull the meat away from the bones and serve each diner some fish and vegetables, spooning plentiful buttery breadcrumbs on top. Once the top filet is removed, lift off the spine and serve the bottom filet with an extra squeeze of lemon.
ESSENTIAL TOASTED BREADCRUMBS
Born as a way to reduce waste by using up stale bread, these breadcrumbs became a staple in my kitchen. I crush bone-dry bread into crumbs and then fry them in olive oil, sprinkle them with fine sea salt, and store them in a bowl on my counter, ready to be spooned onto just about anything.
Way better than croutons, toasted breadcrumbs permeate every bite of a salad. I sprinkle them on fried eggs, over roasted vegetables, even on pasta in lieu of grated cheese. And a creamy ball of fresh mozzarella has no better friend than a scattering of olive oily crumbs.
In this issue, three recipes rely on their roasty, toasty crunch for texture, flavor, so make a big batch and start sprinkling.
Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, soccer mom, Italophile and managing editor at Edible Boston. She can be reached at email@example.com.