Had a nice trip down the memory lane today. We picked up a nice size flounder at a farmer’s market. Flounder has a special place in my gastronomically inclined heart, because I grew up eating it almost every other week. Flounder came in two sizes and colors in my town — large black ones, the size of a large serving tray, with some barnacle like “buttons” on their dark side; they were called kambala. There was also the other kind — dark sandy brown small flounders, the size of a dinner plate or smaller, they were called glossi. I was always wondering about the origin of that name. We typically worked with the smaller version, usually purchased on a street from some random lucky amateur-fisherman. Three to five glossi were strung together on a length of twine tied in a loop. They were as fresh as can be, mostly a catch of the morning.
If the only form in which you encountered flounder is fillet, then you must look it up: this fish is beautiful and ugly at the same time. For starters, it’s colored white on one side and brownish-grey on the other. This is for camouflage, as flounders are hiding on the sandy bottom of the sea pretending to be rocks. The white side is for when they are actually swimming a bit higher, so that the fish swimming under them takes them for light spots in the water (this officially wraps up my deep knowledge of deep sea fish). Secondly, because their natural state is laying flat on one side, both of their eyes are growing on that darker side. Weird!
Third, and most important thing for us food junkies is — flounder is mostly boneless. It has this awesome looking middle bone (I can’t honestly call it a back bone, since flounder is swimming sidewise), and there are two comb-like series of bones along the edge of their dorsal and ventral (but in reality, they are sides) regions, which are placed almost symmetrically, and are very easily removed with a spoon after flounder is fully cooked. And that’s that. No messy bone removal with the tongues, no accidents chocking on surprise bones, very easy to work with.
Flounder’s flesh is mild, meaty, bright white (not flaky), full flavored; it never exudes that fishy smell that many people dislike. While cooking, flounder emits a distinctive, almost nutty and slightly bitter aroma.
I typically don’t mess with flounder, as it’s so good on its own, it doesn’t need any enhancements. The best way to deal with it is to drench in flour mixed with salt and pepper and fry it in butter until nicely browned. I am sure there are some fancy recipes out there, but I am not looking for fancy. I am looking for the taste and smell of my childhood, which I got plenty today.
The other story that goes with flounder is this. Mom always told me that grandma used to make this amazing lemon based sauce that goes very well with flounder. She never had the recipe, and I never looked for it. Once or twice I tried to come up with my own version of it, but it fell very short of amazing, so I kind of gave up on that. A few days back, I spoke with mom and she brought up the subject of the amazing lemon sauce again. Just to show off my vast knowledge of culinary, I blurted out, “it’s probably one of those classic French sauces that we never make…”.
Then it hit me, what if I am actually right? The very first basic Internet search led me to this Lemon Beurre Blanc Sauce recipe. I thought, hey, this looks simple, doesn’t take long time, so why not give it a try? And give it a try I did. And you know, I don’t know if this was “the sauce” my grandma used to make, but to me this sauce was just right. On top of that, it came out the slightly peachy color, which nicely complemented the well browned flounder (see photo). Voila!
For a side dish, I went with “can’t get easier than this” sauteed garlic squash. The trick is to get the right squash. I tried this with zucchini, I tried this with crookneck (yellow) squash. I tried it with a hybrid yellow-green squash we’ve been growing — they all turn out too mushy, too slimy. The only type of squash I know that works great for me is the pale green round squash. I grow one variety of it, the Odessa squash, but you may know it as Mexican squash. It has this pale green, sometimes lightly striped or speckled skin and very firm, though easy to cut, flesh. This type of squash is a lot denser, meatier, and it doesn’t lose its shape when sauteed. So there you have it — two dishes of my childhood on one plate. Added some half-sour pickles, and my job was done.
Flounder with Lemon Beurre Blanc Sauce
For the Flounder:
- fresh flounder, if large, cut into 2-1/2″ thick steak pieces, if small, cut in half
- 1/2 cup or more all purpose flour
- generous 1/2 tsp salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- butter for frying
For the Lemon Beurre Blanc:
- 2 small shallots, thinly sliced
- 4 tbsp white wine
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp sour cream
- 3/4 cup cold butter, cubed
- salt and pepper to taste
For the Sauteed Garlic Squash:
- 3 large Mexican type squash (firm with pale green skin), cut in half lengthwise and sliced to 1/4″ thick
- 2 tbsp butter
- salt, pepper to taste
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- a handful of fresh herbs, coarsely chopped
Flounder and Squash can be cooked simultaneously, just keep an eye on both.
To make the flounder, mix flour with salt and pepper in a large, preferably wide bowl or tray. Dry flounder pieces with a paper towel. Drench fish in the flour mix on all sides, including the cut sides.
Melt at least 3 tbsp of butter in a large flat bottom skillet over medium high heat. When butter starts to bubble, place a few pieces of flounder at a time in the skillet. Brown on all sides, including the cut sides, until nicely golden-brown. Reduce heat, cover and cook for a few minutes on each side, until done. Increase heat and brown some more on all sides until crisp and nicely browned. Transfer to a serving plate. Repeat with the remaining pieces, adding butter as needed.
To make the squash, melt butter in a deep skillet until bubbly. Add squash and saute over medium heat, stirring or tossing occasionally, until squash juices are reduced and squash begins to brown lightly. Add salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes more. Add sliced garlic and fresh herbs, stir well, remove from heat and cover for a few minutes. Transfer to a serving dish. Optionally, you can serve this side dish with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt on top.
To make the sauce, bring wine and lemon juice to a boil in a saucepan. Add sliced shallots and cook for 5-7 minutes, until reduced and lightly thickened. Add sour cream and cook for another 2 minutes. Add butter cubes, one a time and wait until it dissolves completely before adding the next one. Once butter is used up, remove from heat, add salt and pepper to taste. Strain through a sieve to get rid of the shallots.