Flounder: A nice light fish for those long, dark days
One of the things that you don’t hear a lot of people talk about is that we in Greensboro and Cary are very close to the coast. We’ve got a tremendous seafood industry at our fingertips, which makes us very fortunate. Until the last couple of years, most of the fish landed at North Carolina docks between Memorial Day and Labor Day—which is prime fishing season in the Atlantic. However, they were shipped north to New York or south to Miami. There they are auctioned off to seafood distributors and then transported back to Raleigh or Atlanta, and then put on another truck to finally be delivered elsewhere. This process can put somewhat of a delay on us folks in the Piedmont getting our fresh fish, but the times, they are a changing. We are now becoming increasingly more able to obtain seafood directly from our coast, through small, independent distributors and other like-minded folks interested in strengthening our local food system. We’re happy to acquire our seafood from Southern Foods, in Greensboro. They work with several small Southeast coastal seafood markets and fishmongers, and we like supporting them because they support these family-run businesses.
One fish in particular that we have an advantage in procuring is North Carolina flounder. Because flounder’s season is opposite that of the deepwater fishing season, most flounder is caught during cold weather when most commercial fisherman are down south in Florida for the winter. It’s usually caught in shallow waters by locals, in smaller boats. It’s an easier process and the flounder stays in local markets rather than getting shipped to New York or Miami.
Coastal folks will tell you that when you eat flounder there are two sides: a light side and a dark side. The dark side is at the top of the fish and the white side is at the bottom. Essentially, when seen from atop they blend in with the sand and when seen from below they blend into the sky. Flounder begins its life as a round fish and then it starts to swim on its side, one of its eyes migrates to the top side, and it evolves into a flat fish. The dark side is typically thicker and more moist, while the white side is thinner and milder. When the weather gets cold, in addition to procuring fish elsewhere, we at Lucky’s like to feature flounder on our menu two to three times a week because it’s from our coast and the flavor is at its peak. We prepare our flounder simply: we get fileted flounder, leave the skin on and cut the bones out, pan fry it, sear it, and flip it and it’s delightful. Light, flaky fish such as flounder taste like what they eat—in this case little fish, crabs and shellfish, so flounder has a pleasant sweetness to it.
Tips for cooking flounder
When you have a relatively lean and flaky fish like flounder, you need to be careful about what you accompany it with. One of the reasons broiled flounder is most commonly served with lemon is that the fish’s flavor is so mild that you need the acidity of the lemon to excite your tastebuds, making you more able to appreciate the fish’s delicate flavor. You don’t want to overpower the delicate nature of flounder with bold, dominating flavors, so at the restaurant we tend to keep our preparations pretty simple. That simplicity allows us to really taste the flounder and appreciate its freshness. We want to do the fish justice and serve it with respect. At Lucky’s when we pair a sauce with flounder or create a dish with it, we prefer flavors that are rich or assertive without being heavy, like our lemon caper butter.
Season your skin-on flounder filets with salt and white pepper and sear flesh-side down in a hot skillet with one tablespoon of canola oil. Cook one filet at a time. Cook filet halfway through,then flip to skin side, and cook through. Add a slice of lemon caper butter and serve.
Lemon Caper Butter
- ½ pound butter
- 1 oz capers, drained and rinsed
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
Remove butter from the refrigerator ahead of time and allow it to soften to room temperature. Ingredients may be blended in food processor or by hand. Whip the butter in a food processor until smooth. Add lemon juice and mix. Add capers and mix until capers are rough chopped. Place mixture on a piece of parchment paper and form into a log shape. Roll up in the parchment paper and freeze. Slice into coins as needed. Makes 1 cup
Flounder Roulades or Flounder Paupiettes
Another dish that we like to prepare with smaller,skinless flounder is this preparation of Flounder Roulades. Cut each fillet along the centerline, into two long, thin pieces. Make the following crabmeat stuffing, then spread a thin layer on each piece of fish and roll them up with the stuffing on the inside. Stand the roulades on their side and bake in a 300 degree oven until the centers are warm.
Check out this little slideshow to see how the roulades are made:
- 12 oz crabmeat
- 12 oz cream cheese, room temperature
- 3 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 ½ tsp A-1 Sauce
- 1 tbsp Creole Spice Blend (see recipe)
Combine cheese, minced garlic, A-1 Sauce and Creole Spice Blend in a mixer with paddle attachment. Mix to a uniform smooth consistency. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in by hand the crabmeat until well combined. Makes 24 ounces
Creole Spice Blend
- 2 ½ tbsp paprika
- 2 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 3 tsp black pepper
- 3 tsp onion powder
- 3 tsp cayenne powder
- 3 tsp oregano leaves
- 3 tsp thyme leaves
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until well-blended. Transfer the breader to a shallow dish for dredging.
Recipe: Buttered Breadcrumbs
- 1 quart panko breadcrumbs
- 3/4 cup melted butter
- 2 tsp ground paprika
- 2 tbsp parsley flakes
Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl. Toss to coat breadcrumbs well. Store in an air tight container. Makes 1 quart
- Flounder are also known as Fluke
- Flounder can be found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.and in the Gulf of Mexico
- There are five species of flounder: Japanese, Summer, Winter, Southern, and European.
- Flounder’s changeable colorings and markings allow them to often camouflage into their habitat to ward off predators.
- Flounder are most prevalent between Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Cape Fear, North Carolina
- They spend most of their lives near the ocean floor and move to shallower waters in the evening, post sunset.
- The largest flounder ever caught weighed 30 pounds and was four feet long.
- Female flounders migrate offshore to spawn, from October to December. They tend to produce 100,000 eggs per spawn.
Where can you get fresh fish around here?
- You don’t have to work for a restaurant to get things from Southern Foods, in Greensboro. They have a cash and carry window where you can pick up seafood. Call first for pricing and availability.
- Locals Seafood, in Raleigh sells their fresh seafood at the Raleigh State Farmers Market (in the indoor shoppes). Hours are: Thu-Sat 10am-4pm, and Sun 11am-3pm.
- Tom Robinson’s Seafood, in Carrboro carries an array of fresh seafood. Hours are: Thu-Fri 9:30am-6:30pm, and Sat 8:30am-6:30pm.
If you’ve got a taste for fresh seafood, come see us and ask your server about our Chef’s Specials for the day! In addition to the Cornmeal Crusted Catfish, one of our Lucky’s Classics, we often feature some other kind of fish or seafood, fresh from the water!