Flat is Beautiful III

The Food Gallery

    Good evening. From time to time on this program we journey onto another plane; a plane which happens to be rather lacking in one dimension. I speak, of course, of the unique realm of flat food. Here we find the pizza, the flank steak, the pancake. And yet, rarely do we ever see an entire creature. That is, because with the possible exception of those of us who live on television, most animals are three-dimensional ... except, of course, the flat fish.
    Have a look at our live specimen, won't you? [peers into a fish tank with nothing but water and sand on the bottom] See him? Of course not. Lurking just beneath the sea floor, the flat fish not only finds protection from passing predators, he gets the jump on any dinner that might come drifting by.
    Since most of his swimming is done in short, sudden bursts, flat fish musculature is mostly of the fast-twitch variety—like chicken breast—and is therefore finely textured, flaky, and mild in flavor when cooked. This is especially true of the flounder whose body is relatively easy to dismantle and offers a large, bone-free canvas on which an even modestly-skilled cook can create a myriad of culinary designs.
    So join us, won't you, as we flip over a fish that is widely available, highly versatile, and clearly deserving of the title ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

The Kitchen

    There are over 500 species of flat fish, all belonging to the order Pleuronectiformes, which is Latin for "side swimmer". Now flatfish begin their lives the way that round fish do, swimming upright.

Animated Ocean

    But early on, one eye starts to migrate over by the other, the mouths get longer, and their bodies start listing to one side until eventually they're swimming 100 percent horizontal. And if that weren't freaky enough, some species can even alter their pigmentation to mimic the color of their surroundings kind of like, I don't know, ninja bath mats.

Whole Foods: Atlanta, GA - 10:15 am

GUEST: Lucky, The Freakish Fish Monger

    Although most of the fish bought and sold in this country these days is round fish like tuna, salmon, or this particularly lovely red snapper, a good fishmonger will also have a wide variety of flat fish options.

AB: Tell me, my good man, what do you have today that is fresh, flat, and whole?
LUCKY: Ah, I have Black Back Flounder, Petrale Sole, Dover Sole, Turbot, Yellowtail Flounder, Grey Sole, Halibut, and Dab.
AB: Really? Now it says here that this Dover Sole was caught in American waters.
  L: That is correct, sir.
AB: That's funny, I always understood that Dover Sole is only available in the waters right around England.
  L: Really?
AB: And I also heard that words like Grey Sole, Lemon Sole, and Petrale Sole were just marketing terms for different forms of flounder.
  L: Oh, did you say "sole"? [disco ball descends] Because I thought you said "Soul" as in "Train"! [starts dancing awkwardly]

    It's official, kids. There's no soul here, but there is some tasty flatfish. Let's have a look.
    Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with calling a flounder a sole, as long as you know what you are getting yourself into. Because if you've ever had a real Dover Sole, you'll know that it doesn't taste anything like a flounder.
    Now, looking around here the only thing that isn't a flounder is this Turbot. Whole Turbot—which is kind of hard to find—and, of course, the halibut. Now the halibut is so big that when he is cut and cooked, it's about this thick [holds his fingers about two inches apart] so I don't really even consider him a flat fish even though he does technically lay on the bottom of the sea. Besides, halibut is so delicious and versatile I really think it deserves its own show.
    Now if you're going to buy whole, I would probably go with the Grey Sole size of flounder, which is about a pound and a quarter and large enough to hang off the sides of a large dinner plate. Two people could feed off of that very very easily. Now if you do not want to cut your own fish—and I don't blame you if you don't—you've got two different filet options. Here we have an example of a half of a fish where you get a top and a bottom of one side, or you can go with the smaller quarter sides. And for those of you who are actually curious about real Dover Sole, here he is straight from England. Very expensive, very perishable, and most of what comes to the United States ends up in restaurants. But if you ever get a chance to try one, ooooh, it's good.

Fishing Dock

GUEST: W, Equipment Specialist

    When it comes to cutting up critters, it doesn't matter if they're aquatic or terrestrial in origin, you need to have a good boning knife in your hand. Of course, the question is, "Which boning knife should you have in your hand?" Well, when it comes to fish, at least, I like to look to fishermen for inspiration because very often they cut up their catch right after they land it, be it on a dock, pier, boat, what have you. So why don't we have a peek in this fellow's tackle box to see what he's packing. Oh yeah, look at that. This guy's got more steel than the average sushi bar. But you know how it is, some guys have to have all the toys.

AB: Excuse me, sir...
 W: [turns to face AB, and screams]
AB: [screams as well]
 W: You!
AB: W!
 W: What are you doing here? It's not enough that you drive me insane at work, do you have to stalk me on vacation too?
AB: Well, I'm sorry. Really. I had no idea that you were a fisher ... person ...
 W: Angler, thank you very much.
AB: Angler. Okay. Well, since I'm here, maybe you wouldn't mind giving us your angle on boning knives.
 W: If I do, will you go away?
AB: Very quickly.
 W: Here. [hands AB her fishing pole] Drop it, and you're going in after it.
AB: Okay.
 W: Boning knives are distinguished by the curve tip, which allows for a better working angle, and helps prevent point gouging.
AB: Ew, point gouging. Never good.
 W: They come in various lengths and either stiff or flexible.
AB: Okay.
 W: Flexible ones are good for maneuvering around bones but they're a lot trickier to handle.
AB: Well, which one do you recommend?
 W: A six-inch, stiff boning knife will get the average cook through most any fish that he might ...
AB: Or she. Or she.
 W: ... might encounter.
AB: Okay, anything else?
 W: Well, all the top cutlery companies make a boning knife. But actually, the best and actually cheapest ones are made for the food service industry. You can usually recognize them by their stamped, rather than forged blade, and one-piece plastic handles.
AB: Okay, got it. Hey, this one's really cool. Where did you get this, a fishing shop?
 W: Yeah. But you have to remember that knives that you get at the sporting goods store are made to survive a tackle box which means they're usually made of stainless steel and that's really hard to sharpen properly.
AB: Okay. [the fishing pole slips from AB's arm into the water] Ooh. Oh, bother. [jumps in the water]

Atlantic halibut have been known to weigh as much as 800 lbs.

The Kitchen

    Now I realize most Americans could live long, happy lives without ever cutting up a fish. But what if one day your fishmonger was home sick. Or what if you were walking down the street and someone said, "Here, have a flounder." You would want to be able to break it down, wouldn't you? Well of course you would. And it's easy. And once you learn how, you can move on to other, bigger things, like yellowfin tuna. Now that's quite a skill. A lot of this has to do with preparation. Let's observe my cutting station, shall we?
    I have a large, food-grade cutting board here right next to the sink. I like to have running water because it is the best thing for removing fish scales as you go. Next to that, I have a trash receptacle [inside one side of the sink]. You could use a trash can if you want. I've got a nice pan set up for my filets. I've got my honing steel in case my edge gives out. I have, of course, my knife. I've got a little towel here. Everything is very contained. And I like to work with gloves. These are oyster gloves. I think they give me a little more traction, but you don't have to.
    Now as for the fish ... [records his voice as a pathologist would during a postmortem] ... the subject is a two-pound female flounder, probably Floridian in origin. Cause of death most likely being removed from the water. Let's cut, shall we?
    Now notice that I have the fish facing to the right. That is because I am right-handed and I find that the easiest approach. We begin with a cut from the belly to the shoulder; and you'll notice this is a diagonal cut. That allows us to miss the very small bunch of guts that this fish happens to have. Then we're going to kind of unzip the skin moving across the back towards the tail, and then sliding the knife and off the tail there. Then we basically let the knife just float right on top of the ribs, and peel off the top part of the filet. When we get to the spine, kind of flip the knife over and use just the tip to get down on the other side of it. And then we'll continue just wiping that knife right over the top of the ribs. Remember to lift the meat away as it is freed and in no time you'll have yourself a big, luscious filet.
    Repeat on the other side and then trim the frills off of both filets. Then, of course, we've got to remove the skins. Start with the tail. Make a little cut, and then get a hold of the skin at the tail. Kind of hold your knife in one place, pointing down, and just jiggle and pull the skin. I'm not pushing the knife at all, I'm actually pulling the skin, and it will come away in one piece. Well, at least with a little practice it will.
    Although I always prefer to cook and consume fresh fish on the day I bring it home from the market, sometimes storage is a necessity. And you can preserve the quality if you follow these simple guidelines.
    Take a look at my fish box. Here I have two plastic tubs. Just old tubs, but they're exactly the same. The bottom one is intact, but the top one has been perforated prodigiously with small holes across the sides and across the bottom. That way, you can put ice in your plastic-wrapped fish up top and as the ice melts, the water will drain down below preventing your fish from water logging while keeping it ice-cold at the same time. What else could a fish ask for?
    When it comes to cooking flat fish—and on cooking shows it usually does—there are many many opportunities. But you know, I really prefer to stick with methods that take particular advantage of this poisson's peculiar physiology. For instance, he's very flat, he's very very thin, and his flesh is therefore very flexible. Which means he can be wrapped around things tightly, like a burrito. But for that, we would need a filling.

    Two tablespoons of butter go into a skillet or fry pan over medium-low heat. One medium onion, finely chopped, goes in for a sweat. We'll add a wee pinch of salt to that.

2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
1 Medium Onion, Chopped
A Pinch of Salt

    In the meantime, we will head down and start to work on the sauce: one cup of heavy cream, and one-quarter cup of white wine go together. And we will whisk that and put it to medium heat just to bring it to a simmer.

1 Cup Heavy Cream
1/4 Cup White Wine
    And we go back down to the sweat. One clove of garlic, finely minced, goes into the sweat. Give that a stir, and let that cook for another minute. 1 Clove Garlic, Minced
    Now as soon as the cream and wine mixture comes to a bubble, we're going to slowly start adding 10 ounces of cheddar cheese, slowly. Because if we add it too quickly, it could clump. And keep whisking continuously until the first deposit has melted and integrated into the sauce. Then you can add another. Don't mess with the heat. You'll be tempted to turn it up. Don't. When the last deposit of cheese goes in, I'm going to turn off the heat and let that sit and think about what it's done. 10 Ounces Cheddar Cheese,
    Freshly Grated
    Meanwhile, we've got our sweat finished. And we're going to add to that, 10 ounces of chopped, frozen spinach which has been thawed and very well drained, and the zest of one lemon. Stir that, again, over low to medium-low heat. We really just want to let this heat through. 10 Ounces Chopped Frozen
    Spinach, Thawed &
Zest of 1 Lemon
    I'm going to add two tablespoons of chopped parsley, half of a teaspoon of kosher salt—approximate—and a quarter teaspoon of black pepper. A quarter teaspoon is usually about 12 grinds out of my pepper mill, but if you want to be exact you can always pre-measure. 2 Tbs. Fresh Parsley,
1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp. Freshly Ground
    Black Pepper

    There, now kill this heat and give the cheese sauce one last stir. At this point, everything should be turned off.

    Now, liberally season one and a half to two pounds of flounder filets with freshly ground black pepper, and of course, some kosher salt, and then evenly distribute your spinach filling across the filets. And you want to shoot for kind of the widest part of the meat and kind of just mound it up into a little pile. Again, shooting for the widest part of the filet. 1 1/2 - 2 Pounds Flounder

    There. Now when we roll, we're going to roll with a little bit of a twist so that the thin part of the tail goes up where the shoulder would have been. It makes a nice little package. And then turn that upside down so the seam will face down into the pan. There. You can see that little twist procedure. Some of the stuffing falls out, it's no big deal. You're going to lose a little. About six of them will fit into a one and a half to two-quart casserole. And just pour that cheese sauce right over the top. It won't quite cover, but it'll come close.

    Slide into a 350-degree oven, and set your timer for 25 minutes.

350 Degrees

Flatfish by any other name:

The Kitchen

    Now you're going to want to let this rest for about five minutes before serving. Then you can dig in. Heh heh heh heh heh. A little glass of white wine is nice, and ...  [looks into the casserole dish] Hey, you know, that sure is a lot of cheesy goodness left in that pan. That ought to be on my plate. You know, if we had a ... If we could ... Can I do this again?

    This time we'll start with three cups of cooked white long-grain rice in the bottom of the casserole. We'll load up the fish, just as before and pour on the sauce, just as before, and we'll cook it, just as before.

3 Cups Cooked Rice

    Mmmm, let's try that again. Excellent. Not only do we have the flounder goodness, the cheesy goodness, and the spinach goodness, now the whole thing is sitting on a beautiful rice pudding so that I don't miss a single drop of anything. [drops a piece] Well, except that little piece. [tastes] Mmm, excellent. [continues to eat] I'll be back when you get a minute.
    Unlike salmon or tuna or even cod, flat fish, like flounder, are very very lean. And that's good in a lot of ways. But it also means that they're very good at overcooking quickly. Now a lot of cooks try to get around this fact by poaching their flat fish. The problem is is that 180-degree water or wine can actually overcook fish just as quickly as 500-degree air or 350-degree oil. Which isn't to say that I don't believe in either oil or poaching. As a matter of fact, I like oil poaching. That's right. It's a method that the French refer to as confit, and it's got lots of advantages.

    Number one: Oil hates water. You see, the fish is full of water and if we cook it completely submerged in oil, well, the oil is a lot less likely to coax water out of the fish, right? Okay. #1 Oil Hates Water
    Number two: Oil "feels" moist, okay? So even if the fish were to overcook a little bit, as long as it takes a little bit of oil along the way, it'll feel moist to the mouth, okay? #2 Oil "Feels" Moist

    Number three: Oil carries flavors. You see, it's ... Oils ... carry flavors. Come on.

#3 Oil Carries Flavors
    The first thing you want to do is bring three cups of olive oil up to 300 to 310 degrees over low heat. 3 Cups Olive Oil
300-310 Degrees
    Then we will face our flounder. We have about one and a half to two pounds here. That's four large filets. A little bit of salt, and a little bit of pepper on each side. Flip the fish, thusly, and we're going to be careful about cross-contamination, so I will remove this glove before getting into the salt again. Just a little seasoning, and more of the black stuff. There. Now we will leave that aside. 1 1/2 - 2 Pounds Flounder
    Here we have two lemons, sliced, and this is going to go in the bottom of a large cast iron skillet. Oh, I know, these [lemons] are acidic, and that's a reactive vessel. But it's got a very good cure on it and the juice from these lemons is not going to hurt that. So just spread them out. We're only going to put out half of these, about one lemon's worth. They don't have to be perfect, but if they are, it's nice. And then we will add a few sprigs of parsley. We've got one large bunch here. We're just going to kind of rake those across the bottom. 2 Lemons, Thinly Sliced
1 Large Bunch of Parsley

    Now, ze feesh goes on to the little raft, so to speak, and depending on the size and shape of your filets you're going to have to make some extra room. I've got two big ones and two little ones here. They don't have to make perfect contact. We'll go with the rest of the lemohn interspersed with the rest of ze parsley.

    This is going to go into a 350 degree oven. Oh, don't worry, we're going to get to the oil. We'll get to it. Come on. Now safety is a concern here. So I'm going to pull out my shelf [of the oven], place the pan thusly, and then get the oil. Just pour it all over the fish. There will be some popping sounds—not to worry—and very carefully, slide the pan in. There. Now don't touch this for 10 minutes.

350 Degrees

Make sure your fresh parsley is thoroughly
patted dry to prevent the hot oil from popping.

The Kitchen

    After 10 minutes in the oven, very carefully remove your pan to the nearest stable horizontal surface and allow it to rest for another five minutes.
    Now, service relies on a nice, long fish spatula. It will help us get under the filet and remove it without breaking it into gobs of pieces. Because believe it or not, breaking up is actually very easy to do.
    Now let's talk about all this oil for a second. There is a good bit left over. And since it hasn't been heated to a very high temperature, it hasn't broken down molecularly too much, so there is no reason not to use it again. Simply pour that into some kind of container. I like using an old wine bottle that's got a funnel at the top, lined with cheesecloth. That'll remove enough of the impurities and you can use it to cook any old fish you want to later on down the line.
    Speaking of leftovers, you know, fish aren't exactly famous for their next-day capabilities. But in the case of our oil-poached flounder, I believe there is an application that will make this dish even better the next day. I'm speaking of a flounder salad. Let us begin.

    First, we will mix together three tablespoons of white wine vinegar, one tablespoon of fresh squeezed lime juice, one half teaspoon of kosher salt, one-eighth of a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, and a few good shots of your favorite hot sauce. I like mine on the hot side so I'm going to go for about 10 drops. This we will whisk together.

3 Tbs. White Wine Vinegar
1 Tbs. Freshly Squeezed
    Lime Juice
1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/8 tsp. Freshly Ground Black
8-10 Drops Hot Sauce

    Now we're basically building a vinaigrette here. So once that comes together, we will slowly drizzle in one half cup of our leftover poaching oil that has been strained. Just work that in nice and slow. We don't need a full emulsion like for a green salad dressing. But the closer, the better the viscosity and the better the coat.

1/2 Cup Poaching Oil

    Now trade in your whisk for a spatula and fold in one pound of the leftover poached filet. Fold that in a little. And then we have two slices of the leftover lemon that came out of that poaching pan, finely diced, two tablespoons of parsley, chopped fine, and two tablespoons of scallion. Fold to combine. There.

1 Pound Leftover Poached
2 Leftover Lemon Slices,
    Finely Diced
2 Tbs. Fresh Parsley,
2 Tbs. Chopped Scallion

    Now, once you've got this mixed, you've got something that you can refrigerate for, eh, two to three days. And you know what? With a couple of crackers and a fork, you've got yourself one heck of a meal for one or for four depending on how hungry everybody is. Believe it or not, this is just about the finest fish salad a man can make. Sorry, Charlie.

The Food Gallery

    If I've said it once, I've said it nine times: be it pizza or pancake, flank or flounder, flat is beautiful. As for our friend here, well, he's got the advantages or not needing to be pressed, pounded, or pirouetted in any way. He's already good and flat. But what he lacks in depth, he makes up for in flavor. See you next time.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010