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Product Spotlight: Flounder/Sole
These versatile, mild-tasting flatfish can go casual in fried baskets or upscale with stuffing and a sauce.
July 01, 2005
Around 540 flatfish species belong to the taxonomic order Pleuronectiformes, meaning "sideswimmer." These flatfish are found throughout the world.
Yellowtail is the most important flounder caught on the Atlantic Coast, and petrale sole is the most important West Coast species.
All flatfish have both eyes on one side of the head, though they begin life as normal fish. As they become bottom dwellers, one eye migrates to the other side, resulting in "right-eyed" and "left-eyed" flatfish.
All commercially important soles and flounders harvested in North America are right-eyed, except fluke.
Flounder fillets vary in shape, depending on the species. Gray and rex sole offer long, slender fillets; yellowtail flounder, rock sole, lemon sole, fluke and dab offer thicker, broader fillets. Market size is 1 to 5 pounds, depending on the species.
Flounder comes in a range of product forms. It is available fresh or frozen as whole fish, dressed (head-on, boneless), headed and gutted and fillets. It is also sold frozen in blocks of fillets. Value-added options include breaded or battered portions and stuffed fillets.
Consumers like flounder because it is lean, boneless and flaky with a mild flavor, ranging from bland to sweet.
The fish's versatility lands it on menus from fast-casual to upscale. Captain D's Hot Spicy Fish promotion, part of the chain's Summer Fish Fest, features five different fish basket options, including a Coastal Flounder Basket Combo with fries, hushpuppies and a 22-ounce drink for $3.99.
Flounder goes upscale when it's on the menu at Kinkead's in Washington, D.C., where a June dinner special included Walnut Crusted Flounder with Cauliflower Flan, Creamy Horseradish Spinach, Baby Carrots, Pearl Onions and Beet Sauce.
Bake-stuffed sole with crab and lobster stuffing topped with a lobster sherry cream sauce is a chef's special at Hemenway's Seafood Grill Oyster Bar in Providence, R.I. The mild fish is an easy sell to consumers, says Executive Chef Matthew Haist.
Retailers market soles and flounders differently, depending on location and clientele. Harbor Fish Market in Portland, Maine, carries gray and lemon sole and markets them as such, but dabs are marketed as flounder, says Ben Alfiero, co-owner. "If I'm carrying lemon sole, gray sole and flounder, customers will buy gray sole. They're nice and white and long. But I have [customers] who prefer flounders, which tend to be more full-flavored and hold together better."