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Product Spotlight: Turbot

This flatfish is the cream of the crop, but beware of inexpensive imitations

 - Photo courtesy Charlie Trotter's Seafood 2007
By Linda Skinner
January 01, 2007

A prized species among discerning seafood chefs who put it in a class with true Dover sole, European turbot is found on the menus of the whitest of white-tablecloth restaurants. Because of its limited export supply and coveted 
flavor and texture attributes, turbot (and that's tur -buht, not 
 tur -bo) is the highest-priced 
flatfishon the market.

Several lesser-quality Pacific flounders are sometimes passed off as the real deal, but their flesh is softer and less flavorful. To give it more market appeal, arrowtooth is sold on the West Coast as turbot. And don't confuse genuine turbot with Greenland turbot ( Reinhardtius hippoglossoides ), a relatively inexpensive member of the halibut family caught in the North Atlantic and North Pacific. To avoid marketing confusion with Pacific halibut, the halibut industry lobbied to change this flatfish's name to turbot.

Most turbot alternatives are sold as frozen fillets, while European turbot is sold as fresh, whole fish. To be sure, check the fish's origin and scientific name; formerly classified as Psetta maximus , turbot now goes by Scophthalmus maximus . A member of the Bothidae, or left-eyed, family of flounders, it's found in inshore waters throughout the Mediterranean and north to the Norwegian Sea. It is wild-caught and farmed in about equal quantities. According to 2004 fisheries statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization, Europe landed 5,758 metric tons. The Netherlands is the major U.S. supplier, at 1,778 metric tons, followed by the UK at 822 and France and Denmark at 744 and 737, respectively.

Europe's farmed production, at just over 6,138 metric tons in 2004, surpassed wild harvests. Spain produced the lion's share, at 4,477 metric tons, much of it from Galicia, where Stolt Sea Farm dominates turbot aquaculture. The company raises smaller amounts of turbot in Norway, Portugal and France as well. Chile and China also contribute to the farmed supply.

Most turbot is consumed regionally, usually sold fresh and whole. Market size for the scale-less fish ranges from 3 to 6 pounds.

U.S. buyers who are able to source the European delicacy sell to upscale purveyors who command a premium price for it. Patrons looking for a fine-dining experience on Christmas Eve at the Equinox restaurant in Washington, D.C., could choose a main course of Sautéed Atlantic Turbot with Caviar Butter, served with baby spinach, crispy onions and preserved lemon, for $32.

In New York on the prix du dinner menu at the French restaurant Le Perigord (jacket and tie required), $65 buys an entreé of Turbot with Comté Crust and Champagne Sauce.

High-end home chefs who want to wow dinner guests can sometimes find turbot at gourmet seafood retailers. "So delicious and noble that the French created a special, diamond-shaped turbotiere in which to cook it," says Citarella Fine Foods' plug 
for turbot on its Web site. The 
New York specialty retailer offers whole 2.5- to 3-pound turbot for $38.99 apiece.

 

Contributing Editor Linda Skinner lives in South Portland, Maine

 

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