Flounder is an underrated fish. Its flesh is quite pleasingly firm-textured but that flesh, it is true, does not have the fullest of flavours. But the super-fresh flounder we are able to buy from the market stall are quite a joy to eat and for quite a few years I’ve bought a flounder on the morning of the market and pan-fried it for lunch that day to quite delicious results. Dab is underrated too, but again, a fresh dab simply pan-fried is a very enjoyable meal.
Both Rick Stein in "Rick Stein's Food Heroes, Another Helping" and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall & Nick Fisher in "The River Cottage Fish Book" make mention of the less-well-flavoured and underrated characteristics of flounder and/or dab, though they are happy to endorse them. In fact, the latter pair invite their readers to join their new group, the SPUDF, or Society for the Promotion and Understanding of Dabs and Flounders. I wouldn't spend too long trying to look up this society!
I’m sure I’m not alone in observing that flounder and dab are rarely seen in the fishmonger and seemingly never in the supermarket. I wondered whether this might be a force behind flounder having earned this underrated status, my thinking being that it perhaps deteriorated quickly and therefore reached the shop in poor condition, thereby putting off the customer. However, Les has reliably informed me that, quite by contrast, flounder keep very well, indeed better than plaice, and yet they’re easy to find in the shops. So, whereas there might just be a "short-sighted, uneducated propaganda [that is] being circulated by a vicious gang of turbot-supremacists" , there seems to remain something of a mystery – answers on a postcard please (email also accepted)!
Here is a recipe of Rick Stein’s that injects a little more flavour and texture by “pané-ing” (if that is not an indigestible expression) flounder with extra-crispy Panko breadcrumbs and accompanying it with a piquant sauce. Even if you remain unconvinced about the fish, perhaps try plaice instead but, either way, I'm sure you'll make the sauce again.
In the original recipe of Rick Stein’s he uses small flounder, trims them of their lateral fins (the "frills") and scales them but leaves the skin on. The only disadvantage with this approach is that one needs a fairly large deep-fat fryer, which not everyone has. Here I have filleted and skinned a larger flounder and then shallow-fried the fillets.
The use of Ravigote Sauce here is not only inspired but is in some way intriguing. According to “Larousse Gastronomique”, Ravigote Sauce is a spicy, highly-seasoned sauce that can be served hot or cold. The hot version has essentially the same ingredients as the cold one but its preparation is more elaborate in that the characteristic ingredients are incorporated into a reduction of veal velouté sauce, white wine and wine vinegar. This is then typically served with calf’s head and brains!
The cold Ravigote Sauce (and Rick Stein's recipe is remarkably similar to that in "Larousse Gastronomique", so I have a sneaky suspicion he knows the book!) used here should ideally include chervil. This really is not very easy to get hold of. For one thing, in 10 years or more I have never seen it on any of the relevant stalls in the market and I feel I could be forgiven for expecting that I might have at some time. It's a shame because it's a great partnering herb to fish dishes but, and though I wouldn’t want to be quoted, I believe I recall once being told it is quite a difficult herb to grow. Anyway, I have made the sauce with and without chervil and it is perfectly fine without. One source of chervil that I have found to be a reliable one is my regular veg-box supplier, Riverford Organic Farmers.
As Rick Stein suggests, this dish, which couldn't be more straightforward to make, served with chips and a lettuce salad, is a splendid lunch.
Breaded Flounder with Ravigote Sauce
Ingredients (serves 2)
1 large flounder, cut into 4 skinned fillets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Plain flour for dusting
1 egg, beaten
Panko breadcrumbs, sufficient for coating the fish fillets
Oil for deep-frying
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp (heaped) Dijon mustard
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp mixed chopped flat-leaf parsley, tarragon and chervil leaves
1 tbsp chopped chives
1-2 tbsp watercress leaves, coarsely chopped
½ shallot, finely chopped
2 tsp capers, drained and rinsed and coarsely chopped
To make the sauce, whisk together the wine vinegar and mustard then gradually whisk in the oil so that it emulsifies. Add the herbs, the watercress, the shallot and capers, and whisk these in then season to taste. Keep aside.
Heat the oil ready for frying. Meanwhile season the fish fillets, dust them with flour, then dip in the beaten egg, allow the excess to drip off and finally coat well with the breadcrumbs.
Fry the breaded fish fillets for 1-2 minutes per side until crisp and golden, drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately with the sauce and any other accompaniments.
"Rick Stein's Food Heroes, Another Helping", Rick Stein (2004), pp. 60: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rick-Steins-Food-Heroes-Another/dp/0563487526
"The River Cottage Fish Book", Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall & Nick Fisher (2007), pp. 469: https://www.amazon.co.uk/River-Cottage-Fish-Book/dp/1408814293
"Larousse Gastronomique", Joël Robuchon et al (2000), pp. 969: https://www.thebookpeople.co.uk/product/new-larousse-gastronomique-hamlyn-9780600620426?id=AST
Riverford Organic Farmers, accessed 21 October 2019: https://www.riverford.co.uk