"I’m not a guppy."
Flounder (The Little Mermaid) (1989)
I was actually in the market for a sea bass when I encountered this flounder. I'm always delighted to find flounder on the market stall as we don't get them as often as we used to and it takes me back to my early days of attending the market when I hadn't really come across flounder in the past. They regularly became a staple breakfast for me, pan-fried immediately on return home from the market.
On this occasion, despite having carefully selected my flounder from amongst the pile of them and some plaice, when I got home, I was suddenly hit by a wave of concern that I had mistakenly bought a lesser-spotted plaice. As it turned out I had successfully bought a greater-spotted flounder, but it wasn't until I had consulted this handy resource from planetseafishing.com that my concerns were fully put to ease. Both fish can have spots, though the most vibrant of flounder will never be as vibrant as the most vibrant of plaice. The unmistakable difference between the two (although flounder tend to be more 'bulbous' in shape than plaice) is a patch of small spines on the upper side of the flounder, just behind the head and along the front half of the lateral line. Now we know!
Bought and cooked so fresh, flounder are a far finer feed, comparable if not superior to plaice, than their reputation of flabby flavourlessness sadly suggests. Pan-fried like this and served with a simple flavoured butter, they are anything but a disappointment.
Flavoured butters are a simple, quick and delicate way of garnishing a piece of fresh fish. I've chosen caper and anchovy here (an Edwardian flavour combination according to Good Housekeeping) but could equally have chosen just capers, or perhaps some herbs (parsley, chives, chervil for example), crushed black peppercorns, chopped cournichons, Dijon mustard etc. etc. There's also something very pleasing about seeing discs of flavoured butter melt over your hot fish, creating the sauce 'while-you-watch'.
Because the fish is to be cooked whole it may be that it is too big for the frying pan. If that's the case, the tail can certainly be trimmed away and, if necessary, the head removed.
Pan-fried Flounder with Anchovy and Caper Butter
Ingredients (per fish)
1 whole flounder, around 450g, washed and patted dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Anchovy and caper butter (for 2 servings):
60g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 salted anchovy fillets
1 tsp capers, drained and rinsed
2 tsp parsley leaves, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
First make the anchovy and caper butter. Put the anchovy fillets and capers in a mortar and pound to a paste. Season with black pepper, add the parsley and mash in the butter with the pestle. Empty the contents of the mortar out onto a sheet of cling film and roll up the flavoured butter into a sausage. Tie the ends and put in the fridge to firm back up.
Season the fish on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat the oil in a large frying pan to medium hot. Place the fish in the pan dark side down first and cook for about 3-4 minutes (depending on thickness) undisturbed. It should sizzle as soon as it hits the pan. Carefully flip the fish over (a pair of spatulas or fish slices will do the job) and continue to fry for a further 2-3 minutes.
Gently lift the fish out of the pan onto its serving plate. Remove the cling film from the caper and anchovy butter and cut perhaps 4 discs around ½cm thick, placing these along the spine of the fish. The heat from the fish will melt the butter slowly. Serve straight away.
"Flatfish Identification A Simplified Guide to Common Flatfish", planetseafishing.com, accessed 23 August 2020
"Anchovy and caper butter", Good Housekeeping, accessed 23 August 2020