I was faced with an interesting dilemma at the Whole Food fish counter today: flounder for $9/Lb or grey sole for $16/Lb.
I don't normally compare fish based on their price since the price is just a matter of supply and demand. Swordfish and tuna are expensive and there is nothing you can do about that. And bluefish and trout are generally cheap (at least at the moment). Of course, comparing swordfish to bluefish is like comparing apples to oranges. One is not better than the other -- they are just different.
But flounder and sole -- that's a whole different story. You see, what they call "sole" in New England has absolutely no connection to the "Dover" sole -- the crème de la crème of the fish (though if you ask me, not worth it’s $30+/Lb). “Grey sole” is just another type of flounder. Its flesh is whiter and it is considered to be sweeter and "finer" than your basic garden-variety flounder. But since these fish are so similar, how could I resist putting them in a side-by-side blind tasting. And thus the battle of flounders began.
I decided to use my Grandmother’s braising method where the fish is smothered in carrot onion mixture and braised covered in the oven. But since flounder and grey sole is incredibly thin, I decided to stuff the fillets with carrot and currant mixture and roll them up. The resulting dish was delicate and gently sweet, like a cool autumn day full of warm colors. There was no need for accompaniments -- just a good loaf of bread to dip in the sauce.
I set the plate in front of Jason and asked if he can tell the difference between two types of fish. He took a bite of one fish roll. Then the other… Then the first fish roll again. After much contemplation he decided that one of the rolls was a little more delicate than the other. “Was that the sole?” he asked. Yes, it was. The sole won the taste test, but not by much. Jason said that the only way he could tell the difference was having these two fish side by side.
Is that tiny different worth its price tag? That’s up to you and your budget. I might consider buying sole for special occasions, and sticking to flounder the rest of the time. But the truth is I find both fish to be kind of like chicken breasts – a great vehicle for the sauce, but not much personality of their own. While for a special main course, I prefer fish that are more assertive, these little rolls are perfect for serving warm or cold as the first course.
Braised Flounder with Carrot-Currant Stuffing
Serves 4 as the main course, or 8 as an appetizer
4 Tbsp canola oil
2 yellow onions, finely diced
1.25 Lb carrots, peeled and shredded with food processor
1/2 tsp sugar
1/3 cup currants (or raisins)
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1.5 Lb flounder or sole fillets
Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- Set a large heavy oven-proof skillet that can later be covered over medium-low heat. Add 2 Tbsp of oil, onions, and a generous pinch of salt. Cook stirring occasionally until onions are tender and start to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
- Return the pan to high heat. Add 2 more Tbsp of oil and the carrots. Cook stirring occasionally until carrots are very tender and start to brown, about 15 minutes. Regulate the heat so that carrots are browning, but not burning.
- Put the currants into a small bowl, cover with water, and microwave, until the water is hot, 1-2 minutes. Let stand until currants are plump, about 5 minutes. Strain and discard the liquid. Put the currants into a medium bowl and set aside.
- Add the onions back to the pan with carrots. Add the sugar, and stir over low heat until well combined. Add half of the carrot-onion mixture to the bowl with currants and mix well. Set aside.
- Return the carrot-onion mixture remaining in the pan to medium heat. Add tomato paste, white wine, bay leaf, and 1.5 cups water. Bring to a boil. Take off heat, season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove to a large measuring cup or bowl and set aside. Don’t wash the skillet yet – you’ll be using it for fish.
- Season fish fillets with salt on both sides. Lay them out on a work surface skin side down (skin side is the flat side). Spread a thin layer of currant mixture over the fillets leaving 2 inches on the thin end uncovered. Roll up fillets from the thick end to the thin end and place them in the skillet where you cooked the carrots and onions.
- Pour the reserved carrot-onion sauce over the fish, cover the skillet, and set in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes. Cut into one roll with a fork to test for doneness. If you encounter no resistance in the center, the fish is done. Server hot as a main course, or refrigerate overnight (after cooling completely) and serve as an appetizer.