I haven’t had much luck fishing this summer. There have been a few bluefish, sure. As for striped bass, I haven’t caught one keeper. They say the fluke are in their usual spots, including off the Pamet, right near my grandparents’ house. Which reminded me of fishing for dinner with Humpa.
Fluke are sandy colored side swimmers, well camouflaged against the sandy bottom where we used to find them, just about a half mile to a mile from shore. They’re not really exciting to catch, to be honest. You bounce your jig along the bottom and when you feel the line wiggle, you reel it up and that’s that. But like Humpa always said, “If you don’t catch what you want, catch what you can.”
The challenges with fluke happen after you get them home: they’re tricky to fillet properly. First you slide the fillets off the bone, then you skin them. If you’re not good with a knife, there may not be much left when you’re done. Humpa made us practice. Getting it right was important; nothing should go to waste.
Once you have your fillets, do something simple with them. For me, it’s hard to decide how they’re best. My grandmother would have pan fried them. The classic preparation is easy to do and it’s hard to beat that crispy golden crust as a counterpoint to the tender, flaky fish.
It would be wrong to say crudo is better. It’s just a totally different pleasure. I take half-inch-thick slices of the day’s fluke, cut on the bias, and pound them gently with a rolling pin to tenderize them a little, then chill them well. They get their seasoning of fresh lemon and lime juices just three to five minutes before serving time — so the fish doesn’t cook as it would with a longer-marinated ceviche.
Right now, there’s a peach tree in our yard that is producing bushels of fruit. They taste like summer, but they hint at fall. I wanted to capture that with this recipe. So, to my usual crudo dressing of ponzu or lemon and lime, good olive oil, and sea salt, I’m adding just a spoonful of flavors from the early-September garden: minced peach, fine-diced red onion, and mint.
Maybe nobody races out to catch fluke. But they do get themselves to the table pretty fast when you tell them you’ve got flounder for supper.
Pan Fried Flounder
1½ to 2 lbs. flounder fillets
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup oil for frying
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
Put the panko in a wide bowl and season it well with the salt and pepper. Beat the eggs in another wide bowl.
Dip the fillets first in the eggs, then in the panko, patting extra panko on top to get a firm coating.
Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet — this can be olive oil or any vegetable oil you like — until it is shimmering (but not smoking!) and slip the fish into the pan. Fry until golden, 2-3 minutes, and carefully turn the fillets for another minute or two of frying.
Remove to a plate or paper towel to allow excess oil to drip off, and plate. A dollop of mayo with chopped pickle and a squeeze of lemon juice stirred in is a nice quick condiment.
Summer Flounder Crudo
Serves 4 as an appetizer
Though crudo means raw in Italian, it’s important to dress the fish just a few minutes before serving so that it doesn’t over-marinate. The peach, onion, and herbs are added sparingly, so they’re just reminiscent of salsa, but they don’t take over the plate.
3/4 lb. flounder fillet
1/4 cup ponzu
or 1/4 cup fresh lemon and lime juice, combined
Fresh peach, red onion, and mint or basil
3 Tbsp. top-shelf extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of crunchy sea salt
Roll the fillet gently with a rolling pin to tenderize it. Then cut it on the bias it into half-inch-thick slices. (Putting the fillet into the freezer for a few minutes to make it very firm will allow you to slice it perfectly.)
Arrange the slices of fish so they overlap just slightly on a large chilled platter or on individual plates. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
Squeeze the lemon and lime juices (or measure the ponzu) into a bowl. Cut a few thin slices of peach into tiny cubes, to make about 1/4 cup, and add them to the bowl. Mince a slice or two of scallion or red onion to make about one tablespoon and add it. Do the same with a few leaves of mint or basil. You need only about a tablespoon of this mixture per serving.
To serve, spoon the citrus-peach mixture over the fish, drizzle the whole thing with the olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt.