If I were to take a poll, I’m positive most of ya would agree that the biggest stars of NEFla seafood are our beloved local shrimp. Mayport shrimp and their noble cousins Royal Red shrimp are by far my favorite eats from our local waters, but alas, man (even a Cheffed-Up one) cannot live on shrimp alone. On the other hand, why should I be bound to a limited menu of seafood when our oceans are teeming with a vast assortment of delectable goodies?
My next favorite seafood nom noms, right after crustaceans and mollusks, are flat fish.
Fish aka Finfish are in two distinct categories: round fish and flat fish. Round fish are round, meaning that the main body of the fish is basically barrel-shaped. These fish tend to be pleasingly symmetrical, with the main bone structure going right down the middle of the fish, yielding two equal filets.
Flat fish are much more interesting than round fish. For example, they’re called flat fish because … can you guess? This is not a trick question. Yes, yes, because they are basically flat. Like other fish, they have two eyes. But the eyes of a flat fish are the same side of the body. The bottom side eye actually migrates to the top side of the fish as it ages. The skin on the bottom of flat fish turns a white color like the sandy ocean bottom; the top side skin turns a grayish ocean water color. Good camo. Many different species of flat fish can be found on any ocean floor.
My favorite flat fish is the turbot with its slightly firm, luxurious texture and delicate, sweet, yet rich savory flavor. Tragically, this fish is rarely found outside of five-star dining establishments. A close second is Dover sole, which like turbot is usually reserved for expensive special occasions. Halibut is third on the list—the Pacific version is a bit tastier than the Atlantic. But all of those fish are from far-off places and not easy to come by here in the 904.
So what’s a ravenous local foodie to do? Eat flounder, that’s what! The humble flounder is the poor man’s version of flat fish and, boy, oh, boy, is it good eating. Its sweet delicate flesh requires very little help from the cook in order to reach culinary nirvana.
Here’s a quick rundown on the Sicilian version I taught in a recent class. First, I purchased some of the most pristine flounder filets you can imagine from Safe Harbor Seafood in Mayport Village. Next, I simply dredged the filets in seasoned flour, using a Sicilian seasoning blend. I then pan-fried the filets in a fruity Sicilian olive oil and served them over an eggplant caponatta. I ate like a king.
Chef Bill’s Eggplant Caponata
• 1 oz. olive oil
• 1/2 Spanish onion, chopped in 1/2-inch dices
• 1 Tbsp. walnuts
• 1 Tbsp. currants or raisins
• 1/2 tsp. chili flakes
• 1 medium eggplant, cut in 1/2-inch cubes (to yield 4 cups)
• 1 Tbsp. sugar
• 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
• 2 roma tomatoes, concasse
• 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
• Salt & pepper to taste
• 3 sprigs mint, chopped
1. In large 12-14 inch sauté pan, over medium heat, heat olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add onions, pine nuts, currants and chili flakes; sauté 4-5 minutes until softened.
2. Add eggplant, sugar, cinnamon and cocoa. Cook 5 more minutes. Add thyme, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil.
3. Lower heat and simmer the mixture 5 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature.
Email Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Fernandina’s Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at firstname.lastname@example.org, for inspiration and to get Cheffed-Up!