SOSSEXI CSF Week 3
After spending nearly two weeks in the deep woods of New Hampshire, I was experiencing what everyone born along the coastline of New England feels when they have been landlocked for any amount of time: a deep craving for fresh seafood. As I drove south out of the blissfully cool Canadian High weather pattern we had enjoyed while all my friends in Massachusetts were melting in the sun, I was headed to pick up my fish share, hoping the heat had finally driven the black back flounder out of the shallow bays and estuaries and into the deeper water and waiting nets of Kevin Norton’s Yankee Rose.
I was hoping to get flounder in my catch share this week, because I already knew exactly how I was going to prepare it. Driving in to the parking lot behind The Roman Table, I was the last person to pick up my share, and lo and behold, what awaited me but a beautiful packet of flounder fillets, stacked like thick pieces of expensive white stationary. But wait! Something else was in there. A lone whiting was packed on top like a little prize in the box of cereal or the fried clam that makes its way into your order of fish and chips. I already had a plan for the flounder, but the whiting was like a mystery ingredient in one of those cooking shows. Once again I was reminded of how much I enjoy the surprise aspect of the CSF.
In the first week week of SOSSEXI I had also received flounder fillets, and desperate after not having caught any on my own I had raced home and cooked them as most of you probably did in the simplest, purest way possible, dredged in a little flour and fried in a hot pan with butter. Spritz of lemon. Glass of wine. Voila! In Week 2, my brother got my share of flounder, raced home, and cooked it the exact same way. In Week 3, though, I had a seductive little plan for those right-eyed fish. I was going to prepare them in my favorite way, rolled in a turban shape and filled with a delicate crab meat stuffing, then baked in a hot oven and finished off with a ladle of my Mom’s Lobster Newburg sauce. A little jasmine rice to soak up the extra sauce, a few remaining spears of fresh asparagus, and a glistening ice bucket chilling down a bottle of champagne. Throw on the Barry White!
Seriously, this is an expensive and possibly time-consuming little feast, but what else are we living for if not a fabulous meal? There are precious few things on this planet that go better than flounder and crabmeat, and as if to prove the point, I am reminded of a great fishing story my good friend Jeff McLeod shared with me recently. Jeff, who grew up in Norwell fishing from the mouth of North River up to the Indian Head, was fishing for flounder right in front of the Spit on an outgoing tide one early summer day. Taking a mesh bag that once held lemons, he filled it with frozen and crushed clams and set a rudimentary chum pot to bounce on the bottom. Baiting a couple of flounder rigs with sea worms, he sent those to the bottom and waited.
The flounder move with the tide along the sandy or muddy bottoms of the North River, or the ocean. They love to find a deep hole or cut-out where the tide will sweep minnows, crustaceans, sea worms and other small delectables over the edge where they can lie in wait for them. Jeff had found a nice hole near the Spit, and lured in by the smelly promise of the chum pot, soon he was hooking up with flounder after flounder. In between baiting his hooks, he decided to pull the chum pot and check it. Lo and behold, as he was pulling it up from the deep, he saw clinging to the mesh easily a dozen rock crabs as big as salad plates. He grabbed his net and in one fell swoop had them clacking their beautiful, coral-colored and brawny claws angrily at him from the floor of his boat. He fished until the tide went slack, and then like a light switch going off, it was all over: no more flounder or crabs until the tide turned again.
Returning home, he filleted the flounder and iced them down, then got to the tedious but well worth it work of steaming the crabs and picking through them. If you’re an adult, this isn’t such a bad chore since it usually involves sipping on a frosty beverage, which may help dull the pain of the inevitable cuts you will get from the sharp shells. If you’re a kid, just view it as good experience for when your parents finally buy you a lobster. In my house growing up, lobsters were as expensive, maybe more so, as they are now. My brother and I would go pick up lobsters for my Mom and Dad on vacation, and we were allowed to get a dozen rock crabs for $2.00 which we would pick through. To this day, I prefer their sweet and delicate taste to lobster meat, and as a shout out to Frank, Kevin and Phil, our SOSSEXI fishermen, feel free to throw any rock crabs you dredge up in a fish tote for passing out to us CSF shareholders, especially if you’re bringing in flounder.
Anyways, Jeff stuffed the flounder with the piles of crabmeat, put them in a baking dish with plenty of melted butter with lemon, and baked them in a hot oven. We both agreed flounder and crab go together like champagne and caviar, pie and ice cream or strawberries and cream The flounder, with its delicate fins and soft mouth always seeming to be making an “O” of surprise, oddly enough travels in the same circles as the feisty and oftentimes downright mean-spirited crab. Although they are Oscar and Felix on the ocean floor, they are Bogart and Bacall on the plate; they just go together.
As the waters near the shore start heating up, the flounder will be heading out to deeper, colder water where they will stay until next spring. As members of SOSSEXI, we might want to plan for the inevitability that flounder may very well be on the menu in the next month or two. The good news is that crabmeat freezes very well, as does Newburg sauce. And it’s always a good idea to have a couple of bottles of champagne on ice.
Something to note about the flounder. At this time of year especially, you will hear anglers, fishermen and chefs talking about summer flounder. In New England, we usually call summer flounder fluke, although the further south you travel, the more they will just be referred to as summer flounder. The flounder we have been eating in our CSF is black back or winter flounder, not fluke. As much as I love flounder, fluke is my absolute hands-down favorite fish to eat. It has the firmest, whitest flesh, and although it is along the lines of halibut, it is far tastier. We will be exceedingly lucky if Frank, Kevin and Phil bring us fluke, or “summer flounder.”
You heard me refer to the flounder in this blog as a right-eyed fish. Fluke is a left-eyed flat fish. When both fish are very young, they appear as almost all other fish, in a minnow-like shape. Soon they begin to settle in to their lives on the bottom of the ocean floor, and their eyes migrate from either side of their head, to one side, the flat side facing up. The left or right designation refers to which side of the mouth the two eyes are on. Also, another differentiating feature between the flounder and fluke is that fluke have sharp teeth and flounder have no teeth. You can tell the difference immediately when you haul them into your boat.
Recipe for Flounder “Turbans”
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
12 flounder fillets
salt and pepper
2 c. crabmeat (I can always find this at Roche Brothers in the fresh seafood section)
1/2 c. Panko breadcrumbs
1 small shallot, minced fine
1/4 c. minced celery (use knife, not food processor, as it will get too watery)
1/4 c. minced red pepper (use knife, not food processor)
1 T minced parsley
1 stick salted butter
1 juicy lemon
Grease a muffin pan liberally (including tops) with butter. Salt and pepper fillets and coil one inside each muffin tin.
Melt 1/2 stick butter in frying pan and gently saute shallot, celery and parsley until just tender. Set aside to cool, then add uncooked, minced red pepper (it keeps its pretty red color better). Fold in crabmeat, Panko, and beaten egg until loose stuffing forms. Divide between “turbans.” Melt remaining butter, add juice of entire lemon, and drizzle over each turban. Bake for 15 minutes or until fish flakes.
I do like to top mine with my mom’s Lobster Newburg. I will see her this week and beg her for her “secret” recipe. Until then, you will have to surf the internet or call your own mothers. 😉
Submitted by Kathleen Wright