My Holiday Hangover Cure: Flounder
January 08, 2013
Let Alex call me girly, but with the holidays behind us, what I'm liking for dinner is this: a piece of very gently pan-fried flounder, lean and simple, plain––not breaded, not sauced. Flounder as hangover cure.
It's not so much about booze, my holiday hangover. It's about all that heavy winter food: roast beast and gravies and purees. My favorite flounder dinner is the opposite of all that.
I sprinkle the fillets very lightly with a chili powder and cayenne mixture and cook them two at a time––that is, two fillets from one small fish––for just a couple of minutes. Faster than fast food, the fillets go on a plate alongside a few salad greens and get eaten right then and there at the bar in the kitchen.
Flounder has always been prized for its delicacy. But that can make the fillets hard to handle––a lot of our market customers ask "how do you keep them from falling apart?" There are a few tricks that make all the difference in preventing your flounder from sticking to the pan and keeping it juicy, too.
First, before you season and cook the fish, pat it dry. If the fillets are slick when they go into the oil, you won't get that sear that firms up the surface of the fillet. Instead, the fish will steam and tend toward mushiness. For the same reason, it's important not to crowd the pan. I cook only one portion––two fillets––at a time.
Use a non-stick skillet. I know some people think this doesn't seem chef-like. But believe me, the only reason you don't see more non-stick pans in professional kitchens is that restaurant life is just so hard on them. There are now healthy, environment-friendly non-stick pans out there, too. My pan of choice also has extra low sides––the better for keeping the spatula nice and low as I slide it under the fillets.
About that spatula, mine's a fish turner. You haven't lived until you've used one of these things; they're longish and extra thin with a slight flex to them. Getting your fish turner under the fillet lengthwise allows you to pick it up in one piece.
We don't serve flounder fillets like these at the restaurant because they just can't wait around for the ceremony of garnishes and going to the table with all the other plates. But that doesn't mean you can't make them for company. I serve all three of my girls, one at a time, in ten minutes flat when I make this at home. And who doesn't love having her own short-order cook now and then?
Pan-Fried Winter Flounder Fillets
Even though I use only a light dusting of spices on this fish, I'm particular about the mixture. I like the blend of black and red peppers, cumin, and garlic powder found in most chili powders, plus the lemony-clean kick of a little cayenne. It's easy to mix up your own, or we actually sell our favorite mixture here on our website.
4 whole winter flounders, about one pound each, filleted and skinned (8 pieces)
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 1/4 teaspoons chili-cayenne spice mixture
Pat the fillets dry and let them sit to air dry while you prepare your spice mixture and heat a non-stick pan. Drop a half-tablespoon of the butter into the hot pan and let it melt. Season the first fillet (two pieces, the two sides of one fish) with a pinch of your spice mixture and a little salt.
You want to keep the heat medium-low for this recipe. Don't let the pan get smoking hot. Keep it just hot enough for the butter to foam, and to give the fish a very light sear.
Put the fish in the pan and keep an eye on it. It needs only about one and a half minutes, depending on its thickness. When you see the edges of the fillets turn opaque, it's time to turn them.
Get your fish turner under as much of each piece of fish as you can, and turn it as if it were an egg, over easy, keeping the spatula down low over the pan. Give the fish just a half minute on this second side.
Remove and serve immediately alongside a small salad. And tell your eaters to dig in while you continue cooking and serving the rest of the fillets, one fish (two pieces) at a time. Make sure your skillet isn't getting too hot. Add another half-tablespoon of butter to it and remember to season each portion just before setting it in the pan.
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