Fluke fishing season opened in New Jersey last month. Hordes of recreational fisherman from sandy hook to Cape May have begun dragging bait and lures across the sandy ocean bottom with hopes of catching their limit of these popular game fish.
Fluke are a member of the flounder family. They are a tasty, bottom-dwelling fish that look similar to a large sole or tiny Halibut. Fluke in the 12” to 14” range are by far the best tasting. Their fillets have a delicate flavor and remain moist and tender after you cook them. Unfortunately, overfishing by both commercial and recreational fisherman in recent years has caused the minimum size limit to be increased along the eastern seaboard. In New Jersey, the minimum size limit to keep fluke is now 17.5”. In New York, they have to at least 19” long. At these lengths, the fillets start to become dry and mealy. Special care and attention is required to keep them palatable.
I find the traditional francaise treatment an excellent method for preparing fluke fillets of this size. A light coating of flour and egg wash seals in moisture while the fillets are cooking. Then, an easy pan sauce is made from white wine, lemon, and butter. It brings cohesion to the dish. The butter coats your palate with a silky layer of richness. The lemons provide a burst of acidity that piques in the back of your mouth. Together they enhance the mild fish flavor and provide instant gratification in each bite.
Fluke may not be the most exciting fish to catch, or the best fighting, but they are a real trophy when you land them on your dinner table.
- 4 skinless fluke fillets
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs lightly beaten
- Salt and pepper
- ¼ cup of vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 lemon, half cut into ¼” slices, the other half left intact
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup chicken or fish stock
- 2 tablespoons of lemon Juice
- 2 teaspoon of arrowroot mixed into a slurry with 1 tablespoon of water
- 2 tablespoons of butter
Place the flour and eggs in separate bowls (Steam table or hotel pans work well for this).
Preheat oil in a large frying or sauté pan. Be careful not to over heat the oil. A pinch of flour should gently sizzle when added to the pan.
Season fillets with salt and pepper. Dredge fillets lightly in flour, pat excess off and then dip each fillet into egg wash. Make sure the fillets are evenly coated.
Add fillets to pan. Gently fry the fillets until they are lightly browned on both sides. Remove fillets from pan. Cover and keep warm. Work in batches if your pan is not large enough to accommodate all of the fillets at once.
Drain vegetable oil from pan and wipe it clean with paper towels.
Return pan to stove over medium high heat. Sear lemon slices in dry pan until they begin to brown. Remove slices from pan and set aside for later use.
Add olive oil and garlic. Toast over medium low heat until garlic begins to turn golden brown.
Add wine to pan. Turn up heat to medium high and reduce wine until about 2 tablespoons remain. Scrape any carmelized bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
Add stock. Simmer until contents of pan is reduced by half.
Add one or two tablespoons of the arrowroot slurry. Stir to combine with contents of the pan. Simmer the mixture for a few minutes to thicken. Add more arrowroot if necessary. The consistency of the sauce should be just thick enough to nap the back of a spoon.
Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon half into the sauce. Reduce heat to low and add fillets back into the pan, turning to coat both sides with sauce. Simmer for a minute of two until fillets are heated through.
Swirl in 1 tablespoon of butter then taste to gauge the acidity of the dish. Continue tasting and swirling in more butter until the acidity from the lemon juice is balanced. Add salt and pepper as needed.
Serve with seared lemon slices over buttered pasta or rice.