During a recent conversation, my friend Laury mentioned that she has been craving flounder lately. Hmmm, flounder is just like sole and that started me thinking … (Look out, this could be dangerous, LOL) My dad’s favorite fish was filet of sole. He loved the mild flavor and delicate texture. I thought it was good but liked mine even more when it was stuffed with fresh crab or shrimp. Hopefully you and Laury will enjoy one of my favorites as much as I do!
Flounder, like sole, is a very mild white fish. Extremely delicate in texture and flavor, it is the perfect fish to serve to people who don’t typically like “fishy” fish. When I was a child I was a very picky eater who didn’t like fish but I loved sole. The sauce that you cook the fish in will also help any reluctant guests try this dish because no one can resist the richly aromatic onions, garlic, tomatoes, capers and fennel when you smell them cooking together.
Fennel, capers and tomatoes are a classic Mediterranean combination found in many regional dishes. Fennel is a root vegetable that is anise or licorice flavored. When you buy it, look for fresh fronds. If they are wilted, the fennel is old and may be bitter. Use a large knife and cut it in half lengthwise. Trim off any fronds, cut off the bottom and cut out the v-shaped center core. Lay the fennel flat-side down and slice thinly. Capers are pickled flower buds that add a bright tanginess to any dish. They are especially good with seafood. You can use fresh tomatoes if they are in season, but canned tomatoes are terrific in this sauce, full of flavor and of course extremely easy to work with. I like using crushed or cubed tomatoes. Avoid using those that have been pre-seasoned – they will clash with the other ingredients.
When looking for crab for the filling, you can certainly use canned crabmeat, but if it is in season, there is nothing better than fresh crab. Buy what is local in your area. If you are lucky enough to live in the mid-Atlantic region, there is nothing better than Maryland blue crabs. On the West Coast we love our big, luscious Dungeness crabs, and eagerly await the opening of the season. If you live on the Gulf Coast, you can use the delectable blue crabs, shrimp or crawfish in your stuffing.
I buy them pre-cooked by my fish monger and ask him to clean and crack them for me. With that much of the work done it is much more easy to handle. It will still be a lot of work to get the meat out, but I think it is totally worth it, especially when I look at the price of buying crabmeat on its own. But it does make this recipe longer to make, so it might be worth the cost to buy it already prepared, especially if you are already tight on time or have a complicated menu to make.
Flounder is a flat fish that lives in cold costal waters primarily in the Northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. According to Seafood Watch, an organization associated with the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, most flounders and soles are reaching endangered levels due to overfishing, but there are smart choices you can make. Pacific soles and Atlantic Summer flounder are both on the Better Choice lists. Try to avoid buying US Atlantic soles, flounders and halibut except for the Summer variety. To download your own copy of the Seafood Watch Guides (divided by US regions), click here. I keep a copy in my wallet and refer to it whenever I am buying seafood at my local market.
Like many of my favorites, this is a dish you can have on the table in less than an hour, with nearly half of that time available for you to work on the rest of dinner. It is perfect for a weeknight meal or an elegant party. If there are some who don’t care for crab or you want a simpler dish, feel free to leave the filling out. The fish will be just as delicious without it and you do not have to adjust the cooking time.
Enjoy this healthy and flavorful dish. Imagine sitting seaside in the town of Positano on the Amalfi coast, sipping a cool glass of wine and watching the sun set over the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is what dreams are made of … Buon Appetito!!
- For Filling
- 1-1/2 tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
- 1/4 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp prepared mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice from about 1/4 of a lemon
- 1 to 2 tsp flour
- 3/4 lb jumbo lump crabmeat or shrimp (pre-cooked)
- For Sauce
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup finely chopped fennel bulb (cut out core and discard first)
- 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 1 (14-1/2 oz) can diced tomatoes including juice
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 2 tbsp capers, rinsed and drained
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp dry white wine or dry vermouth
- For Flounder
- 1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs or panko
- 3 tbsp butter, well softened
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 (6-oz) pieces skinless flounder or sole fillet
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Prepare Filling: In a small bowl, combined the mayonnaise, Old Bay, onion powder, mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir until blended. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Add enough flour to hold the mixture together. Gently toss in the crab, trying not to break up the lumps any more than necessary. Set aside.
- Make Sauce: Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté onion and fennel, stirring, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté, stirring, 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and wine and simmer briskly until liquid is reduced by one third, about 5 minutes. Stir in capers, salt, and pepper, and then transfer to a 2-quart gratin dish or other wide shallow baking dish. Drizzle wine into sauce.
- Prepare Flounder: Stir together breadcrumbs, butter, salt and pepper with a fork until combined. Sprinkle flounder lightly with salt and pepper, top each piece with 1/4 filling mixture, then gently roll each fillet into a cylinder and arrange, seam side down, on top of sauce. Press 1/4 of breadcrumb mixture onto top of each roll and bake in the middle of the oven until fish is just cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.
- Serve immediately with steamed rice to help soak up the wonderful sauce.