How to distinguish a flounder from a fluke? Both are bottom-feeding flat fish. Both have two eyes on the upper side of their flat and thin body. But their flavor and texture are different.
On one recent early morning at the Blue Moon fish monger at the Tribeca Framers’ Market in NYC a lady customer and a young sales person were in conversation about the difference of these two bottom-feeding fish. The lady insisted that they are the same fish; the sales person repeated that they are different fish. Because of their intense and heated chat, I did not join the conversation. But after she left, I snatched the topic of the morning’s heated conversation – a beautiful 5-pound fluke and a small flounder – and brought them back to my kitchen.
“Hidari hirame; migi karei”; this is what my mother taught me about how to distinguish between these flat fish based on their appearance. It literally means that when you place these two fish with their eyes looking up and with their belly side facing you, the head of the fluke, hirame (also called “summer flounder” in America) is on the left side, and the head of the flounder, karei (also called a “winter flounder” in America) is on the right side. Summer and winter name added to the flounder is confusing. July through February is the season of enjoying fluke. When it comes to karei, the best tasty season is February and March. There is another way to tell the difference. Karei (flounder) has brown skin color and has very small head and mouth. Hirame (fluke) has a large toothy mouth.
Karei is a watery fish, so is suited for salt-drying and grilling, or it may be immersed in flavored broth. Karei is the basis one of the most favorite nizakana (simmered fish dish) in Japan.
Hirame’s (fluke) season comes in autumn through winter. Cold water firms up the muscle meat of the fish and fish develops slight but pleasant oiliness. The most popular hirame dish is usuzukuri. In this dish sashimi quality fish is sliced paper thin and is served with ponzu sauce along with condiments. Condiments may be thinly sliced asatsuki green onion (chive-like green onion) and grated daikon radish mixed with red chile pepper powder. Because of the addition of the red chile pepper powder, the grated daikon acquires a pretty red color. This reminds us of momiji (the colorful red maple leaves of late autumn) and is given the name momiji-oroshi (grated daikon in red maple color). Seasonal inspiration is always present in the Japanese kitchen.
The next post is a recipe for simmered Karei (flounder). I hope you will enjoy this new way of preparing fish.