Monday, September 28, 2009

John Dory versus Flounder

John Dory is a fish of the Eastern Atlantic, the Mediterranean Sea , and the Pacific Ocean. His scientific name, Zeus faber (Zeuse’s Blacksmith), places him at Olympus where the Gods of Ancient Greece once lived. His other name ‘St. Pierre’, or ‘Sanpierre’, also ties him in with the doorkeeper of the Paradise.

No wonder, then, that it is one of the most praised fish of Adriatic sea. If you want a perfect fish for poaching or boiling, it is the John Dory. This kosher fish has a flat body with a tall dorsal fin and a central black spot like a thumb print. It can be halachicly (credibly) identified and placed, without any delay, straight from the sea into the poaching pot for a classic Dalmatian leshada. Unfortunately, the fish does not live on this side of Atlantic. Filets of John Dory may be found on the market. Most imports comes from New Zealand. So, its trip from afar is nothing alike ‘from the sea to the pot” imperative for Dalmatian boiled fish.

I remember visiting my friend, a young physician who practices on a Dalmatian island where his family has been living for centuries. I joined him on a visit to one of his patients in a remote village. Our way led us along the curvy hip bones of the island coast. In one of the coves exclamated by a few red-tiled white stone houses and a pier for small fishing boats, my friend stopped to greet fishermen, long time family friends. They were delighted to see him and immediately offered to cook some freshly caught baitfish (gavuni). We couldn’t leave the needed patient waiting and had to excuse ourselves. However, the oldest fisherman insisted that we stop by on our way back.

We were back within the hour, just in time to see youngest fisherman tying his boat to the pier and bringing up a basket of fish. It seemed that the fishermen thought their original offer of bait fish was too humble for a doctor and they wanted to interest him in something better. Luckily, the young fishermen who went to pull out his net, caught a John Dory; a nice looking specimen of about three pounds. While it was boiled in a rush (so as to not make the doctor wait), we feasted on the simmered baitfish seasoned with nothing but a splash of olive oil and freshly crushed black pepper. Nothing could make for a better lunch than that. Nothing but a boiled John Dory. The feast followed the feast. The baitfish and John Dory were cooked the same way. Yet, their flavors were distinctive. Since we ate them with the heads and bones, Gavuni had a bold and pleasantly bitterish taste. In contrast, John Dory’s flesh had a delicate and sweet taste, with the subtlest hint of ocean. They complimented one another beautifully.
Yesterday, my local fishmonger brought in a fresh flounder caught off the North Carolina coast, a decent replacement for the unavailable Zeuse’s Blacksmit.

The moniker ‘flounder’ is associated with many species. Those caught of the NC coast are close cousins to the European flounder, one that lives in the Adriatic and is known by the name “Iverak”. Like the John Dory, it is a flat fish, but because it dwells on the bottom, it is flat horizontally and has both eyes on its upper side. Its scales, tinny but visible, can easily be removed without damaging the skin. Even better, it is halachicly kosher and can be cleaned easily at home. The price is affordable and the yield is much better then the 30-40% of John Dory.

I simmered my flounder in a large shallow pan with a few cloves of garlic, a bunch of fresh parsley, some dry laurel leaf, a few pepper corns and few drops of olive oil. Simplicity is Dalmatian cooking at its best, so I hope these instructions and the list of ingredients do not overwhelm you. Find your halachicly fishmonger, buy flounder, and proceed as above. Cook it yourself and you will not need my testimonial praises to the flounder cooked in the Dalmatian way. The skin will peel off easily once cooked and inviting white flesh will appear beneath. Make sure you have nice crusty bread to dip into the soup and crisp white wine to refresh your taste buds between the bites.

My friend from Dalmatia could not help but send me a photo of four small John Dory, basting "lesho" in a shallow pot that he was ready to share for lunch with his friends.

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