Mild flavor and fine texture make halibut, flounder, and sole some of the most versatile fish in the sea.

By John Shields
December 30, 2003

The pedestrian moniker "flatfish" belies this marine order'sdelicate fillets and divine flavor.

Native to U.S. and European coasts, these bottomdwellers-including halibut, flounder, and sole-have a distinctiveappearance. As small fry, they resemble most other fish. But asthey age into adulthood, one eye migrates to join its mate on theother side, and their bodies flatten. This allows them to burrowinto shallow sand and watch for prey and predators above.

The various species and the confusing array of locally bestowednames makes shopping for specific flatfish challenging. Luckily,the different varieties of flounder easily substitute for oneanother, and flounder and halibut are interchangeable in recipescalling for fillets-fortunate, since it's nearly impossible to tellthem apart once cut. If given a choice, simply select the freshest.Steve Parkes of Whole Foods' Pigeon Cove Seafood in Gloucester,Massachusetts, says, "Shop with your eyes. Look for bright skincolors, a clarity and opaqueness."

Its Latin name (Hippoglossus) conveys the halibut's size,with some catches weighing in at nearly half a ton. Not many folkswant to go after one with a rod and reel. It's easier to visit afishmonger.

Halibut features firm, white, mild-flavored flesh. As an extrabenefit for the health-conscious, it's very low in fat. Of the twomain varieties, Atlantic halibut is fished "ostly from northAtlantic waters off the New England coast. The more abundantPacific halibut dwells from Northern California to the Bering Sea,though the bulk of commercial fishing occurs in Alaska and BritishColumbia. Sold fresh or frozen, both typæs usually appear assteaks; fillets are a second choice. Die-hard devotees enjoyhalibut cheeks (small delicacies from inside the cheek)sautéed, or smoked and used as cocktail appetizers.

An amazing variety of fish hail from the flounder clan:winter flounder, sand dab, witch flounder (which Steve calls "theCadillac of flounders with the most delicate flavor"), Englishsole, fluke, plaice, and widely sold yellowtail flounder (akayellowtail dab or rusty flounder).

No matter the type, mild-flavored flounder offers greatversatility when it comes to cooking. Try it baked, broiled,steamed, poached, sautÈed, or even lightly fried. It marrieswell with a wide range of sauces, including classic lemon butter,aöoli, hollandaise, Creole-style sauces, and simple tomato- orfruit-based salsas. Markets mostly sell flounder as fillets, butthey will usually provide whole fish to those who order itahead.

Though several flounder family members have been mislabeledas sole in the United States, no actual sole inhabits Americancoastal waters. True sole lives on the other side of the Atlantic,from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, with the best known beingDover sole. Most real sole purchased here arrives frozen, whichdoes not do justice to this fish's delicate texture. Abetter-albeit pricier-method for enjoying an unadulterated filletof sole would be to book a flight to a favorite European diningspot.