Flatfish: Soles, Turbot, Halibuts, Flounders

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Flatfish are bottom-dwelling fish whose bodies have been compressed from the sides into a bottom-hugging shape. Most flatfish are relatively sedentary, and therefore are only modestly endowed with the enzyme systems that generate energy for the fish and flavor for us. Their mild flesh generally keeps well for several days after harvest.
The most prized flatfish is Dover or English sole, the principal member of a family found mainly in European waters (lesser U.S. flatfish are often misleadingly called sole). It has a fine-textured, succulent flesh said to be best two or three days after harvest, a trait that makes it an ideal fish for air-shipping to distant markets. The other eminent flatfish, the turbot, is a more active hunter. It can be double the size of the sole, with a firmer flesh that is said to be sweetest in a freshly killed fish. Thanks to their ability to absorb some oxygen through the skin, small turbot are farmed in Europe and shipped live in cold, moist containers to restaurants worldwide.