Nostalgia Alert! Flounder stuffed with Crabmeat
When I was a kid, we went out once or twice a summer with my grandparents. Usually to Captain Tobey’s Chowder House or Cy’s Green Coffee Pot, two Nantucket fixtures. Both had early bird specials and featured local dishes (think: Clam Chowder, Shrimp Scampi, Littlenecks on the Half Shell, Brown Bread (baked in a coffee can), and Indian Pudding-a story in itself for another day). We always ordered one precious Shirley Temple, which was HUGE, as we were basically never allowed processed food or shitty, sugary, chemically drinks, like soda. My favorite food to order was any seafood with stuffing. Shrimp and flounder were the two most popular-super savory and usually a little greasy and over-cooked, but somehow they hit the sweet spot for me. Salty, starchy, and filling, I would seriously about this treat all summer.
Those nights out were pretty rare and unusual, but I think what was more unusual is the way we ate at home with my grandparents during the summer. Looking back now, I know my grandmother’s take on food was out of the ordinary. The way she revered vegetables, growing them organically and making them the center attraction on a plate in the early 1970’s; her love of a great single piece of cheese; the maniacal cutting of recipes from the NYT food section each week; the excitement she shared when her first tomatoes ripened; the smells and sounds of coffee being ground and french-pressed every morning; I could keep writing for days...
I guess my point is that those couple of nights out had a glamour and appeal because they were foreign and rare. But the grounded, real and important eating in my life, the eating that has stuck with and inspired me the most, all happened right at home at her kitchen table.
We never did eat any “fancy” stuffed seafood at home, but last summer while eating a beautiful meal at Nantucket's beloved Ventuno Restaurant, the chef sent me and my husband a dish from the kitchen. A gorgeous piece of fresh flounder, stuffed with crabmeat and topped with roasted red pepper crema and fresh herbs. A total throwback and also a revelation! I immediately went to work figuring out the technique and cooking it for my client. It has become part of my repertoire now, easy and quick to prep and finished in a hot oven in 10-20 minutes. And it still totally hits that perfect savory spot, all these years later.
Crabmeat Stuffed Flounder with Red Pepper Crema
(Thank you for the inspiration, Ventuno!)
Makes 4 Stuffed Filets (two hungry people for dinner or four for lunch with salad and some good bread)
1/4 cup of very finely diced onion, scallion, or leek
1/4 cup of very finely diced bell pepper (any color)
1/4 cup of very finely diced celery
1 tablespoon of butter
1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme
1/4 cup of dry white wine
2 tablespoons of minced chives
1 tablespoon of minced parsley
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
8 ounces of the best crabmeat you can afford (I like this brand)
1/3 cup of GF or regular panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of Mayonnaise
a generous pinch of salt and grinding of black pepper
4 filets of flounder, skin off (around 1/2 to 3/4 lb)
1 tablespoon of EVOO
1 large roasted red pepper (DIY or high quality from a jar)
1 small garlic clove, smashed with a little kosher salt
1/2 cup of EVOO
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
salt and pepper
Stuff the fish!
Oven to 400 degrees. Line a small baking tray with foil and grease it with some kind of oil or cooking spray.
Sauté the first three ingredients in butter over a medium low heat in a frying pan until they are soft-around 3-4 minutes. Add the thyme, stir, crank the heat to high and pour in the wine. The moment the liquid is evaporated, remove from the heat and stir in the chives, parsley and Worcestershire. In a large bowl, gently mix the crabmeat with the sautéed ingredients and panko. Beat the egg, mustard, mayo, salt and pepper and fold into the crabmeat mixture, trying not to break up the crabmeat too much. Gentle hands! (I actually use my hands to do this, as you may find a stray bit of cartilage and it really keeps from over-mixing).
Lay the filet flat with the skinned side up. Divide the filling and place a quarter of it on the bottom edge of each fish and carefully roll it up, not too tightly. Place on your prepared tray and drizzle with a bit of EVOO. Bake in the oven for around 15-20 minutes, until the stuffing feels firm and a little springy when you poke it. The fish will cook faster than the stuffing, but it will stay moist (and you will cover it with delicious sauce!).
Make the crema!
Sorry, but you need some sort of blender or food processor to do this. Puree the pepper with the garlic and slowly drizzle the oil in until the whole mess is emulsified. Add the vinegar and then taste for salt and pepper. Spoon over the fish to serve. Keep it super classy and chiffonade fresh basil to sprinkle on top.