It does seem kind of fussy to insist on cooking fish when our county is chock-a-block with fish camps that have been preparing seafood for generations.
And also, it stinks up the house.
But, I don’t always want my fish coated and fried. Especially when I can get my hands on fresh flounder or mountain trout.
It’s a tad easier to do these days. With some new fishmonger joints opening in the metro area, you can actually find some specimens that were gorging themselves in North or South Carolina waters just a day or so ago.
And when we find fresh fish, we like to let it tell its own story, without rich stuffings and sauces. I leave that to fancy dinners eaten out on special occasions.
One of the finest fish dinners we ever had actually started with us catching flounder in the sound off Ocracoke. They quickly went into a cooler and my brother-in-law, the charter captain, expertly filleted them the minute we hit the dock. He even had his own egret friend, Ernie, who waited for his skiff to pull in every evening. All the guts went down Ernie’s gullet. No mess. No fuss.
The flounder got some salt and pepper, and spent a brief time on the grill. With a squirt of lemon, it was the perfect taste of the ocean.
Since we live a little farther away from the water and the fish we buy is a little more mature, I use a trick borrowed from my Florida-raised friend, Alicia. Soak fish fillets for about five minutes in milk, then rinse and pat dry. The milk takes away fishy odors and helps firm up the flesh.
Trout and pecans are a classic for a reason, as are flounder and almonds. The browned nuts offer a perfect compliment to the bland but bright flavor of the fish. Some people like to coat the fish in a flour and ground nut mixture. I prefer to cook them separately and let them meet briefly in the pan before going on the dinner plate.
Adding the acidity and grassiness of parsley to the nut mixture offers the third leg of the perfect triangle.
1/2 cup whole raw almonds
1/4 cup parsley sprigs
zest and juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. butter
2 flounder fillets, skin on
For the nut coating: Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Add parsley and pulse until minced. In a small saute pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the almond/parsley mixture and cook and stir until almonds turn golden brown. Remove from heat and add zest, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
Melt the tablespoon of butter in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the flounder, skin side up, and cook five minutes. Flip the fish, top with nut/parsley mixture and cook an additional two minutes. Serve immediately.
(For trout, substitute raw pecans for the almonds.)