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story.lead_photo.caption Flounder With Brown Butter, Lemon and Tarragon Photo by Karsten Moran (The New York Times)

When you head to the fish market, you may find small thin filets of flounder, fluke, sole or plaice, or thick halibut filets. As different as they may be in size, they are all related, part of the flatfish family — and delicate, mild and sweet tasting, with tender white flesh.

They are aptly named, for they are flat. While other species of fish are symmetrical, with eyes on both sides of the head, and upright swimmers, flatfish have eyes on just one side, and swim sideways.

They are also two-toned, with speckled and dark tops and pale bottoms, which help them blend in with their surroundings and keep predators from seeing them easily. They mostly spend their lives lying flat on the ocean floor, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey.

So how to choose? It can be confusing. The thing to know is that flatfish filets are relatively interchangeable when it comes to preparing them, each one quick and easy to cook on the stovetop in a large skillet.

I usually opt for large, six- to eight-ounce flounder filets, if they are available, or fluke (also known as summer flounder, but available year-round, go figure).

Gallery: Flounder With Brown Butter, Lemon and Tarragon

I take a classic approach, dusting the fish filets lightly with seasoned flour, and browning them lightly on both sides in a little olive oil — about two minutes per side.

Then I transfer them to a warm platter while I make a quick butter sauce in the same pan. It is a simple matter of tossing a few chunks of cold butter into the hot skillet, letting it sizzle and begin to get brown and foamy, but not too brown (the flavor I'm going for is toasty and nutty, not burned).

A splash of lemon juice stops the browning and contributes acidity. A fistful of chopped parsley and a little chopped tarragon to finish is nice, though parsley alone will do. The sauce takes less than a minute, really, before it is spooned over the fish.

This is the kind of fast food that is elegant enough for company but easy enough for weeknight fare.

Flounder With Brown Butter, Lemon and Tarragon

1 cup all-purpose flour

Salt and ground black pepper

Pinch of ground red pepper (cayenne)

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 (6-ounce) flounder filets

3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus wedges for garnish

2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley

1 teaspoon roughly chopped tarragon, plus are few tarragon leaves for garnish

In a shallow bowl or pie plate, combine flour with a generous amount of salt and pepper and a pinch of cayenne.

Place a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and tilt pan to coat bottom.

Season the fish filets lightly with salt and pepper and then dip each filet quickly into flour mixture, shaking off excess flour.

Lay filets in skillet in a single layer. Cook for about 2 minutes per side or until golden. Transfer cooked fish to a warm platter.

Leave the heat at medium-high and add cold butter to the skillet. Let butter sizzle until foamy and brown, but do not let it burn. Add lemon juice, parsley and chopped tarragon and swirl to incorporate.

Spoon butter sauce over fish. Garnish with a few tarragon leaves and serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information: Each serving contains approximately 335 calories, 25 g protein, 22 g fat, 12 g carbohydrate, 107 mg cholesterol, 740 mg sodium and no fiber.

David Tanis is a cookbook author and former head chef at Chez Panisse.

Food on 07/10/2019

Print Headline: Delicate, simple treatment enhances flatfish filets

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