The Doris Day of Fish

Gray sole pleases everyone—no matter how finicky.



They’re lying there right now, subtle mounds of tantalizing treasure nestled in the North Atlantic sand. No, not galleon booty, culinary booty—the coveted, bottom-dwelling flounder, gray sole.

Smaller and milder than its turbot and halibut flatfish brethren, gray sole is the Doris Day of fish: sweet, accessible, uncomplicated, and pure (see ecologic merits below). Your friend who doesn’t like fish will eat it, your spouse who is on a diet will eat it, your fussy kid will eat it. All manner of flavorings meld with its lean, delicate meat, and its thin fillets cook up in minutes, balm for the very rushed or very lazy.

If gray sole presents any challenge, it’s choosing a preparation. Pan-sautéed? Deep-fried? Oven-baked? Broiled? How about stuffed and rolled? You can deliberate or, better yet, take a ride over to Croton-on-Hudson’s seafood bastion Ocean House Oyster Bar & Grill (49 N Riverside Ave, 914-271-0702) and let Chef Brian Galvin decide for you. “I try to keep it simple,” he states, so your fillet might be scented with lemon-caper brown butter or bathed in Dijon mustard and white wine. Gray sole is versatile, yes, but there are other merits as well. “It’s a sustainable species,” Galvin says. “There aren’t the problems often found with industrial farm-raised fish, and it’s not overfished like other species.” Tuna and swordfish might steal the limelight, but they’re also high in mercury. Gray sole, he notes, is not.

Another thing gray sole is not is fluke. That’s a summer flounder, with teeth and eyes on the left side of its flat head. Gray sole is a winter flounder, toothless and right-side-eyed, which spawns in coastal waters during these colder months. That might settle the fluke/flounder dilemma, but there’s still the matter of preparation.

Gray Sole with Lemon-Caper Brown Butter
Courtesy of Brian Galvin, Ocean House Oyster Bar & Grill
(Serves 4)

4 gray sole fillets (6-8 oz each)
Salt and pepper
2 cups flour for dredging
⅓ cup canola oil
¼ lb unsalted butter, cubed
1 Tbsp minced shallots
⅓ cup capers, rinsed and drained
¼ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp chopped parsley

Sprinkle both sides of fillets with salt and pepper. Dredge fillets in flour, shake off excess. Over medium flame, heat oil in large sauté pan. Add fillets and cook 1 to 2 minutes on each side, turning carefully. Remove fillets from pan onto platter and keep warm. Pour off oil from pan and add butter. When melted, add shallots and capers. Stir and cook until butter starts to brown. Stir in lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in parsley, then quickly pour sauce over fish. Serve immediately.