Light, flaky, and delicately sweet, sole is the star of many menus across the West Coast. Top restaurants invariably feature some variety of flatfish on their menus. Flounder and sole are flatfish species that belong to several families. For marketing purposes, the common names of sole and flounder are used interchangeably, but strictly speaking, they are part of two different families.
In this blog, we will discuss members of the Bothidae, Pleuronectidae, and Solidaeorders species (otherwise known as flounder, soles, dabs, and fluke). Specifically, I will distinguish the culinary and sustainability differences among Petrale, Sanddabs, and European/Pacific Dover sole. Although having some species similarities these fish range dramatically in popularity. When the demand for certain fish peaks, the population of that species is at risk of depletion. To prevent the depletion of popular fish Royal Hawaiian Seafood offers a simple yet delicious solution – Fishmeat. The premise of Fishmeat is mixing ground-up underutilized fish as the base with the trimmings of target species such as shrimp, halibut, and rockfish to flavor the mixture. Fishmeat is perfect for any ground meat application such as fish dogs, burgers, bits, and dumplings. This is a delicious, nutritious, and affordable product that uses undervalued and underutilized fish.
Petrale is our most popular sole fish. Although commonly referred to as a sole, Petrale is not a true sole (part of the Solidaeorder) as it is a right-eyed flounder which is from the Pleuronectidae species. The majority of petrale is caught using bottom trawls as the fish are bottom dwellers. The Monterey Seafood Watch Program rates trawl caught petrale as a ‘Good Alternative’. They find that due to the popularity of the fish, it is possible that overfishing is occurring.
Petrale is one of our top-selling fish here at Royal Hawaiian. Restaurant goers and foodies alike love petrale for its sweet flavor and flaky texture and it cooks within a matter of minutes due to its petite size. It is often seen on menus as Petrale Sole Meuniere where it is pan-fried with a medley of capers and lemon.
Sanddabs (Citharichthys sordidus)
Sand dabs are petite flounders that are found on the Pacific Coast. Similar to Petrale, they are part of the Pleuronectidae order and caught using bottom trawls. Sanddabs are not quite as popular as petrale here at RHS but there are a couple of restaurants that order sanddabs on a regular basis. The Monterey Seafood Watch Program rate sand dabs caught using bottom trawls as the Best Choice. These tiny fish are as cute as they sound. They are only about 6-8 inches long and have a delicious fine and moist flesh accompanied with a mildly sweet and slightly nutty flavor.
European (soleasolea)& Pacific Dover Sole (microstomuspacificus)
Our second most popular sole is our Dover sole. We carry both European Dover and Pacific Dover Sole. European Dover sole (Solea Solea) is a true sole, in that grows in the shallow waters of the Atlantic Ocean and can also be caught in the Mediterranean up to the North Sea. According to the Journal of Sea Research, Dover sole caught in the Mediterranean landings faces a situation of growth overfishing which will eventually lead to wild stock depletion. To help subsidize the population, our European Dover is farmed using outdoor recirculation tanks with wastewater treatment. This method of aquaculture received a ‘Best Choice’ rating by the Monterey Seafood Watch Program, but they also point out that it is likely the wild population is overfished.
Not to be confused with European Dover Sole, Pacific Dover Sole (Microstomus pacificus), is a different fish caught along the West Coast. This fish was rated a ‘Best Choice’ by the Monterey Seafood Watch Program as the stock is healthy and management is effective. Pacific Dover is a non-target species meaning that fisher people only catch is it as a bycatch product often when they are fishing for target fish.
Most of the Dovers you see in restaurants are European sole as chefs prefer the milder flavor and firmer texture. Pacific Dover is often an overlooked delicacy as people are hesitant about its softer texture and thinner fillets. Both European and Pacific Dover Sole inhabit a tasty mild, yet sweet flavor. We at RHS believe that Pacific Dover Sole is an underutilized species and with the right preparation, the fish could be as popular as its European relative.
Underutilized fish and Fishmeat
The most popular and sought out species of sole is petrale, as all other sole fish are mostly caught as a bycatch of petrale. While the petrale population is currently healthy, our strong appetite for the fish will likely deplete the population in the future. Petrale is not the only target fish species. Every fishery has certain fish species that are target species and other fish that are undervalued and underutilized. We at Royal Hawaiian Seafood believe that there is a use for every fish species, including non-target species such as Dover sole and Arrowtooth flounder. By finding unique and delicious uses for these fish we are inevitably creating healthier oceans by maximizing the use of species whose populations are rich. To prevent this from happening we need to diversify our appetite. One way to do this is by creating a product using the undervalued and underutilized fish that every fishery has.
After years of development, Royal Hawaiian Seafood is delighted to announce our new and improved product: Fishmeat! Our Fishmeat fulfills a number of issues surrounding overfishing in that it helps build sustainable fisheries for the future whilst it also supports responsible producers as well as maximizing the return on resources and assets, and finally, it provides effective education for all ages and stakeholders. Our goal is to produce a new food category of delicious, nutritious, and affordable products. By collaborating with top chefs to develop Fishmeat’s recipe, this unique product will satisfy the taste of people of all ages and backgrounds. Similar to other ground meat products, Fishmeat is a versatile product that can be molded and shaped into different forms making its usability endless. I had the privilege of making and testing Fishmeat and let me tell you, don’t knock it until you try it. When paired with aioli or sweet chili sauce, Fishmeat can be compared to the delicious and nostalgic taste of chicken nuggets but infinitely healthier and more sustainable!