Longtime Port Clyde fisherman Randy Cushman wants more Maine folks to love flounder as much as he does. Not only is it his favorite fish to eat, flounder in all the varieties that swim in the Gulf of Maine — American plaice, dab, grey sole, winter flounder and yellowtail flounder — is also in his blood. These flat, side-eyed fish have been Cushman’s bread and butter haul for over 40 years, as they were his father’s.

“I tell people flounder tastes like smelts when you catch them just before they swim upstream to spawn in the spring. Sweet and a little bit salty,” said Cushman, who brags that he’s convinced several people who claimed they hated fish to eat – and like – flounder.

Cushman’s issue with flounder these days is the price he can get for them. According to prices on the Portland Fish Exchange website, in 2016, small American plaice (also called dabs) would fetch, on average, $2.12 per pound while small grey sole was around $2.80 pound. In 2019, the prices had dropped to $1.54 and $1.66, respectively.

“There were some days (last) summer when fishermen would have made more money selling their catch for bait than they got paid for some of the best seafood in the world,” said Ben Martens, executive director of Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA).

As the New England fish marketplace has dwindled, prices have become highly variable, depending on what is being landed in other ports in the region. “Maine is the farthest from many of the processing facilities, meaning we are often the last place buyers turn to fill orders,” Martens said.

You can help turn this around and ensure that Maine fishermen get fair prices for their catch. How? Eat more undervalued (and sustainable) fish — flounder, redfish, monkfish, hake… — from Gulf of Maine waters.

Just now, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association has teamed up with Luke’s Lobster to make your job easy; they are hosting “What’s the Catch?” a series of dinners designed to highlight these underserved varieties and let eaters and fishermen meet and mingle at the working waterfront restaurant. Flounder will be featured at thisWednesday’s dinner, and hake is on the menu for April.

Using public dinners to raise awareness about sustainably caught seafood is a growing trend. The Gulf of Maine’s Research Institute’s Out of the Blue program has pushed partner restaurants in Portland to feature fish such as Atlantic mackerel, dogfish and whiting in a monthly rotation. Yarmouth-based One Fish Foundation hosts “Know Fish” dinners throughout southern Maine and coastal New Hampshire with a focus on Atlantic pollock, local oysters and an occasional — legally and locally — caught tuna. From March 16 to 21, as part of the national Slow Fish Conference being held at the University of New Hampshire, restaurants from Kittery to Exeter, New Hampshire, will be highlighting sustainably caught local seafood during Fish Food: A Sustainable Seafood Dine-Around.

At each of the “What’s the Catch?” dinners, Luke’s Lobster chef Zac Leeman serves a classic dish, “so diners have a common basis to build on,” he explained; a whole fish to drive home to diners that fish is a real creature that comes from sea, not merely a neat, white fillet; and an international dish, like fish curry.

Leeman comes from a long line of fishermen. His dad fishes for groundfish. His grandfather fished for swordfish and lobster. His great-grandfather was a lobsterman. “I have fished with my father. It is incredibly hard, dangerous work. And even though the product is great – fresh, clean-tasting – it can be undervalued,” Leeman said. “We’ve got to do what we can to make it worth their while to keep fishing.”

The recipes that Leeman and his team develop for the dinners are printed out for attendees. “The more that people cook these local fishes, the longer the fishermen can work to keep the supply coming,” he said. “That’s the whole point.”

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Flounder on Rye

This is an adaptable sandwich. I’ve made it here as a Rueben on Maine rye flour and yogurt flatbreads (base recipe is here, replace 30 percent of the white flour with rye flour) with 40 Acres red beet and cabbage kraut, a Russian-ish dressing that includes capers and a slice of Swiss cheese. Add and subtract as you wish.

Makes 1 sandwich

1 (5-6 ounce) flounder fillet

Salt

Lemon juice

Cornmeal

1 tablespoon butter

1 slice Swiss cheese

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1 teaspoon ketchup

1 teaspoon chopped capers

1 flatbread cut in half

½ cup sauerkraut, drained

Season flounder with salt and let sit 10 minutes. Rub lemon juice over both sides of the fillet and dredge both sides in cornmeal.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat and when the butter begins to sizzle, place the coated fillet into pan. Cook until the fillet is slightly browned and crispy, 4-5 minutes. Flip fish. Top with cheese. Turn off the heat and allow the fish to finish cooking in the residual heat while you assemble the other ingredients in the sandwich.

Dredge your flounder fish in cornmeal for the foundation of your Rueben. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Mix the mayonnaise, ketchup and capers in a small bowl. Spread the dressing on one half of the bread. Top with sauerkraut. Lay the cooked flounder on top and cover with other half of bread. Eat this sandwich while it’s hot.


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