Rhode Island baked flounder is a top five Quinn family favorite. It may actually be Number One. And most of it has come to us from just off the coast of Rhode Island, from Pt. Judith to Watch Hill.
Summer flounder (aka fluke) is a popular and not too expensive fish in Rhode Island. The fillets have a soft, delicate, sweet flesh that cooks easily and quickly in a little melted butter topped with cracker crumbs, and are best with simple sides of boiled Rhode Island potatoes and green peas. My mother, Loie, made “the Fish” (as my dad liked to proclaim it) for family dinner at least once a week in summertime (and not just because it was Friday). Loie would put in a 4-pound phone order (for 6 of us) with Rathbone’s Fish Market in Charlestown and pick it up on our way home from Quonochontaug Beach. She started us on it when we were little so we didn’t have a chance to develop the seafood phobia many landlocked kids do. Lucky us.
One of the things that made baked flounder among Mom’s favorite for family dinner was how quickly she could get it prepped (about 5 minutes) and cooked (exactly 5 minutes), especially in a cramped “antique” kitchen on a hot night, long before air conditioning. Loie was a nervous wreck whenever she had to light the tiny, smelly propane oven with wooden kitchen matches and I think she was relieved when I became a Boy Scout and confidently assumed that duty for her. In truth, that little oven, cranked all the way up, was all she needed to get the fish cooked and on the table.
The key to enjoying hot-from-the-oven baked flounder is to cook it one sheet pan at a time; don’t bother cooking it all at once or it’ll cool off waiting to be served and you can’t put it back in the hot oven to dry out. As soon as one pan comes out, another goes in. By the time the next pan is ready everyone will be ready for another little fillet or two. Be sure to include some crisped buttery cracker crumbs scraped from the pan with each fillet.
The recipe calls for just three ingredients–flounder, saltines, and butter. Each one vitally important to a whole greater than the sum of the parts. And you won’t want any highly flavored side dish. Stick to the basics. Lemon on the table, as you like.
Quinn Family Flounder
Flounder fillets–about 3 fillets per serving
Saltine crackers, crushed–1 sleeve will be plenty for a few pounds of fish. Keep the leftovers in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator
Melted butter–About 1 stick per 1.5 pounds fillets or 1 or 2 baking sheets
Heat the oven to 500 F.
Lightly coat a baking sheet with some of the melted butter.
Arrange fish fillets on the baking sheet close together, but without touching.
Sprinkle the fish with saltine crumbs.
Drizzle with butter.
Bake 5 minutes for thin fillets, the cracker crumbs should turn golden brown.
Repeat with another tray when everyone is ready for seconds.
Estimate about 1/3 pound to 1/2 pound per person, about 7 small fillets per pound.