The turbot is a large flatfish which is prized for its firm white flesh and subtle, refined flavour. Not a cheap option, but when cooked with a few carefully selected ingredients it makes a very fine meal indeed. For easy elegance and purity of flavour, some of the dishes in the recipes listed are hard to beat.
Turbot has been held in high regard in Europe for at least two thousand years. By the eighteenth century they were being sold in Billingsgate Market, London. During much of the nineteenth century, the price they fetched at market could vary from week to week by a factor of a hundred due to the large variablility in the quantity landed by fisherman.
The turbot - Psetta maxima - is a flatfish found in the Mediterranean, the Baltic Sea and along northern European coasts to the Arctic circle. It is scaleless and its body is studded with numerous bony knobs, or tubercles. It can change colour from sandy brown to grey to match the sea bed and it feeds on other bottom-dwelling fishes and crustaceans.
Small turbot will yield unsatisfyingly thin fillets (and are to be avoided from a marine conservation standpoint) whilst very large turbot often have slightly tough, thready flesh. Middling-sized turbot, roughly 2½ to 3½ kg, are the most desirable. Look for bright, unsunken eyes and smell for seawater freshness.
Use the Good Fish Guide to make better informed choices when buying seafood.
In the fridge for up to 24 hours, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Steaming, poaching, shallow-frying, baking and grilling are all suitable cooking methods for turbot fillets. If grilling, brush with butter and leave the skin on to help retain moistness. To bake, season the fish and wrap in foil parcels with some fresh herbs, and a little white wine and/or stock. When cooking good fresh turbot, elaborate flavourings or accompaniments are wholly unnecessary and usually ill-advised.
The fins and bones make an excellent fish stock.
From The Book of Household Management (Isabella Beeton):
An amusing anecdote is related, by Miss Edgeworth, of a bishop, who, descending to his kitchen to superintend the dressing of a turbot, and discovering that his cook had stupidly cut off the fins, immediately commenced sewing them on again with his own episcopal fingers. This dignitary knew the value of a turbot’s gelatinous appendages.