At first glance, turbot may seem like just another flatfish.
Compared to its popular cousins, flounder and halibut, it remains a generally elusive species for many in this part of the world. However, for connoisseurs, there is no doubt that turbot is one of the best seafood products.
It’s not the appearance of the fish that catches the eye of those who speak lyrically about it – there really isn’t anything “beautiful” about an oval flatfish with brown/greyish, spotted skin, and both eyes to one side. As cliché as it sounds, the inner beauty of turbot is what captivates diners. It’s the pearly, textured flesh, the rich flavor it brings, and the sheer juiciness of the meat that has earned it its nickname, the King of the Sea.
The fish is not what you will find on many tables at home. After all, most supermarkets don’t stock it, and even when you can find them online at seafood grocers like Evergreen Seafood, the prices are high: think 73 Singapore dollars for a 0.7 to 0.8 kg cleaned and emptied. Frozen options at Fisk can cost up to S$132 for a 3kg turbot.
If your jaw dropped on prices, you’re not alone. In simple economics, when demand exceeds supply, prices tend to rise, but if the average consumer is not even exposed to fish when doing their regular supermarket shopping, what exactly does turbot such an expensive purchase?
“The world supply of wild turbot is very limited – around 5,000 tonnes per year. A good farmed turbot of excellent quality is just as expensive”, explains Andrea de Paola, Griglia’s partner chef.
Chef Remy Lefebvre, Chef/Partner at Casa Restaurant by Remy Lefebvre echoes the same sentiments: “Wild turbot is a prized ingredient around the world, and there are fewer and fewer of them to catch.
It’s hard to justify trying flatfish at home, given the inexperience of most and the price that comes with it. Luckily, there are restaurants in town to fall back on for a taste of the prized meat.
At Casa de Rémy Lefebvre, for example, the turbot undergoes an aging process before being brushed shio koji and sent to a Mibrasa parrilla grill. By aging fish, the meat stays juicy under its crispy skin after cooking, giving it a smooth, elegant taste.
The traditional method of grilling is also present at Griglia, a contemporary Italian steakhouse which opened in September this year. Here, a fresh turbot is simply seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and coarse salt, then cooked at the right temperature over hot coals. The experience of fire is important here: the direct flames burn the skin before the flesh is cooked. After a final cooking to lock in moisture, the whole fish is presented with plates of Amalfi lemon citronette, sea salt, roasted garlic cream and lightly seasoned fresh lettuce on the side for guests can form their own desired chords.
While turbot is traditionally grilled over a wood fire, restaurants like La Dame de Pic at the Raffles Hotel serve the dish a little differently on their recently revamped autumn menu.
Instead of grilling the precious fish, it’s baked a la meunière, which means the fish is dusted lightly with flour, before being sent to a hot skillet for a quick passage. “It’s to give the turbot a nice nutty flavor,” says chef de cuisine at La Dame de Pic, Raffles Singapore, Francesco Di Marzio. “Chef Anne-Sophie Pic and I really like this method of cooking, which is a pillar of French gastronomy. It is rare for fish to be cooked this way in Singapore.
The result? A fish which is sent to the table with its iridescent shiny flesh, completed by a dashibased on a sauce emulsified with a touch of butter and many aromatic herbs, including geranium, sage and tarragon.
At Salted and Hung, however, chef Drew Nocente presents a multi-part course resolutely dedicated to turbot, with the aim of showcasing his creativity with a single ingredient.
Take the Turbot Tea Broth for example. The bones are dried for two weeks and aged with koji for another two weeks in preparation for his role as dashi broth, as well as local herbs and flowers that give an aromatic flavor to the dashi tea. Think deep, robust flavors that almost taste like chicken essence – you know, the famous green bottle – in every sip, only this time it’s fresh and with only the good stuff.
It’s not just the bones that get a second breath of life. And the fish trimmings? Some are used with the fins to create a collagen broth used to make fish crackers, while others are made into a three-month-old fermented fish sauce (garum) which is used to season vegetables that lie near a dish of aged turbot fillet.
I think the garum was the most interesting to do. Taking the stomach and the toppings, seasoning them and letting nature take its course – it was a really interesting process. We were surprised by the final product, a super intense yet balanced sauce.
Chef/Owner Drew Nocente, Salted & Hung
The reasoning behind making multiple dishes with turbot goes beyond the flexibility of its culinary chops. “This stems from our ‘Zero Food Waste Dining’ philosophy – maximizing the value of every product in its entirety. Nothing is left to waste; every undervalued part is pushed to its maximum potential with creativity expressed to bring layers of flavors and textures through our tasting menus.The methods and approach we use in the kitchen to achieve this is ‘cooking with minimal waste’.
Casa Restaurant by Remy Lefebvre
30 Victoria St, #01-20, Singapore 187996
37 Craig Rd, #01-01, Singapore 089675
The Lady of Pic
1 Beach Rd, Singapore 189673
Salted and suspended
12 Purvis St, Singapore 188591