Flounders are a species of flatfish, with both eyes on the same side of the head, one or the other migrating around the head during development. Righteye flounders are so called because they have both eyes on the right side and lie on the sea bottom on their left side. (There are also lefteye flounders, but these are a different family, Paralichthyides). Flounders are found on the bottoms of oceans around the world and are, together with other flatfish, popular as food fishes. Most flounders are between 40-50 cm in length.
Righteye flounders are caught in large quantities in seas off Chiba, Ibaraki, Tottori, Shimane and Oita Prefectures. There are several varieties: ma-garei (littlemouth flounder; the most common among the 11 species found in Japan, taken on the Hokkaido and Japan Sea coast), mako-garei (marbled flounder; also very common, taken from southern Hokkaido to southern Japan), ishi-garei (stone flounder; found in seas around Japan, can get as long as 70 cm), meita-garei (ridged-eye flounder; found in seas south of Hokkaido, has a ridge between the eyes) and baba-garei (slime flounder; found in seas near central Japan and farther north).
Karei resemble hirame, another type of flatfish - the best way to tell them apart is not so much that hirame have the eyes on the left side (as some flounders also do), but that flounders usually have a very small mouth.
Flounders are available almost around the year - the season for most of them is from autumn to winter, but the mako-garei is in season from May to July. When mako-garei is caught in the Bay of Beppu in Oita, it is called "shiroshita-garei," "the flounder beneath the castle," as it is rumored to feed in the fresh waters beneath Hiji Castle. This is an especially tasty variety that is also eminently suitable as a sushi topping.
Righteye flounder is often prepared as follows:
- kara-age, dusted in flour and deep-fried (the bones of the fish are also eaten here)
- nitsuke, simmered in soy sauce
- shio-yaki, dusted with salt and fried, as in the photo below
- sashimi and sushi topping if the fish is fresh enough - the mako-garei, which is in season during the summer is best, as it has translucent meat and a delicate sweetness. A prime sushi ingredient is also the engawa, the sinew along the flounder's fin, which has a tough texture but also a fatty portion and which contains much collagen.
- konbujime, a sort of marination where the fish is wrapped in kelp (konbu), which adds a subtle depth of flavor.
- à la meunière, as sole meunière, dredged in milk and flour, fried in butter and served with the resulting brown butter sauce and lemon.
[Karei no shioyaki]