Japanese Seasonal Fish: Hirame/Olive Flounder, Bastard Halibut, Tonguefish, Sole
“Hirame” could be translated in many ways depending of your country of origin: Flat Fish, Sole, Ｔurbot (although the latter should define “karei”) and what else. There are many varieties, wild or humanーfed. In Japanese, the names are numerous: Hirame, Shitabirame, Ooguchikarei, Oyanirami, etc.
Actually they can be divided into two main groups:
1)The Olive flounder or Bastard halibut (Paralichthys olivaceus; Japanese: ヒラメ/平目) is a species of large-tooth flounder native to the north-western Pacific Ocean.
It is often referred to as the Japanese flatfish or Korea(n) flatfish (광어) when mentioned in the context of those countries.
It is the most common flatfish species raised in aquaculture in Korea. They are raised in Japan and China as well.
2) Tonguefishes (shitabirame/舌平目in Japanese) are a family, Cynoglossidae, of flatfishes. They are distinguished by the presence of a long hook on the snout overhanging the mouth, and the absence of pectoral fins. Their eyes are both on the left side of their body, which also lacks a pelvic fin.
The best season is Autumn to Winter. They are still available until Spring in Shizuoka Prefecture. Wild ones come from Hokkaido and Aomori. Human-fed ones mainly hail from Oita, Ehime, Mie, and Kagoshima Prefectures.
The domestic wild catch is around 7600 tonnes a year, while human-fed fish amount to around 7100 tonnes a year. A recent increase has been observed in recent years, though. A lot are imported from Korea through Fukuoka and Shimoseki.
They are found in tropical and subtropical oceans, mainly in shallow waters and estuaries, though a few species found in deep sea floors, and a few in rivers.
Hirame can be enjoyed in many ways:
As sashimi, cut in various thickness, according to the chef’s preference and presented artfully.
It can be enjoyed cut in small dices, as tartare, especially shitabirame/tonguefish with tomato and strawberry!
Of course, hiirame is great as sushi nigiri with all kinds of seasoning I prefer it just seasoned with a little lemon juice or yuzu (if available) and salt (preferably “snow salt” from Okinawa!
The Japanese have a fondness for “engawa”, that is the frilled border along the fillets which are usually thrown away in other countries. The texture is different, almost crunchy.
Hirame is great marinated with konbu/seaweed as konbujime/seaweed marinated.
The same konbujime hirame can be served as oshizushi/pressed sushi topped with more seaweed!
An interesting oshizusshi combination is hirame topped with kabu/turnip and seasoned with yuzu juice and zest!
It is also very popular dried as himono/干物, especially shitabirame/tonguefish.
Naturally the Japanese all kinds of hirame cooked in the French way in a simple and succulent manner as above,
or as a beautiful gratin!
Last, but not least, how about grilled hirame with uni/sea urchin sauce?