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John Dory

John Dory1

The John Dory, aka St. Pierre, is one of my all time favorite fish in the sea.  I first encountered this magnificent fish while working for Dave Blagden (a fourth generation master fish monger) at his shop Blagden’s in London.  While the shop is unfortunately now closed, the lessons and appreciation of this fish continue on.

The John Dory got it’s English name from the French, Jaune Dore or golden yellow.  Hard to tell from this picture but the fish, especially in their younger age, actually have a golden yellow color in the water.  Also hard to tell by looking at this picture is the amount of armor this fish carries with it.  All around the perimeter of the body, just below the fins, are cleverly disguised spikes or horns if you will.  And what holds these spikes to the body are what must be bullet proof oval plates that over lap each other.  There is also one spike, along with razor sharp edges, just at the outer most point of each gill.  This armament is rumored to be the reason for the name St. Pierre or Saint Peter’s fish.  The legend goes that Saint Peter himself, the patron saint of fishermen, taught fishermen how to pick up the fish without cutting their hands by grabbing them just behind the gills to avoid all the spikes.  Because Saint Peter grabbed the fish in this manner all John Dory have a distinctive spot in this area (I know you can’t see it in this picture, but trust me it is there).

John Dory are typically found in the Atlantic Ocean around Europe as well as in the Mediterranean Sea.  Cleaning them is obviously not easy.  Though they swim like a round fish they actually have a bone structure similar to that of a flat fish such as Halibut or Flounder.  The first thing to accomplish when cleaning this fish is to cut under all of the plates that surround the fish.  This can be done in two ways.  The first, and my preference, is to cut underneath them by inserting your knife under the plates from the the body side, meaning from the outside of the fish.  The second way is the cut all of the fins off, down to the plates, and then filet the fish from the outside.  I find that cutting all the fins off, while possibly safer, takes far to much time.  Not to mention you have to have scissors durable enough to complete the task.  Either way, once this is accomplished remove the filets as you would over filet any flat fish, many filets can be cut into two pieces.  The one bad thing I have to say about this fish is the yield.  From my experience you are only going to obtain a 35% to 40% usable filet from the over all weight of the fish.  None the less this fish is worth it.  The texture of the John Dory is amazing, silky smooth yet durable.  It is the sexy cousin of the Swordfish.  Not quite a steak like texture but not flaky either.  The flavor is delicate and sweet and will take on most flavors it is cooked with so I limit it to salt, butter, thyme, and lemon juice.

— matt bolus

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Dory

 

Here is a beautiful example of a John Dory. Unfortunately this is a fish that is rarely seen in the States. Why, I am not certain. Living in Charleston where the seafood is more plentiful than Nashville we would see these from time to time but nothing on a regular basis. When I lived in London the John Dory was a regular at both the fish mongers as well as on menus. This fish has a wonderful flavor and is a great mix of soft white flesh that is not as flakey as snapper but is so buttery rich you can not pass it up. Even the skin when properly crisped in a pan is lovely.

One of the most interesting stories about the John Dory that has always caught my attention is a name that it is commonly known by, St. Pierre or San Pierre. One of the stories I have heard is that Saint Peter himself held the fish to remove a piece of money from its mouth which resulted in the dark spots on the side of the fish. The fish monger I worked for, Dave Blagden, explained it to me that Saint Peter left his thumb print on the side of the fish showing people how to handle the fish so they may learn to harvest the flesh for food. I tend to believe those who are master fishmongers, much less fourth generation master fishmongers. I also like the thought of Saint Peter teaching the masses how to handle such a defended fish.

This fish is one of the most difficult to learn how to filet. The entire perimeter of the fish is covered with small armor plates and thorns/spikes, however you want to describe them. I can easily remember the first time I tried to grab one of these. I remember it so vividly because of the cuts that it left on my fingers. From the eyes to the tail this fish is covered with spikes. So the story goes that Saint Peter picked the fish up from the center of the body, where there are no spikes, to show the people how to handle it. In order to filet the fish you have to cut under each and every plate, then run your finger or thumb back through the cut to release the meat. From there you can filet it as every other fish. The other wonderful part of this fish is the roe. Many of the John Dory you have the chance to filet will be filled with large sacks of eggs. These roe sacks can not be forgotten. I have featured them in other post and have had great success in turning them into a house version of Botarrga

–matt bolus

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