John Dory is a delicious fish with delicate white flesh and a firm, flaky texture. A saltwater fish, it has a mild, slightly sweet flavor, and can be served sautéed, baked, steamed, poached, or even coated in breadcrumbs and fried.
What Is John Dory Fish?
John Dory is a very unusual looking, flat, bony fish with long spines on its dorsal fin. It lives throughout the tropical and temperate latitudes of the world oceans (except in the eastern Pacific and western Atlantic oceans.) Its discus-shaped body appears broad from the side but when viewed head-on it appears very thin, giving the John Dory the ability to confuse predators—larger bony fish and sharks—simply by turning to the side.
Further contributing to John Dory's odd appearance are the large black dots on its sides, which are thought to be a form of misdirection—predators take the dots for eyes, and attack its meaty flank instead of its real eyes, giving the Dory an opportunity to escape.
The false eyes led the John Dory to be referred to sometimes as the St. Peter fish (or versions of that in Italian or French) because of a legend that the black spot on its side represents St. Peter's fingerprints. The name may also refer to the French dorée, or gilded.
While scarce in the United States, John Dory is popular in the U.K. as well as in Australia and New Zealand because it's indigenous to the North Atlantic and also found in the cooler parts of the South Pacific. It's comparable to turbot, sole, and brill.
How to Cook John Dory Fish
If you're fortunate enough to get your hands on a whole John Dory, first remove the spines on the top and bottom edges, which will make the fish easier to handle without impaling yourself. This is best done with a sturdy pair of kitchen shears.
Then use the shears to snip open the abdominal cavity and remove the guts, or simply shear off the head together with the gut cavity, which is situated immediately below and behind the head.
Next, lay the fish on its side and use a very sharp knife to separate the flank from the ribs and spine. Then flip over and repeat. Each flank can be divided into three fillets by slicing carefully along its natural seams. You can leave the skin on, and the head and bones are superb for making fish stock.
What Does John Dory Fish Taste Like?
John Dory is a firm-textured fish with moist, fine flakes and a mild, sweet flavor. It is very low in fat yet has a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth feel.
John Dory vs. Tilapia
There is a misconception that John Dory and tilapia are the same fish, but this is completely inaccurate. Apart from both being white fish, the two have little else in common.
While it's considered a delicacy and can command a high price in fine-dining restaurants, the John Dory is also often used for making the ubiquitous British street food, fish and chips. Because of its mild flavor, it benefits from gentle seasoning.
Where to Buy John Dory
John Dory is hard to find in the U.S. but is readily available in Europe and may be possible to ship. When purchasing fresh John Dory, look for bright skin, clear bulging eyes and red gills. The scent of the fish should be of sweet seawater.
For the best flavor and quality, fish should be prepared for eating within 24 hours of catching, but if stored properly (in a refrigerator set to 40 F or lower) it will keep for two to three days. Cooked leftovers should be cooled and refrigerated as soon as possible. You can keep leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator at 40 F or less for up to three days. If you're not going to eat them within three days of cooking, wrap and freeze them. They'll keep in the freezer for up to a month.